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They’re supermodels

M. John FayheeSpecial to The Aspen Times
A model of the Hyatt Grand Aspen at the sales office on South Mill Street includes details like swimmers and sunbathers. (Mark Fox/The Aspen Times)
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Median home price in Syracuse, N.Y.: $110,600.Price of a miniature sales model of the Hyatt Grand Aspen: $110,000-plus.Could it be that real estate in Aspen has gotten so pricey that even acrylic and plastic models encased in development offices here cost more than the median home prices in Buffalo, N.Y., Topeka, Kan., or Peoria, Ill.?Well, yes and no.The Hyatt model does cost more, but its price wasn’t really driven by the red-hot Aspen market.”We’ve been in business since 1992, and that was by far the largest and most-detailed project we ever worked on,” said Charles Overy, president of Minturn-based Laser Graphic Manufacturing, which constructed the Hyatt model. “It took a team of as many as 11 people more than three months to complete it.”The rather large miniature is so detailed that the little model human beings standing in front of the faux Hyatt are reading newspapers. And you can read the name of the paper.The Hyatt model contains a computer system that regulates internal and external lighting programs, which mimic the kind of seemingly random illumination of a real-life timeshare development. Little inside lamps, TVs and appliances turn on and off the way they would if people were occupying the units. External lighting goes on and off, as well, with street lights following predictable sunset-on, sunrise-off patterns. But the patio and deck lights, as well as those in the common areas, go on and off the way they would if actual people were flipping switches.That includes the deck-mounted hot tubs and outdoor swimming pool – complete with a buff, tan man swimming laps and a scantily attired woman relaxing in a nearby lawn chair.

All the appropriately scaled people who adorn the Hyatt model came from a German company that specializes in little plastic people and other human accouterments (which would explain why the aforementioned newspaper sports a German headline and why the car parked in front is a BMW).The Hyatt model, in a sales office on Mill Street, looks like so much fun to play with, it had to be enclosed in a transparent plastic wall to prevent tampering.”People were having trouble keeping their hands off the model,” said Mike Cuthbertson, a sales executive for the Hyatt. “A couple times, we found the car in places it shouldn’t have been, like a third-floor balcony. And once, two of the people were placed in a compromising position. So now people can look, but not touch.”After all, this is serious business.The model has been valuable to the Hyatt’s sales efforts, Cuthbertson said. It gave sales representative the opportunity to show people where the different units are and how they fit together during the two years between the time the project got its construction permits and was completed, Cuthbertson said. It still helps sell units, he said, and the Hyatt has no intention of getting rid of the model just because the actual building is complete.

“This is an incredibly valuable resource for architects, planners, salespeople and prospective real estate buyers,” said Arlin Washburn, president of Glenwood Springs-based Vision Design, which built two models for the Snowmass Discovery Center.

“This is a growing business,” Washburn said, “because first, there’s a lot of development, but more than that, it’s just a lot easier for planners and people considering a real estate purchase to envision a project when it’s presented in 3-D. It gives everyone sense of the scale and the physical relationships of a project.”The models are so popular with the exploding real estate industry that that the model-making vocation is starting to boom, too.There are a couple of four-year programs that specialize in architectural model-making, said Overy, whose company employs about 10 people. Almost every architectural program is now including 3-D imaging and model-building, he said.That’s leading to more advanced models.

LGM not only uses cutting-edge materials and technology, but it designs the software that powers the process.And that all costs money.LGM has three three-dimensional printers – which produce architectural renderings in three dimensions – each of which cost more than $60,000.”We designed the pre-eminent 3-D printing software in the world,” Overy said. “We use some pretty complex digitally controlled routers for detail work.”The two models Vision Design – which operates out of Washburn’s basement and does most of its work by hand – built for the Snowmass Discovery Center probably cost $30,000 apiece. Washburn, who has been a full-time architectural model-maker for 12 years, said it’s hard for him to put a direct cost on those models because they were originally constructed for planning purposes and then gussied up for potential real estate buyers.”Just doing a model for a single residence can cost $4,000,” Washburn said. “Models for entire developments can easily cost $50,000.”


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