Ringing in the New Year: Top Aspen-area stories to watch in 2018 | AspenTimes.com

Ringing in the New Year: Top Aspen-area stories to watch in 2018

Staff report

OK, so we know that a company controlled by Aspen Skiing Co. owners the Crown family also co-owns a new ski-industry powerhouse that acquired 13 resorts, including Steamboat, Mammoth and Squaw Valley, this year.

What's it going to mean for the ski industry and, specifically, Aspen Skiing Co. customers?

What's to come of it in 2018 is one of the top 10 stories The Aspen Times staff has identified to keep on your radar.

So far, officials with Skico and its new entity have only said they will look for opportunities to cooperate.

Everyone expects some killer new season ski pass to be rolled out for 2018-19 to compete with Vail Resorts' Epic Pass. If that happens, it could be unveiled before this season is over to take advantage of an attentive audience of skiers.

But an Aspen Skiing Co. official said the popular Mountain Collective Pass, which provides two days of skiing at 16 independent resorts, wouldn't be decommissioned next season. It will be interesting to see if a new and improved Mountain Collective will include Aspen-Snowmass, its 13 sister resorts and whatever independent ski areas choose to affiliate.

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You can also bet that the Crowns didn't spend a couple billion dollars buying new resorts without the expectation of cross-pollination in marketing. The Crowns were interested in acquiring Steamboat and Winter Park from Intrawest Resorts Inc. before teaming with KSL Capital Partners to buy all of Intrawest's holdings. We think it's safe to assume that customers on the mailing lists of Steamboat and Winter Park will get marketing pitches trying to entice them to Aspen and Snowmass next season.

MIDVALLEY EXPLOSION

You don't have to be Nostradamus to predict growth will be a top issue in the midvalley again in 2018.

Many people in El Jebel believe there's too much growth while a vocal contingent in Basalt believes there is not enough.

In the El Jebel area, people were hopping mad in 2017 over Eagle County's approval of the Tree Farm project. The project will add 340 residences and nearly 135,000 square feet of commercial space.

In response to the uproar, the Eagle County commissioners enacted a moratorium on certain development applications to provide time to review the master plan, which heavily influences what type of development can occur and where.

If midvalley residents want to determine the future of the area, it will require participating in a long and sometimes boring process that will unfold in 2018.

Meanwhile, the perpetually smoldering debate over the fate of the Pan and Fork property in Basalt will flare up sooner rather than later in the new year.

The Town Council is exploring whether it can purchase 2.3 acres along Two Rivers Road without a tax increase. That has some residents crying foul because voters turned down a bond issue in November 2016 to purchase the property for $2.9 million.

Meanwhile, the developer with an option on the property has folded its cards and the landowner is rattling its sabre and threatening litigation over the town's alleged inaction on letting a project proceed.

You better believe that tangled ball of yarn will be batted around during the campaign for three Town Council seats in the April 3 election.

RED BRICK INVESTIGATION

Ever since Aspen city officials announced in September that the former director of the Red Brick Council for the Arts is under criminal investigation for embezzlement, no charges have been filed nor has an arrest been made.

The suspect, Angela Callen, was quietly fired in June under a cloud of suspicion. She and her husband have since declared personal bankruptcy in a case that is pending in Denver court. Likewise, their snowboard gear company sought Chapter 11 protection.

Both law enforcement and city officials have been tight-lipped about the probe, and it remains unclear when or if Callen will be charged or arrested.

The sole official statement from the city came in a September statement saying the Pitkin County District Attorney's Office was investigating Callen for bilking upward of $150,000 from the nonprofit. Callen did not work for the city, which owns the Red Brick for the Arts building and leases the studio space to nonprofit arts group and individuals.

In the meantime, the city has taken over management of the Red Brick Center for the Arts in response to the allegations. Sara Roy, who has been interim director of the Red Brick since September, will run the Red Brick at least through January under the employ of the city.

FORECLOSURE FOR CLUB?

March 7 is the scheduled date for a foreclosure auction of the Aspen Club, a high-profile redevelopment that has been hamstrung by unpaid bills to contractors and loan defaults since late summer.

Whether that foreclosure auction actually takes place is another question.

Aspen Club president Michael Fox consistently has said the club will get its financing back in order and won't be sold at foreclosure.

During the first week of December, FirstBank, the primary lender on the Aspen Club redevelopment project, assigned the outstanding loan note to another entity — GPIF Aspen Club.

FirstBank started foreclosure proceedings on Aspen Club in early November, saying it is owed $30 million on the $45 million note the club received in May 2016.

While FirstBank is out of the picture, dozens of subcontractors also claim Aspen Club owes them millions of dollars for their work. Most subcontractors have suspended their work on the redevelopment, which includes plans to remodel the 40,000-square-foot Aspen Club & Spa building and the construction of a 54,000-square-foot lodge with 20 timeshares, while 13,600 square feet of the development would account for 12 multi-family affordable-housing units.

ELECTIONS

Voters will decide on a number of candidates this year, including the governor, key congressional and state senate seats, and elected positions in Pitkin County and Basalt.

On the local level, two seats are up on the Pitkin Board of County Commissioners, which are currently held by Patti Clapper and Rachel Richards.

Sheriff Joe DiSalvo is running for his third term. Aspen Police officer Walter Chi is the only challenger thus far.

Seats also up in Pitkin County are the clerk and recorder, held by Janice Vos Caudill, and the assessor, a position held by Tom Issac, who is retiring. Vos Caudill said it's too early to announce her candidacy.

Basalt residents will have a municipal election in April; three seats are up on Town Council currently held by Mark Kittle, Gary Tennabaum and Bernie Grauer.

This year will be big for Colorado voters as midterm election campaigns heat up. Colorado serves as one of the battleground states for democrats to take control of the state Senate; they need to gain one seat to do so.

There also are congressional races this year; the Republican Party holds four of the seven seats from Colorado. Karl Hanlon of Carbondale is challenging incumbent Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) for Colorado's 3rd Congressional District. Hanlon is running as a democrat. State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush of Steamboat is also running.

Voters will also decide on an attorney general and secretary of state.

Primary elections will be held June 26. This is the first time that unaffiliated voters can vote in the primary election of a major political party without affiliating with that party.

KEEP AN EYE ON…

Fireworks in Crystal River Valley: A backlash against trail-building efforts by the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program that began with the November 2016 elections roared back to life in 2017 with the proposed Carbondale-to-Crested Butte Trail.

Some Crystal River Valley residents have balked at the proposal, while county commissioners have accused a long-established environmental group of trying to sink the process.

A proposed alignment should be ready by spring. Expect fireworks.

Justice Snow's for all?: Come April 15, not only will most of the local ski areas be closed, but so will the Justice Snow's restaurant. Or will it?

For nearly six years Justice Snow's has occupied the corner Wheeler Opera House space at the corner Hyman Avenue and Mill Street. But the city of Aspen, which owns the property, has opened up a request-for-proposal process for a future tenant after April 15. Justice Snow's owner Michele Kiley has repeatedly stated she wants to be there for the long haul.

The city has said the new restaurant, or Justice Snow's, must offer lunch and dinner for artists working at the Wheeler, provide catering services for receptions and special events at the opera house, and offer "grab and go" packaged meals for large festivals at the Wheeler.

The city is seeking residents' input on the matter at http://www.aspencommunityvoice.com.

Lift 1A: Aspen City Council tabled its review of a proposed hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain so developers could study whether a chairlift could be moved farther into town.

Council members have indicated they won't approve the Gorsuch Haus without some sort of lift that goes to Dean Street.

Airport expansion: Plans for a new, nearly $100 million terminal at the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport will shift into high gear in 2018.

The Federal Aviation Administration may issue findings as early as January on the expected environmental impacts of the terminal — which will be a minimum of 80,000 square feet — and moving the runway to accommodate a new class of regional jets.

After that, airport officials will begin putting together consultant teams and apply for federal funds.

Indy Pass trial: The case against a Colorado Springs man who took three men hostage at gunpoint on Independence Pass in July 2016 is set to begin inching forward in 2018. After a monthslong delay in 2017 caused by an appeal, Brolin McConnell, 31, entered a not-guilty plea to the 25 charges against him only to reverse course less than two months later and enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Now, as the new year begins, he is scheduled for a sanity evaluation at the state psychiatric hospital, though those don't happen quickly in Colorado. McConnell is facing decades behind bars if he's found guilty of the charges, which include attempted first-degree murder.