Ritz returns with luxury timeshares
Two years after its abrupt departure from Aspen, the Ritz-Carlton has prepared for a splashy return to town.
The Ritz-Carlton Development Co. has inked a deal with developer Gerald Hines to own and operate high-end timeshare condominiums at the new Aspen Highlands Village.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. is starting a new venture called the Ritz-Carlton Club as part of the project. Fractional interest ownership will be offered at 73 tourist accommodations that Hines is developing as part of the massive Highlands Village project.
Ownership in the condos will be sold in 1/12 fractions for between $85,000 and $335,000, according to a prepared statement by Ritz-Carlton. Prices depend on size and location of the units. Buyers will also pay annual dues.
The 73 luxury condos in three buildings have already been approved by Pitkin County in a lengthy land-use review process. They will be built by Hines in a later phase of the project.
The Ritz-Carlton said it plans to open its club at Highlands during the 2000-01 winter. The club will include a luxury Ritz-Carlton restaurant. Nightmare or dream? For fans of the old laid-back Aspen Highlands, Tuesday’s announcement is probably a nightmare come true.
Highlands loyalists were already concerned that the character of the ski area was jeopardized by Hines’ $230 million redevelopment of the base and the Aspen Skiing Co.’s replacement of 11 old chairlifts with six new models.
A luxury development of this magnitude will requires scores more employees, potentially creating more highway congestion and more severe shortages of workers.
For locals reveling in Highlands’ makeover, Tuesday’s announcement is probably the final piece of a dream come true. Critics of the old Highlands claimed the mountain and base were underutilized.
The timeshare program at Highlands will be similar to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s plan for the Snowmass Club. The idea is to continually fill the properties throughout the winter and summer with wealthy tourists rather than develop property that sits empty most of the year as second homes.
Aspen Skiing Co. representatives welcomed the news of another high-end timeshare for a couple of reasons.
“The Ritz-Carlton will be a terrific marketing partner,” said John Norton, Skico chief operating officer. “And the history of these vacation timeshares is they get used.”
Norton said he suspects the Ritz-Carlton Club will be fully occupied from Memorial Day to the end of September and from Thanksgiving to the end of ski season, with lesser levels of occupancy during off-seasons. Targeting high-end households Timeshares once held a stigma of being cheap and somewhat seedy. That started changing about five year ago. Fractional ownership appealed to buyers who wanted property in luxury markets, but couldn’t spend enough time there to justify purchasing a year-round home.
Development of high-end timeshares in Aspen has lagged behind that of some other resorts, notably Vail, Telluride and Deer Valley, according to industry insiders.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. said it is getting into the luxury timeshare business because its customers asked for it and its research shows the demand exists. The target market will be people 50 years of age and older with household incomes greater than $200,000.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. is starting small with its club concept, starting timeshare projects only in Aspen and St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. The company plans between 10 and 15 clubs.
The famous hotelier intends to offer top-notch customer service. Membership has privileges such as limousine service from the Aspen airport, concierge service, prestocking of groceries, child care, twice-daily housekeeping, ski valet service, and discounted season ski passes and lift tickets.
Developer Hines, a minority-share owner in the Aspen Skiing Co., is also giving discounts to his River Valley Ranch golf course in Carbondale to buyers in the Ritz-Carlton Club.
Ritz’s triumphant return
The Ritz-Carlton Club marks the parent company’s triumphant return to town. Its first attempt in Aspen didn’t go so well.
After vicious battles between residents over approvals and among the developers over construction, the hotel that would be the Ritz-Carlton opened Dec. 12, 1992.
Saudi billionaire Abdul Aziz bin Ibrahim al Ibrahim, who gained ownership of the hotel, filed federal lawsuits against the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. in January 1995 alleging it mismanaged his hotels in Aspen, Houston, New York and Washington, D.C.
In August 1997, the hotel company terminated its contract to manage the four hotels, including the one in Aspen. Al Ibrahim sold the hotel, which is now the St. Regis.
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