Skico grateful for yes vote
Jim Crown, whose family has been full owners of the Aspen Skiing Co. since 1993, said Friday he is thrilled Base Village has been approved by Snowmass residents. The development, which had divided the small town, was approved by voters on Thursday. The election was sparked by a referendum launched by a citizens group in December. It drew a record turnout with about 55 percent of the 1,155 voters supporting Base Village. There are 1,772 registered voters in Snowmass Village. “We are thrilled with the outcome of the vote,” Crown said from Florida via a teleconference with reporters. “We’re extremely grateful to the citizens of Snowmass for the trust they have put in us and especially grateful to the community groups and the people who worked so hard to make this a successful referendum.” Crown, who said he wished he could have been in Snowmass Village on election day but had a prior commitment, said Snowmass Ski Area has always been a great mountain, but exceptional terrain and snow are no longer enough to draw guests.”Now we need other features,” he said. “[And] the new Base Village positions Snowmass with other North American competitors.”
He added that skier visits in Snowmass Village have been on a slight but steady decline over the past several years, and that will change with Base Village. “We’ll set a new, higher standard [in the destination ski resort market] if all comes to pass as we designed it,” he said. With the project now officially approved – the Town Council unanimously approved Base Village in October before the referendum – concerns now shift to the construction phase, and the impact the development may have on the community. After receiving the election results Thursday night, Jeff Tippett, chairman of the Base Village opposition group Citizens For Responsible Growth, said local residents who voted for Base Village will be sorry. The construction of the project, which is expected to last until 2011 but is allowed to take as long as 20 years, will create massive headaches and have a huge impact on local businesses, Tippett says. But Crown maintains that issues caused by construction will be addressed, and that the opposition may be pleasantly surprised once the project comes into fruition.
“We hope that over time we can address their concerns and fears and prove that this is a great project for all of Snowmass,” Crown said. “We will be sensitive to the needs of the community.” And some existing business owners, including Snowmass Village Mayor Doug Mercatoris, don’t believe they will suffer too much. Mercatoris, who has owned the Mountain Dragon restaurant on the Snowmass Mall for 20 years, recently extended his lease in the same location for another 15 years. “If you do a good job, there will be more than enough business to go around,” Mercatoris said last month. “I believe that about the restaurants and the retail.”When asked whether Base Village will detract from business in Aspen, Crown said it would be hard to imagine any local businesses suffering from an influx of visitors. He said he’s spoken with a few business owners in Aspen and the Aspen Business Center, and most agree Base Village will only help sales. “I don’t think people in Aspen view Snowmass as a threat, they view it as a wonderful companion to what’s in Aspen proper,” he said.
The first phase of construction begins this spring and will continue for about 20 months. It will include several on-mountain improvements – most notably the Sam’s Knob Express six-pack chair lift – the construction of the children’s center, more than 40,000 square feet of commercial space, and 138 residential units. When all is said and done, Base Village will consist of about 64,000 square feet of commercial space and 610 residential units. As for what would have happened to Snowmass Village if the project was rejected, Crown said there was no official backup plan. But over the past several months, he stated numerous times that if Base Village was rejected by local voters, there would not be a similar proposal in the future. Some took the message to heart, while opponents labeled the warning a “bluff” and a “scare tactic.” “We didn’t have a game plan for a no vote,” Crown said. “But I’d love to play poker with those people who were sure I was bluffing.” Steve Benson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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