Aspen Skiing Company makes a dent in the valley’s affordable housing shortage
43-unit apartment complex opens at Willits
Aspen Skiing Co.’s $18.4 million investment in affordable housing is about to pay dividends.
Skico’s 43-unit apartment complex at Willits Town Center in Basalt is completed and tenants started moving in this weekend. About 70% of the units are filled, but Skico has openings for the summer and early fall.
The building, called The Hub at Willits, has five one-bedroom apartments, two with two bedrooms, three with three bedrooms and 33 with four bedrooms. The total bedroom count is 150.
The project is all about remaining a viable business as the local housing crisis becomes more daunting, said Philip Jeffreys, Skico’s project manager on housing issues.
“We went from bad to worse during the time this building was built,” Jeffreys said, referring to the housing shortage. “I think people are scared of next winter’s labor market.”
Affordable housing is always tough to find in the valley. Now, it is nearly nonexistent on the open market.
The Lumen Residences at Willits — a project unaffiliated with Skico — are the latest free-market apartments to hit the market. They opened in Willits in March with rates ranging from $2,350 to $2,425 per month for one-bedroom units and $2,900 to $3,000 per month for two bedrooms.
Skico broke ground on The Hub right before the pandemic struck in March 2020. The company stayed the course on the major investment even though its ski areas were closed in mid-March and it lost significant revenues.
Skico’s project includes eight units with deed-restricted rent caps for licensed child care professionals and 35 units for Skico employees.
Prices for the units dedicated to preschool teachers range from $1,050 per month for a one-bedroom unit to $1,430 for three-bedroom units. Skico workers will pay $550 to $800 per bedroom.
“Our goal is to keep housing less than 30% of salaries,” Jeffreys said.
This summer, the 35 units not dedicated to day care teachers will be filled with a combination of workers at Skico and businesses that have arranged for any leftovers. The Maroon Creek Club in Aspen and Roaring Fork Club in Basalt have committed to units through October (contact email@example.com for rental information). Come November, Skico will use all of its units.
This latest project’s 150 bedrooms boost Skico’s total bedroom count to 820. While much of Skico’s housing is for seasonal workers, there are also year-round tenants. The growing stock helps, Jeffreys said, but the company is always looking at opportunities to add more housing.
He said The Hub provides a wealth of benefits.
“It’s good for the company. It’s good for the community. It’s good for the environment,” Jeffreys said.
The benefits to the company are obvious. Nearly all the units have four bedrooms clustered around a central living area. They are furnished with beds, couches, televisions and dedicated Wi-Fi connections. Some of the units are family-friendly while the majority of the units are more dorm-style. Bedrooms are about 80 square feet but are furnished in a way to make best use of available space.
The building has a ground-floor lounge on the south end and a laundry room with spacious seating on the north end. Outside the lounge is a covered patio. Outside the laundry area will be a park separating The Hub from the Steadman Clinic’s new orthopedic care facility.
Jeffreys said the project helps the community by providing housing without generating new jobs. Usually, employee housing only gets built as part of a local government requirement to offset a portion of new jobs generated.
The land Skico acquired came with approvals for 8,000 square feet of commercial space. Skico converted that commercial space to residential. That produced more housing and eliminated potential creation of jobs in new commercial space.
In addition, the high-density housing project will help put the “there” in Willits or, as Jeffreys put it, it creates “place.” It will add to the critical mass of shoppers and diners in Willits’ restaurants and stores.
“It’s going to be uber-vibrant,” he said.
The environmental initiatives taken by Skico at The Hub are multi-faceted. Skico installed an 80-kilowatt solar panel system on the roof. The panels are bifacial, meaning they produce power from both sides. The panels are erected on racks so they are off the white roof and can produce power to their potential even during winter, assuming snow ever piles up again in Basalt in future winters. The panels are expected to offset about 30% of the power consumed in the all-electric building.
“We expect this (system) to crank year-round,” Jeffreys said.
Since The Hub is an all-electric building, its carbon footprint will decrease as Holy Cross Energy’s power portfolio gets greener. Holy Cross has set a goal of getting 100% of its power from renewable sources by 2030. As it marches toward that goal, The Hub will reduce its carbon footprint.
“It will only get better,” Jeffreys said.
Skico isn’t relying solely on the power supply getting greener to reduce its carbon footprint at The Hub.
Eight pieces of equipment the size of large suitcases on the roof are cold-climate heat pumps that pull heat out of the air and transfer it to warm the water needed for the building, without using much energy. The technology has advanced to the point where it works year-round even in the high altitude climate.
In addition, it has separate heating and cooling systems for each unit rather than one mammoth system. The de-centralized system is more efficient.
Skico also installed two electric vehicles chargers outside the building and there is a bike-sharing station outside the north door. Whole Foods is a couple of blocks away while City Market is just a short walk to the west. The new performing arts center at Willits is located immediately adjacent to the south. The bus stop is two blocks away. Tenants who work for Skico will receive a bus pass as incentive to take transit rather than drive a personal vehicle.
Auden Schendler, Skico senior vice president for sustainability and community engagement, said The Hub is the only four-story, multi-unit building that is all-electric in the region, as far as he is aware. He calls the building a “key climate solution.”
“If we were to have heated it conventionally with gas, then it would emit CO2 for its entire life,” Schendler said. “But heated with electric heat pumps, it’s going to get cleaner and cleaner every year as the grid heads towards 100%. By 2030, it will be a net-zero building.”
He said the technology is new to contractors but could be a game-changer as it becomes better known and widely used.
“This is the greenest building we’ve ever done,” Schendler said.