Snowmass celebrates opening of Base Village, Limelight: ‘It’s a whole new world’
December 15, 2018
A few thousand people — many who even ventured past Aspen's roundabout — swarmed to Snowmass on Saturday to celebrate the grand opening of a project nearly two decades in the works.
Base Village began buzzing mid-afternoon as the fresh, new Limelight Hotel opened its doors to the masses, and a bevy of skaters showcased their talents to christen the ice rink.
"This is huge," Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler said of the event's significance as well as the turnout. "It's very emotional, in a good way."
The Aspen Skiing Co. initially purchased the base property in 1999. Butler, who served on Snowmass Town Council prior to her tenure as mayor, has been a part of the Base Village conversations since construction started in 2005.
"It's been a journey," Butler said of Base Village. "A tough, but great, journey."
Skico and its partner, Intrawest Corp., sold the incomplete development to Related WestPac in 2007. From the economic downturn until the end of 2016, the financially plagued project remained stagnant, and an eyesore for Snowmass.
However, since Skico, East West Partners and KSL Capital Partners bought the $600 million development in December 2016, cranes have been in motion and crews have worked onsite seven days a week to ensure that Snowmass' base area would soon light up exactly as it did Saturday.
"Everybody's just coming (and) they have this sense of wonder on their face, that look like, 'Wow,'" Skico CEO and president Mike Kaplan said in an interview. "It's a whole new world."
During a groundbreaking for Base Village in July 2017, Kaplan quipped that it was not his first for the development.
While Kaplan recalled about 10 Base Village ribbon cuttings over the past 11 years, he said that Saturday's event felt different.
"This one is the culmination of so many of those things. … Finally, all the pieces have come into place," he said.
As the sun faded Saturday and the temperature dipped, the energy around the plaza center sustained into the evening as people of all ages enjoyed live music, warm bites and libations and a chic holiday pop-up housed inside The Collective.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe also played his jazzy tunes as part of the Bud Light Hi-Fi Concert Series, a pair of local climbers put the Limelight's new five-story climbing wall to test and fireworks illuminated Snowmass' starry sky.
"The whole scene is even better than we could've expected," East West managing partner Andy Gunion said. "It truly feels like a town square."
Snowmass town councilwoman Alyssa Shenk said as she approached Base Village on Saturday, she "literally wanted to cry."
"Good tears," Shenk said. "It's just really different when you see plans on paper versus in-person."
She added, "I think it's going to open Snowmass to so many new possibilities."
Every unit of the 99-room Limelight Snowmass was booked Saturday, the hotel's general manager, Lindsay Cagley, said.
At $159 a night, Cagley said occupancy is still strong throughout next week.
The Snowmass property is Skico's third Limelight Hotel, with one in Aspen and another in Ketchum. The company hopes the hotel's lounge area will act as a living room for the community, drawing in locals and visitors.
Cagley, who has worked at both of the other properties, called the Limelight Snowmass' vibe "warm and unpretentious — an inviting, gathering type of place where you don't need a reservation."
In the 10 days leading up to the Limelight's opening Friday, the hotel hosted scores of "practice guests" — primarily Skico, East West and town of Snowmass staff — who stayed overnight and detailed the experience before checking out.
"It's a dream to have the opportunity to do that," Cagley said.
Asked about a fourth, future Limelight, Kaplan said, "We're working on getting one in the works."
"It might be in the mountains, it might be a non-ski destination," Kaplan offered. "But it will be some place that's cool, that's got a great walking center sort of town. It's got to have some great outdoor recreation opportunities.
"It's going to have those key components."
Kaplan said Skico applied its lessons learned from its previous Limelights to Snowmass, particularly in the lounge area.
While the mood Saturday was celebratory, town councilman Tom Goode — and One Snowmass, the large structure beneath the white wrap that people first see as they approach the village — serve as reminders that "it's not done yet."
Building 7 will be complete next summer and Building 8 prior to the 2019-20 ski season, according to Gunion.
"A lot of sweat and tears went into this, and the community really put up with everything that went on, the dump trucks, construction trucks," Goode said. "It's the community we have to thank."