Jim Crown – the man behind Base Village
We don’t expect the selection of Jim Crown as our first Newsmaker of the Year to be a popular choice.Critics will contend that The Aspen Times is sucking up to the Aspen Skiing Co. Others will erroneously see our selection of Crown as an endorsement of the Skico’s massive base-area development in Snowmass Village.But the selection of the top newsmaker of 2004 isn’t a popularity contest. It’s the editorial staff’s assessment of who was the major player in the biggest news story of the year.
Crown won our nod in a split decision, and here’s why: Love it or hate it, there’s no debating that Base Village will have a major impact on everyone in the upper Roaring Fork Valley. It will either be the economic engine that fuels new prosperity, or an oversized project that creates traffic and crowding on the slopes. Perhaps it will be a combination of the two.The Skico says the village will transform Snowmass into one of North America’s premier ski resorts, by giving it a thriving commercial center with more beds and updated facilities. The village will also attract more tourists, who will buy more lift tickets and provide the revenue needed for improvements.Foes contend the project is the poster child for rampant development. They claim that Base Village will resemble countless other base areas at North American ski resorts. They also label it a real estate sales scheme that will fill the developers’ pockets but do little to bring more tourists to Snowmass Village.At the center of the debate is Crown, the managing partner for the extended family that wholly owns the Skico. He must ultimately get the credit or blame for Base Village.He spoke in numerous community forums and appeared in several newspaper advertisements lobbying for the project before the Snowmass Village Town Council approved Base Village in an unanimous vote in October.Now that a citizens’ group has forced a referendum election, Crown has again emerged as the primary spokesman for the project.
He said it’s “definitely a departure” for him to take such a visible role. “I would prefer to be low-key and in the background,” he acknowledged. “I like my privacy. I’m suspicious of celebrity.”Only twice in the 19 years that the Crowns have owned all or part of the Skico has Jim Crown taken a highly visible role, and never for this long. He was more or less forced into a public role when there was widespread community opposition to the Skico’s pricing policies in 1987. And Crown also helped announce that the Skico was lifting the snowboard ban on Aspen Mountain for the 2001-02 season.But Crown’s style since his family took over 100 percent ownership of the Skico in 1993 has been to let the executives be the voice of the company.That changed with Base Village, he explained, because he was worried that the motives of the owners would be misunderstood. He said it was important for him that the public understand just how important the project is from the ownership’s point of view.”Base Village is necessary to bridge Snowmass from a resort that was designed and largely built almost 30 years ago to a modern, family-friendly, destination resort that’s as good as any in the world,” Crown said.The Base Village plan includes 64,000 square feet of retail space, 264 hotel rooms and 349 condominiums. The Crowns and their partners, ski resort developer Intrawest, scaled back their initial plan, but Crown insists there will be no more revisions.
If Snowmass Village voters overturn the project approvals, Crown reiterated this week, no other plan will be submitted.In an interview with The Aspen Times in August, Crown said the “likelihood” of his family selling the Skico would “increase significantly” if Base Village doesn’t proceed. There are no plans to sell now.”It would be hard to understand how we’re going to make a go of this without building back some of the bed base. We’ve gone from 16,000 beds (in Aspen and Snowmass Village) a decade ago to 13,600 now, while others have increased. We can’t afford to continue to keep running four mountains for a steadily dwindling population,” Crown said in August.The Base Village plan should allow the Crowns to invest $40 million in improvements to Snowmass Ski Area, then recover that capital through real estate sales and an expanded bed base.If successful, the number of lift tickets sold at Snowmass would increase from the recent plateau of 700,000 to the former peak of 900,000.Crown isn’t finished campaigning for his project. Snowmass Village voters will settle the project’s fate, most likely on Feb. 3, although the council must still certify the election date. Polling for the Skico in September indicated that 20 to 25 percent of town residents oppose the project. “We believe over 60 percent favor the Base Village plan,” he said.
Still, Intrawest and the Skico believe they must get voters to the polls. They cannot take it for granted that the project supporters will show up.Crown said he will help try to sway the small segment of undecided voters and turn out the vote by supporters. He plans to spend a good deal of January in Snowmass Village.What about after the election? Will Roaring Fork Valley residents continue to see Crown at public meetings and in the headlines? Don’t count on it.”I suspect that I will slip back into the stealth that I prefer,” he said with a slight laugh.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org