O’Donnell: We’re in it to the end | AspenTimes.com

O’Donnell: We’re in it to the end

Steve Benson
Aspen Times Staff Writer

The way Pat O’Donnell sees it, residents of Snowmass Village have a choice to make.

Either they can allow Base Village to be built as currently proposed and live in one of the most competitive resorts in the country, or they can reject it and accept their fate in a declining resort.

“That’s the other option, that choice does exist,” O’Donnell, Aspen Skiing Co. CEO, said earlier this week.

And for O’Donnell, those are not unrealistic, brash scenarios.

“It’s easier to count how many resorts are not building some sort of base village in the western U.S.,” O’Donnell said. “There are so many under way right now.”

To have any hopes of remaining competitive, O’Donnell said, Snowmass needs to rise to the challenge.

“My competition is eating my lunch right now,” O’Donnell, who’s been with the Skico for 10 years, eight in the top job, said earlier this week. “Our competition across the western U.S. is rooting that [Base Village] isn’t going to happen ” we’ll be stealing their market share.”

And O’Donnell said the reason Base Village can’t be further minimized is not complicated.

“It’s simply economics,” he said. “To build $40-$50 million in on-mountain improvements, you have to have a village on balance ” meaning the lodging has to support the commercial and vice versa.”

O’Donnell said the alternative is for the company to develop the real estate it owns at the bottom of Fanny Hill with large townhome complexes that wouldn’t generate nearly enough cash to help pay for desired on-mountain improvements.

“I don’t think that serves the community very well,” he said.

Furthermore, that type of project wouldn’t include restaurants, entertainment and the children’s center, which O’Donnell said will be world class and an integral part of the project.

“[We’d] miss that opportunity for a year-round family resort ” that to me is a shame,” he said.

O’Donnell said the children’s center would be an extension of the resort’s family image, and the superior design of the facility would serve as a model for other resorts.

“It’s almost similar on small scale to the X Games ” families would come just to see it,” he said.

The community, however, remains divided over the size of the proposed development. The citizens’ initiative to be voted on next Tuesday would change the land use code and possibly put a stranglehold on Base Village and other major projects in the future.

But despite the uncertainty heading

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into the election, O’Donnell said the Skico and Intrawest, its partner on the project, will move forward regardless of the outcome.

“If it does pass, it doesn’t mean we’re folding up our tent,” O’Donnell said. “We’re in this all the way to the end; win or lose, we’ll continue on with our application. We’re not going to quit.”

If the initiative passes, O’Donnell said the issue will be taken to court. Furthermore, O’Donnell said it’s questionable the initiative would even apply to the Base Village application, because review of the preliminary plan was underway before the initiative was submitted.

As for the community’s doubts about the project, O’Donnell said people should simply weigh the efforts of the Crown family, which has owned the Skico outright since the beginning of the 1990s.

O’Donnell said the success of the ESPN Winter X Games at Buttermilk; on-mountain improvements at Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands, including the Sundeck, the opening of Highland Bowl and lift upgrades at both mountains, display a high level of quality and commitment by the Crowns.

“I think its extremely important to know [the Crowns] are in this for the long term,” O’Donnell said. “They’re not planning on cutting and running.”

[Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com]