Related defends less retail for Snowmass Base Village
The Aspen Times
Related Colorado defended its plan to reduce the amount of retail space in Base Village on Wednesday, bringing in local merchants to testify about the challenges of Snowmass’ seasonal market and showing statistics about how visitors spend their money.
Commercial space for stores and restaurants has become a hot topic in the review so far of Related’s application to amend current approvals on the development. Consultants hired by the town as well as some town staff members think more retail will increase vitality, while Related and some Snowmass merchants contend local businesses are already splitting the pie too many ways.
At Wednesday’s Planning Commission meeting, Related brought three Snowmass businesspeople to comment on the issue, all of them cautioning against building more space than can be supported.
Most businesses in Snowmass operate for about nine months out of the year, but there’s only enough people in town for them to make a profit for about five-and-a-half of those, said Scott Calliham, who owns two restaurants in Base Village.
“What the restaurateurs and retailers are clamoring for is more people,” Calliham said. “We don’t need more businesses. We need more people.”
The new plans for Base Village include 672 residential units, 102 of which are hotel rooms, considered more likely to be occupied more consistently than condos. Consultants with Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems Inc. have suggested that upon completion, guests staying in those units will be able to support as much as 25,000 to 31,000 additional square feet of retail, more than the maximum set in the current approvals.
However, that same firm did similar analyses for Telluride Mountain Village and Highlands base area, Calliham said, questioning if their assumptions have proven to be successful.
Base Village restaurants are especially struggling now because the halt in construction left the retail mix out of balance. But even before that, Snowmass restaurant owners struggled with the seasonality, Calliham said.
“I haven’t heard of a restaurateur getting rich in a long time,” he said.
Jeff Armstrong, owner of Bia Hoi in Base Village, echoed his statements, adding that it would be better for visitors to see full, busy restaurants.
“In my opinion to add more seats or restaurant spaces would really impact us further,” he said. “To see empty seats I think looks worse.”
Tim McMahon, of Incline Sports on the Snowmass Village Mall, said he’s concerned that more commercial space will pull too many shoppers away from the Mall. He’s especially concerned about his industry, as a deed restriction on Base Village gives Aspen Skiing Co. exclusivity as ski renters.
“I’m not against Base Village,” McMahon said. “I think it will be a nice amenity to the town. … Our hope is that both the Village Mall and Base Village can operate as vibrantly as they always have and that it will only improve.”
He added that more businesses won’t necessarily equate to more visitors, as guests will still only come for a portion of the year.
“The problem with the EPS report is they assume everything is OK today,” said David Rachofsky, Planning Commission member. “And it’s not OK today.”
Rachofsky suggested the commission’s resolution to the Town Council could include a requirement that Economic & Planning Systems Inc. do some additional analysis and return as the review progresses.
Using sales tax collections and information Related has about businesses it leases to, representatives showed that the only commercial core they currently see as economically healthy is the Snowmass Center. Only 14 percent of money spent at stores and restaurants in Snowmass Village is spent in Base Village, so it shouldn’t be assumed that Base Village guests will only spend their money there, said Craig Monzio, Related development associate.
The Planning Commission will rewrite and complete its resolution to the Town Council at a special meeting on Feb. 25.
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Aspen Skiing Co. officials made a tag-team appeal to the Pitkin County Commissioners Wednesday urging approval for the proposed expansion of the Pandora’s terrain and other projects on Aspen Mountain. The commissioners continued the hearing until Aug. 28, when a vote is possible.