The last word on Highlands Village? | AspenTimes.com

The last word on Highlands Village?

The cover of Stern's new book.

ASPEN HIGHLANDS ” A renowned architect claims in a new book that developer Gerald Hines “made all the right moves” while creating Aspen Highlands Village and predicted it will evolve into a classic place.

In a book about Hines and his development company’s accomplishments, architect Robert A.M. Stern took a view of Aspen Highlands Village that contrasts in some ways with opinions of many locals. Stern wrote that Hines worked magic at Highlands.

“Hines has a fabulous weakness: he’s like someone who picks up stray cats in a storm, nurses them to their potential, and returns them to healthy productivity,” Stern wrote. “In the early 1990s, Gerry took on a stray cat of place-making: the Highlands, the least developed of the four great ski areas in Aspen, Colorado.”

Hines didn’t want to follow the typical, banal pattern for ski area development that relied on slopeside accommodations geared solely for tourists. He wanted a vibrant village, where year-round residents mixed with visitors to create a real town that happened to be located next to a ski slope.

Hines hired Stern’s architectural firm and took the entire development team to Europe to study what worked and what didn’t at classic ski towns. They created their plan for Highlands from their experiences in Europe.

“It was a great project, but not a piece of cake,” Stern wrote. “Some of the locals liked the tumble-down facilities just as they were: great skiing but no amenities to speak of.”

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The Pitkin County commissioners’ review of the process dragged on for months in the mid-1990s and divided the community. Hines’ team blamed county officials for making them deviate too far from a vision they were certain would create a vibrant village.

County officials countered that a smaller scale was needed at Aspen Highlands Village and that Hines needed to house more of the employees generated by the project’s luxury hotels and residences.

In the book “Hines : A Legacy of Quality in the Built Environment,” Stern contends that the resulting village at the base of Highlands is a success.

“This was an expensive project, but Hines held on to his standards ” he made all the right moves,” Stern wrote. “The day skiers, vacationers, and homeowners all intermingle on the slopes and in the streets, in the square, in the restaurants, and at the health club.”

Locals might consider that wishful thinking. There’s a widely held perception that Highlands struggles to capture the critical mass needed to create vibrancy and a genuine feel.

Stern acknowledged that Highlands needs time to mature into what was envisioned.

“Of course it takes a long time for a new development to become an organic place ” it requires lots of tinkering until it begins to develop its own traditions ” but I believe Aspen Highlands is on its way,” Stern concluded. “It’s another excellent example of Hines’ place-making.”

The coffee-table style book tells the story of how Hines founded a company 50 years ago and turned it into one of the biggest real estate investment and management firms in the world. Hines has offices in 67 U.S. cities and 15 other countries. It has controlled assets of about $16 billion.

The book features an impressive array of photos of projects the Hines organization has undertaken around the world as well as essay from numerous people, like Stern, who have collaborated with Hines.

Stern’s New York-based firm is renowned for its work around the world. The firm was recently selected to design the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

An advance copy of the book on Hines was provided to The Aspen Times. The book will be exclusively retailed by the Urban Land Institute at http://www.ULI.org.

Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com