Putting the "grand" back in Grand Aspen
December 12, 2005
Aspen’s first new hotel in more than a decade opened its doors this weekend to a new sort of guest – the timeshare owner.The Hyatt Grand Aspen is the first of what will likely be several new, luxury hotels near the base of Aspen Mountain that enjoy a guaranteed clientele – visitors who have purchased their own piece of Aspen.With almost half of its nearly 1,000 shares sold for prices between about $80,000 and $1 million, the Hyatt Grand Aspen has lived up to its promise of providing vacation ownership in Aspen to the middle class, said one Hyatt executive.And yet, its opening epitomizes the transformation of the resort’s accommodations from funky to fashionable. The Hyatt Grand Aspen replaces the former Continental Inn, which morphed into the Grand Aspen hotel. Both are fondly, if somewhat hazily, remembered for raucous watering holes that attracted a mix of locals and the economy-minded guests who were staying upstairs.The old “Grand Aspen” was something of an oxymoron, recalled one local businessman who got his start there. “It was a dump!” said Butch Darden, who opened Butch’s Lobster Bar in Snowmass in 1992 after several successful years of serving lobsters out of a tent on the Grand Aspen patio.”It had a lot of personality, let’s say that,” offered Bill Venezia, who ran Maxfield’s, the bar at the Grand Aspen hotel.
The old hotel, with 197 rooms, was actually the largest in Aspen before the Ritz-Carlton Aspen, now the St. Regis Aspen, was built. Before finally being razed in 2001, the hotel was rented as housing to ski-season workers.The new Hyatt Grand Aspen appears ready to take the “grand” a little more literally.Needless to say, the wine bar at the new hotel doesn’t boast the pool and foosball tables that graced Maxfield’s, nor has it resurrected cheap draft beer and 10-cent chicken wings during Monday Night Football.”That’s all in the past,” confirmed the manager of the Hyatt Grand Aspen.Also relegated to memory is the old Continental Inn swimming pool and bar – another legendary party spot, where patrons could swim between indoor and outdoor sections of the pool and paddle up to the bar, while bar patrons occasionally disrobed for a dip in the pool.It was also at the old Continental that Heinz Wolf operated the Buffet Room before he purchased the building that has long housed the Cooper Street Pier.
The Hyatt Grand Aspen, too, will give local entrepreneurs a chance to prosper, but in many ways, it will share little more than a name and an address with its predecessor. The prominent red brick building with French-style balconies that has risen from the Dean Street locale boasts amenities of a different sort.Its 50 suites feature such touches as marble and granite finishes, oak floors, leather sofas, flat-screen televisions, gourmet kitchens and Italian cotton linens.In short, say the hotel’s promotional materials, it’s “elegant, luxurious mountain comfort.”The first to finishThe Hyatt opening is the first among a slate of planned, new downtown hotels selling either a share of time or a fractional interest in a residence. The arrangement mixes the feel of home ownership with hotel-style services.The local Hyatt has become the fastest-selling property in the history of Hyatt Vacation Ownership, which now includes 12 resort properties, Aspen among them.
Hyatt buyers own a set week in a specific unit from among 20 peak weeks in the summer and winter, and can book an additional 10 days during the unassigned weeks. They also have access to other Hyatt vacation properties.From the beginning, the hotel’s developers touted the project as one that would make Aspen accessible to the middle class.The 17-day timeshare increments went on the market nearly two years ago at prices ranging from about $80,000 for a one-bedroom suite to the high $200,000s for a three-bedroom residence. Now, those prices range from slightly less than $100,000 to the mid-$300,000s, though the most expensive share – for two weeks during the holidays plus 20 other days in the sole four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath suite – went for nearly $1 million.”We’ve sold a lot of the least expensive and a lot of the most expensive,” said Larry Shulman, vice president of Hyatt Vacation Ownership. “I absolutely believe we’re still the affordable product.”A short walk away, the price for a three-bedroom fractional unit at The Residences at Little Nell, now under construction alongside the ski run of the same name on Aspen Mountain, started at $1 million and had jumped to $1.3 million by last August. The price of a fractional share in a four-bedroom residence climbed to a record $1.75 million last summer.
Hyatt buyers won’t feel like they’ve skimped on luxury, contends Vic Giannelli, who has been named general manager of the new hotel after more than 23 years in management with the hotel line. Most recently, he was general manager of Hyatt Mountain Lodge, a vacation ownership property in Beaver Creek.”Our goal is to run this property like a five-star, five-diamond property,” Giannelli said.The hotel will feature touches that aren’t typical of timeshares – turn-down service and high tea in the afternoon, for starters.It also has an ice rink. The Silver Circle ice rink, open to the public, is actually part of the Hyatt property and will become a family amenity under its new management, Giannelli vowed. Now that the hotel construction is finished, the rink is due for a face-lift, he said.”We want to do a lot with it. It’s a great amenity for the property,” Giannelli said. “It’s going to be better than it ever was.”Hyatt guests will also have access to an outdoor swimming pool with a waterfall, hot tubs and a fitness center overlooking the pool.
Other amenities will come from the resort at large. The hotel contains no restaurant, but the concierge can book a dinner reservation or dial up a private chef. Local bakeries will provide pastries for the continental breakfast and local coffee roaster Ink! will supply the coffee. Aspen Sports has been pegged to provide ski and bike valet services, and Grocery Girls of Aspen will stock guests’ refrigerators to their specifications.The hotel will also sport a wine bar/lounge that will be open to both guests and locals. The space opens up to an outdoor patio deck with a fire pit and views of Aspen Mountain.Proprietors Seth Hollar and Lisa Hatem formerly operated The Wine Spot at Aspen Highlands, gaining a following with a selection that included obscure vintages and small releases.The Wine Spot at the Hyatt will offer more than 35 wines by the glass, including vintages that are typically only sold by the bottle. There will be 10 wines for under $10 a glass and some priced at $5 to $6, Hollar promises. Patrons will find both familiar and not-so-familiar labels.”There some intriguing selections – unless you’re really a wine geek, you’re not going to know what they are,” he said.But, Rose Manzo, who is currently working toward a master sommelier distinction, will offer her expertise as manager of the lounge.
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“We want to be very approachable,” she said. “We don’t want people to be intimidated – we want them to ask questions, try new things.”The bar will also stock a selection of ports, single-malt Scotch, single-batch bourbon and high-end tequilas.Jamie Theriot, executive chef for the Maroon Creek Club, has created a small-plates tasting menu to accompany the wine selection – caviar, artisan cheeses, light salads, and smoked duck, trout and salmon, for example. It’s the Cuban sandwich, however, that has Hollar most excited.The Wine Spot will be in the spotlight as the hotel’s one truly public amenity, Hollar acknowledged.”We want to reach out to the public – have this be the fun, new local spot,” he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org