Lift 1A side of Aspen same as it ever was
As Lift 1A on Aspen Mountain’s west side started spinning Saturday, the landscape around it likely will look much the same next season as developers slow their roll on plans to construct hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial space at the base.
However, Lift One Lodge developers Michael and Aaron Brown, who walked away from a voter-approved development plan for the base at Aspen Mountain this past summer, are back at the table with the group they had lost confidence in earlier this year.
The Browns are moving forward with the Gorsuch Haus group to develop roughly 320,000 square feet of lodge and commercial space at the western base of Aspen Mountain.
The Lift One Lodge is a 107,000-square-foot timeshare project and the Gorsuch Haus is a 64,000-square-foot luxury hotel.
Lift One Lodge will add 34 fractional interest and six full-interest condominiums at the base. Gorsuch Haus will add 81 rooms.
The project also comes with a new chairlift coming 500 feet farther down the hill to Dean Street.
The Browns this fall applied for a six-month extension to submit their final review plans for approval on the details of the project.
As approved by ordinance, those documents are due no later than March 5, according to city planner Ben Anderson.
“There’s a lot of work their design team has to work on,” he said Friday. “They are saying they are not ready.”
Anderson noted that the engineering aspect of the site will be difficult, and there will need to be a lot of coordination among all of the landowners involved.
City Manager Sara Ott said Friday the decision to extend the deadline can be made administratively in the community development department, or it can be presented to Aspen City Council.
“We need to understand some things first,” Ott said. “We need to understand the rationale for the request, and for the partners to understand the request.”
Michael Brown wouldn’t comment on the status of his role in the project that voters approved by a 26-vote margin March 5.
But Jim DeFrancia, principal of Lowe Enterprises and a partner with the Gorsuch team, confirmed last week that the development team is reassembled.
That’s despite the Browns having reservations earlier this year because the Gorsuch group had been looking for an investor in a recapitalizing effort.
DeFrancia said Norway Island LLC, the company behind Gorsuch, is “fully funded for the efforts undertaken for the next steps.”
The Browns sent a letter to the city in July informing the government that they were walking away from the combined development.
And they’ve been tight-lipped ever since.
When what the status of their role was in the publicly funded, publicly approved development in August, Michael Brown responded in an email to The Aspen Times saying, “We don’t feel the need to utilize the press as our means of expressing ourselves to the public, at this time.”
The Browns were planning to rely on their previous entitlements for a timeshare lodge.
That 2011 approval, which was amended in 2016 for more commercial space, includes roughly 100,000 square feet with 22 timeshares and five residential condos, along with a ski museum.
It also includes 100% housing mitigation, which is for 91 full-time employees.
As part of the ordinance that voters approved, an escrow account with the city’s $4.36 million contribution toward the development must be established by the end of the year.
Aspen City Council on Tuesday is set to vote on a resolution approving an escrow agreement with Lift One Lodge Aspen LLC.
The city’s contribution will go toward public amenities like a refurbished and relocated Skier’s Chalet Lodge that would serve as a ski museum on site.
In passing the question, 1,555 voters also blessed a skiers’ services space, restaurants, bars and a parking garage, among other amenities.
The terms in the escrow agreement state the money will remain in the account until either a new chairlift has been installed by Aspen Skiing Co., or the city’s cost-sharing obligation expires because the project hasn’t proceeded.
That clause is standard and is meant to protect taxpayer money in the event that the project stalls, noted Ott.
“We don’t want the public’s money unfairly being held up because the developer is underperforming,” Ott said, adding that it appears the parties involved are moving forward in a positive manner. “We want to make sure the public’s interest is protected.”
City Attorney Jim True said it’s the city’s obligation to set aside the money, since it was part of Ordinance 38 that voters passed.
“This is the first deadline and I am recommending the city comply,” he said.
The city also would be released from its cost-sharing obligation if Lift One Lodge Aspen formally withdraws in writing its approvals granted in the ordinance.
Anderson said it appears that all entities involved are showing a new energy for the project.
“The folks are talking,” he said. “We are being optimistic.”
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