Blumenthal: Taking the good with the bad | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Taking the good with the bad

Mel Blumenthal
Second View

Mel Blumenthal

The good news, Related is headed out of town; the bad news, they're still here.

Far be it from me to remind you that I was the first to predict (or maybe it was Johnny Boyd) that Related would quickly pack up and head for the hills with a bag full of cash as soon as they received final approval of their amended Base Village plans — damn it if they didn't beat me to the punch with their departure announcement even sooner than I predicted. They didn't even have the decency to wait as long as Aspen Skiing Co. did before bailing out of Base Village.

I'm not unhappy with Related's departure, but on the other hand, I don't know much about East West Partners and nothing about their financing partner. But then again, how could they be any worse than Related? And if we're lucky maybe they'll turn out a lot better.

On the surface they appear to have a lot more going for them that's beneficial for us than Related ever offered. They're somewhat local being based in the Vail valley and apparently fully understand our seasonal mountain resort business. They've had their eyes fixed on Base Village and our community ever since Skico decided to head for the hills and thus are not likely to be surprised or dismayed by all the hoops we make them jump through till Base Village is fully complete and operational.

East West built a very impressive and successful mountain resort in Beaver Creek as well as projects in Bachelor Gulch, Breckenridge, Deer Valley, Lake Tahoe, Summit County, Charleston, Kauai and Denver.

Snowmass Village is a mere fly speck on Related's international radar but one that's been annoying and frustrating for them since they've not been able to manipulate and control us even with all their economic power — that game works better in the big city and apparently Related has had enough of playing in our sandbox. With East West's experience their expectations and dealings with our community should be more enlightened and go better for them than was the case with Related, and hopefully that goes for the community as well.

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But at the end of the day East West is just another developer who comes along making big promises, albeit with evidence of well- designed and successfully functioning mountain resort developments in its portfolio. We must remain vigilant and continue working hard to obtain all the protections and goodies we need and deserve. We should not automatically assume East West Partners will end up as the master developer if and when our Town Council grants final approval. Remember Skico promised to stick with Base Village for the long haul if they were granted the development rights, and Related used the Sunrise group as a stalking horse to get through sketch and preliminary plan review and then unceremoniously dumped them just a few days after receiving preliminary plan approval.

Town staff members and the council should continue working through the final approval process without assuming who the master developer will be at the end of the process. We need to obtain all the required protections and security necessary in case the master developer, whoever it is, does what developers often do — sells out and runs to the hills before the job is completed.

There are still many questions left to answer. For example, now that Related has thrown Sunrise under the bus, how do they and East West get their hands on Sunrise's architectural designs and plans for Buildings 7 and 8? In order to meet the year-end final approval deadline they don't have time to start a design process from scratch. Likely Sunrise will use access to their plans as leverage to extract an attractive economic settlement along with whatever breach of contract claims they may have. I think Sunrise comes out in pretty good shape at the end of the day.

I'm not sure what happens with Related's local staff when all the dust settles, but I strongly recommend that East West immediately makes a deal to retain Jim D'Agostino. When Related unceremoniously discharged Dwayne Romero last year, the saving grace for the project and the community was the decision to bring Jim back to oversee Related's local operations and construction of Base Village through completion. His experience and credibility throughout our messy relationship with Related has been a positive light throughout the process. Jim is a full-time member and fully enmeshed in the infrastructure of our community and on top of all his other attributes he knows where every nail and piece of rebar is located in the unfinished project.

Unfortunately Related still owns the Mall and Snowmass Center, and I don't think we'll see any of the redevelopment or refurbishment they desperately need until a new buyer comes along. In addition it looks like we'll have to drag Related and its subsidiaries through the courts in order to collect the $8 million they'll owe the town in 2017. Hopefully the town staff and Town Council can find a creative way to give condition final Base Village approval on Related's reconfirming its commitment to honor this obligation on behalf of its various companies. Our leverage with them is now, but clearly this piece of business is not for the faint of heart.

Farewell to Related, and as my friends down South would say, bless their little hearts.

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