Skico, Intrawest have differing visions | AspenTimes.com

Skico, Intrawest have differing visions

Brent Gardner-Smith:Aspen Times Staff Writer

Base Village could be Skico green or it could be Intrawest green. And today, there is a more than a shade of difference between the two.Aspen Skiing Co. green is the color of the company’s very public embrace of green building techniques, which can increase resource efficiency and reduce costs of operation.As the company states on its Web site, “Green building principles are perfect expressions of Aspen Skiing Company’s dedication to the environment.”But Intrawest’s green looks to be a lighter shade, at least judging by the plan submitted for 985,000 square feet of buildings on the Base Village parcel at the base of the Snowmass Ski Area.The project includes 683 luxury condos/hotel rooms, over 100,000 square feet of commercial space, a plaza, a children’s center, swimming pools and hot tubs, a gondola, and a three-story, 980-space underground parking garage.The project is a partnership between Intrawest-Brush Creek Development and the Crown family of Chicago, who own the Aspen Skiing Co. Intrawest is the managing partner and is responsible for design and construction.To date, Intrawest has not embraced a green building process for Base Village. But the company says it does plan to go beyond Snowmass Village’s energy code when it submits building plans and a required energy analysis at the next step in the town’s review process.”I know we’re beating the code,” said Paul Shepherd, a vice president with Intrawest. “But we are just now getting our hands around it.”In the field of green building, that means Intrawest is coming late to the game.The Rocky Mountain Institute says that “solution multipliers” come from an early commitment to green building techniques.”It is a difference in the approach that the development team uses,” writes a group of RMI authors in the book “Green Development.” “It is a process of creating a vision and then carrying out that vision through integrated planning and design.”Green builders call for “whole-systems thinking” and “front-loaded design” and say it is counterproductive to suddenly start adding elements of energy efficiency, such as more efficient lighting fixtures, to an already-designed project.”Without integrating everything, it is going to be more expensive if you do the ‘this, this and this’ approach,” said Alexis Karolides, a principle at RMI and a team leader in its Green Development Services group. “For example, if you design in more efficient natural lighting in the buildings, you can use fewer fixtures in the first place.”But Karolides knows there is a struggle going on for the green soul of Base Village.She sits on the Skico’s environmental advisory committee and remembers last year when Pat O’Donnell told the committee that the company would be missing a huge opportunity if green building techniques weren’t applied to Base Village.And she said Intrawest’s Shepherd later told the committee that when it came to green building, he was eager to make it happen.”But it was just greenwash that he said that,” Karolides said.The Skico did ask RMI last year to prepare a proposal for a green building design charrette, which Karolides said would cost $20,000.But the developers opted not to conduct the planning session, in part because the small, steep, 15-acre Base Village site precludes many green building opportunities that often come with a larger parcel, according to Bill Kane, the Skico’s vice president of planning and development.”It’s a pretty confined site,” he said.And, Kane noted, Intrawest did hire veteran ski village designer Eldon Beck to pay close attention to solar orientation and other planning options. And the project does include green features such as a mass transit station, 100 units of employee housing across the street and a restored Brush Creek waterway. “But what it really boils down to is the ingenuity of the mechanical and electrical systems and how you can minimize energy costs,” Kane said of the project.There may be a big difference between the level of resource efficiency the Skico invested in three years ago at the award-winning Sundeck restaurant on Aspen Mountain and the approach Intrawest seems to be taking with Base Village.Part of the gap stems from the nature of the two projects. The Sundeck is a single commercial building owned and operated by the Skico. But Base Village is mainly residential space to be sold to new owners, which means the developers won’t see a return on their investment in energy efficiency.”It’s tougher when you do residential buildings,” said Shepherd. “You are not there to reap the economic benefit.”But as the Skico’s own Web site notes, “increased sales value of the property” is often a benefit of green building, along with “increased comfort for guests, increased employee retention, expedited government approval processes and a decrease in pollution.”Kane and Auden Schendler, the Skico’s director of environmental affairs, both believe in green building. “We’ve been pushing a pretty strong agenda,” Kane said.In fact, they’ ve proposed a natural-gas co-generation plant for Base Village, which could make Base Village the greenest ski village ever built.”We’re working pretty hard at it,” Kane said. “It’s been listed as an eligible technology that will be explored.”But, as Schendler wrote in an article in the June 2002 issue of the Harvard Business Review, “ASC is a leader in green business practices, and one thing we’ve learned is that you can’t be a leader in this field without a moral mandate.”Why? Because in the real world, most management teams will only adopt a green approach if it promises profits. And not every environmental action is profitable.”The question now is whether the Skico’s “moral mandate” on green building extends to its owners and their partners. “If the Crown family had a real commitment to a green skiing company, they would make this a requirement of their development partner,” said Karolides.[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]