RMI office, Willits hotel on schedule to be completed in 2015

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
A worker undertakes a task recently in the interior of Rocky Mountain Institute's Innovation Center and office building in Basalt. The building will be a showcase of energy efficiency.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

A new hotel at Willits is on track to open at the beginning of next ski season, and the Rocky Mountain Institute plans to occupy its new office and Innovation Center near downtown Basalt by the end of 2015.

Both projects broke ground in October. A mild winter helped keep construction on schedule, according to representatives of both sites.

The crews working on the 113-room Elements by Westin hotel are close to starting interior work, such as extending the plumbing and electrical wiring, according to Ed Mace, CEO of Silverwest Hotel Partners. The company teamed with Willits owner and developer Mariner Real Estate Management to build the hotel.

The hotel also will have an indoor pool and hot tub as well as a fitness center. Mace said there will be two small retail spaces incorporated in the building. Basalt Bike and Ski will open a satellite operation in one space; the shop’s main store is located a couple blocks away. Bonfire Coffee will open a coffee bar, he said.

The hotel won’t offer room service and it won’t have a restaurant, so it’s expected to generated additional business for the nearby eating establishments.

Hotel construction has been rare in western U.S. mountain resorts since the recession hit in 2008, Ralf Garrison, head of DestiMetrics, said recently. Garrison works with properties in resorts, including Aspen and Snowmass Village, on travel trends and occupancy rates. He said the only hotels and lodges that got built during the recession were started before the tough times hit. Demand outgrew supply after the recession, driving up the average daily rate in many destinations.

Mace agreed with the market analysis. He said he thought Basalt would be a good match for a hotel in Westin’s Elements brand before the recession. The concept was on hold until the economy regained steam.

Shaw Construction is the general contractor on the hotel.

The Rocky Mountain Institute is building its office and Innovation Center just west of downtown along the Roaring Fork River. The nonprofit organization has teamed with the architect, engineer and builder on a building that will showcase its energy-efficiency ideals. The institute calls the 15,610-square-foot building a “beyond state of the art” office and convening center.

“The Innovation Center will be among the highest performing buildings in the world,” the institute said in a project description it is using the educate people about the construction. “More than just energy efficient, it will be a restorative building, generating more energy than it uses.”

The Rocky Mountain Institute and its design and construction team are aiming for a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum designation, which is the highest. The whole idea is to be a “net zero” building that produces as much or more energy than it uses on an annual basis, according to Tripp Adams, the owner’s representative from True North Management. J.E. Dunn is the general contractor.

The building will use extreme air tightness, a highly insulated envelope, proper orientation for solar gain and shading, natural ventilation and a solar electric system — among many features — to achieve net-zero status.

“These passive measures eliminate the need for mechanical cooling and central heating,” the institute’s project description said. “The only mechanical systems are for ventilation and localized backup heating equivalent to roughly 12 hairdryers in the office area.”

No fossil fuels will be used to electrify the building.

The Rocky Mountain Institute also is using local beetle-kill lumber in a unique structural flooring system called cross-laminated timbers. It will raise the floor-to-ceiling distance by more than 1 foot, “allowing daylight to penetrate further into the building and enhancing natural ventilation,” according to the institute. Several electric-vehicle charging stations will be installed outside the center.

Once the Innovation Center is completed, the institute will create a website with operating-performance data for the building for use by researchers and educators. In addition, the nonprofit anticipates that more than 1,000 visitors will take guided and self-guided tours every year.

The building is scheduled to be finished and occupied by December, Adams said.