S’mass Village rodeo deal out of the chute | AspenTimes.com

S’mass Village rodeo deal out of the chute

Brent Gardner-Smith

Bill Burwell is saddling up another deal for the Snowmass Village rodeo, and the Town Council is willing to give it a ride.

Burwell, who owns the 20-acre rodeo grounds at the entrance to the village, will present an updated proposal on Feb. 12 to the Town Council.

It could lead to stability for the rodeo – a high priority for both the Town Council and for voters who recently approved a $3.5 million ballot question directing the town to secure the property.

Burwell said that if the town gives him the $3.5 million in public funds, he will build a covered, 2000-seat grandstand, an outdoor and indoor arena, horse stalls, a 20,000-square-foot hoedown barn for events and a Western-town street front.

He is also proposing building a 40-bed, seasonal employee dorm, a mini-storage facility under the grandstand and a private home. And, Burwell pointed out, the arena could be used for ice skating in the winter.

As part of the deal, Burwell said he would agree to a conservation easement on an existing pond and on a stretch of land along Brush Creek Road. He would also agree to create land covenants to ensure that the rodeo facility forever rides into the sunset.

“What we’re building here is resort infrastructure,” Burwell said. “It is permanent but being run privately.”

This plan, unlike prior plans, does not include any real estate development as a way to cover the costs of the rodeo. And the Town Council, which has been informally briefed on the plan, seems to have an open mind.

“Our desire is to move ahead with something,” said Town Councilman Arnold Mordkin, “and it makes sense to have the guy who owns the property and runs the rodeo make a proposal, so that’s what we’re doing.”

On the other hand, the Town Council has also acknowledged that condemnation is an option and is working on an updated appraisal of the property. Also, the question the voters approved in November stipulated that the town buy all 20 acres with the $3.5 million, so if a deal is worked out with Burwell that doesn’t accomplish that, it could require another election.

“You can’t do it without going back to the voters,” Mordkin said.

Recently, Mordkin was appointed by the council to discuss the rodeo’s future with Burwell. Afterwards, Mordkin publicly briefed the council, which then invited Burwell to submit a “pre-sketch” plan, which allows the board and a developer to discuss a project without making any commitments.

That will take place on Feb. 12.

“If there is an opportunity for a public-private partnership, we owe it to the town to listen,” said Town Councilman Dick Virtue. “I don’t want to preclude anything that could be of benefit to the community.”

The fate of the summer event has gone up and down in the past six years.

The voters rejected a town plan in 1995 to buy the rodeo grounds for $1.5 million and spend $3 million to build and operate the summer event.

Burwell campaigned against the proposal. Then, also in 1995, he bought the parcel from veteran Snowmass Village developers Jim Light and Jim Chaffin for $1.75 million and has been operating a twice-weekly rodeo every summer just below the Horse Ranch neighborhood since 1996.

Recently, he’s had the property listed for sale at $5.5 million and has had two prospective buyers decline to ride the rodeo horse, including a developer who wanted to build homes and a “world financier” who wanted to provide a working bridge loan to make the rodeo possible.

In November, Snowmass Village voters approved the $3.5 million ballot question. Monday, at the Snowmass Village Resort Association board of governors meeting, Burwell said the property was worth $6 million.

Then he outlined his latest proposal, which could be a bucking bronco being ridden into the political arena for a short ride.

Burwell said if he does not get a warm reception on Feb. 12, he would relist the property for sale.

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