Magnates buy Grand Aspen for $30 million
Three prominent national investors have teamed up with four Aspen partners to purchase the Grand Aspen Hotel site, 13 luxury homesites at the base of Aspen Mountain, the Silver Circle Ice Rink in front of the hotel and the Bavarian Inn employee housing complex.
The group of investors bought the properties from Savanah Ltd. Partnership. The deal, which was completed Jan. 11, was for $30.5 million and included not only the physical properties, but also the local approvals to develop the properties.
Savanah recently gained conceptual approval from the Aspen City Council to build a 150-room hotel where the now closed Grand Aspen is today. Thirteen slopeside luxury homes and four deed-restricted units at the top of Mill Street would also be built, as well as 44 units of employee housing at the intersection of 7th and Bleeker streets.
The Grand Aspen is scheduled to be torn down starting April 16.
The lead investment in the deal is coming from Colony Capital, one of the world’s largest real estate investment funds with $6 billion in assets, according to David Parker, one of the Aspen-based partners.
At this time, the new owners do not anticipate making substantial changes to the Top of Mill or Bavarian Inn projects as approved, but Parker said “the Grand Aspen, we are just getting into,” meaning that changes could be sought between conceptual and final approval.
The group plans to contract out with a hotel operator to run the new hotel, which Savanah said it had intended to run as a moderately-priced hotel.
“We are in discussion with several high-quality entities,” said Parker.
Parker is a former executive at Hines Interests who left the international development firm two years ago after working on the Highlands Village, the Five Trees subdivision near Aspen Highlands and a base area project in Winter Park.
Another local partner is Sam Houston of Houston and Goldsmith. Houston is a partner in the group that redeveloped the Isis Theatre, which is now dark and may not operate again as a theater. Parker, who is speaking for the investors, declined to identity the other two Aspen-based partners.
The investor group created three entities to do the deal – Top of Mill Investors, LLC, Grand Aspen Lodging, LLC, and Bavarian Affordable Housing LLC. An executive at Colony Capital, M. Merritt Adams, is the president of each of the LLCs.
Colony Capital is based in Los Angeles and run by Chairman and CEO Thomas J. Barrack, Jr., 53, who has been named as “one of L.A.’s most prolific and successful real estate investors” by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
The firm owns stakes in the luxury Savoy hotel chain in the U.K., the Amanresort group, which runs 11 small luxury resorts mostly in Bali and French Polynesia but also one in Jackson Hole, and the Lake Tahoe-based Harveys Casino Resorts, which runs 11 casinos.
According to an April 2000 article in Forbes by Justin Doebele, “Colony’s essence is buying and selling real estate companies and properties at a profit, like the Stanhope Hotel in Manhattan, which it reportedly acquired for $15 million from a financially ailing Japanese investor in 1997 and sold two years later for $65 million. In real estate the word for such opportunistic plays is vulture. Not hotelier.”
Colony is closely affiliated with the Texas Pacific Group (TPG) and is sometimes called TPG’s “real estate arm.” David Bonderman of Fort Worth runs Texas Pacific and was also one of the founders of Colony Capital. He once worked together with Barrack as an investment advisor at the Robert M. Bass Group, a highly successful investment firm out of Fort Worth.
Bonderman, 58, has a home in the exclusive Wildcat development in Snowmass Village and is considered one of the top investors in the U.S., with $4 billion under his management. He has successful investments behind him in Continental Airlines and a host of other companies, including Beringer Wines, clothier J. Crew, Del Monte Foods and Paradyne, which makes Internet-related equipment. TPG also owns a large stake in America West Airlines, which recently began service to Aspen from Phoenix.
Barrack of Colony and Bonderman of Texas Pacific make up two-thirds of the nationally known players who now own a hotel in downtown Aspen. The third player is Gary Winnick, whose investment company Pacific Capital bought 70 percent of Colony Capital last spring.
Winnick, 52, once worked for Michael Milken at Drexel Burnham Lambert and then started his own investment firm in 1985. He is now worth over $3 billion. One of his major successes was creating Global Crossing Inc., which specializes in undersea fiber-optic telecommunication cables.
One of the richest men in Los Angeles, Winnick resides in a $40 million house in Bel Air. He’s also a well-known philanthropist and recently gave $40 million for a research institute and museum of tolerance in Jerusalem associated with the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He’s been quoted as saying, “Money is no fun unless you spread it around.”
All three major investors are closely involved in the Aspen project, according to Parker, who said that both Bonderman and Barrack have homes here but that he “usually meets with (Winnick) in L.A.”
Some close to the deal were speculating that billionaire David Koch was also involved in the deal, but Parker said “he does not have a piece of this.”
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the descent that poses a challenge.