Ritz is swamped with job seekers | AspenTimes.com

Ritz is swamped with job seekers

If this was a typical year, the head of the Ritz-Carlton Club might find himself in trouble right about now.

General Manager Jud Hawk had to hire 34 additional employees this fall to staff new luxury residences opening at Aspen Highlands Village. He also had to fill 20 seasonal positions.

Rounding up 54 workers for a luxury property known for customer service would usually be a nightmare in Aspen. The town has been a classic employees’ market where workers had ample choices and employers took who they could get.

That started changing last winter in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the resulting economic slump. This winter, Aspen has fully transformed into an employers’ market, as Hawk can attest.

He said in excess of 500 prospective employees have applied at the luxury property since September. His staff had little trouble finding qualified candidates when there were 10 applicants per opening.

All told, the Ritz-Carlton Club has more than 150 employees, or about two for each of the 73 residences.

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The Ritz-Carlton Co. picked Aspen as the site where it opened its first fractional ownership property. The residences are sold in one-twelfth interests, entitling buyers to 28 days per year in the two- and three-bedroom luxury units.

The Ritz opened 45 units in the Elkhorn Lodge building in February 2001. Two penthouses, commanding top dollar, opened at the same time in a separate building.

Now the project is complete with the opening of 26 units in what is called the White River Lodge.

Tom McLane, director of sales and marketing for the club, said 70 percent of the available memberships have been sold in 47 units of phase I. There are 564 fractional ownership interests available in that phase. About 380 have been sold, and other sales will soon close.

McLane said the opening of phase II depended solely on completion of construction rather than reaching certain sales targets with phase I.

Phase II will make another 213 fractional ownership interests available in the project.

Prices in the club range from $160,000 to $490,000 per 28-day annual ownership interest. While skeptics have said fractional ownership projects in Aspen won’t hold their value, that hasn’t been the case so far at the Ritz-Carlton Club.

Initial sales prices started at $140,000, and all have steadily climbed. There have been only three resales so far ? where the original owners of the units have sold out.

One interest appreciated from $160,000 to $196,000. Another climbed from $190,000 to $230,000, and a third jumped from $140,000 to $175,000, according to McLane.

He acknowledged that it is too soon to predict what resales will do in the future. The vast majority of buyers, McLane said, aren’t looking for an investment. Instead, they buy one of the interests because it matches their lifestyle and because of the Ritz-Carlton service.

The service includes everything from in-residence massages and personal chefs to rides to the various ski areas. Twice-daily maid service is built into the annual $9,000 association fees. Service from chefs and masseuses are extra.

Members who buy into the White River Lodge will have to travel to the separate Elk Horn Lodge to use the pool and eat at the restaurant. But pampered guests won’t even have to walk the couple of hundreds yards if they don’t want to.

“If you want a ride in inclement weather, we’ll pick you up in a golf cart,” Hawk said.

A staff of 11 personal concierges takes care of virtually any need of the owners. Hawk said his staff meticulously documents each member’s preferences, such as favorite restaurants and ski areas. As the concierges get to know the members, they will be able to automatically handle their vacation plans.

“By their third or fourth visit they don’t have to ask for anything,” said Hawk.

The interests that aren’t sold yet are rented, with first shot given to existing members. Hawk said the club will be 60 percent occupied early this week, then virtually full starting the day after Christmas and going into the New Year.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com]