Vail Valley developer finds way into Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Vail Valley developer finds way into Snowmass

Jill Beathard
The Aspen Times

Harry Frampton remembers when his longtime friends Jim Chaffin and Jim Light had plans to develop the base area of Snowmass.

That was in the 1980s, and Frampton would visit the two men, whom he had worked with in South Carolina right after college, in Snowmass. While Chaffin and Light's vision for Snowmass' base laid the framework for the development that Aspen Skiing Co. eventually broke ground on, it didn't come to fruition under their watch.

Now, Frampton's development company East West Partners has inked a letter of intent to purchase the remaining assets of the stalled Base Village project. Details of the purchase are still under negotiations, but the contract is contingent on the Snowmass Village Town Council granting final approval to the amended plans for the project, which are still being presented by the Related Cos. subsidiary that currently owns Base Village.

East West has eyed Snowmass Base Village since 2001, when Skico was courting investors for the project, said Craig Ferraro, East West managing partner, in an interview Wednesday. Skico rejected East West's offer and chose Intrawest, but the firm would again make an effort to invest in 2012 when the project sold out of foreclosure.

Even after the banks sold to Related subsidiary Snowmass Acquisition Co., East West continued to discuss ways to partner on the project, having conversations about every six months, Ferraro said. This time around, they "figured out something that worked for both of us," he said.

The project is on a large enough scale that it makes sense for East West, which developed much of Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch and is currently working on a project in Deer Valley, Utah.

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"I think we can add value and bring vision to it," Ferraro said. "It's the business we're in. There are not many opportunities in first-class resorts anymore."

Frampton led the Snowmass Village Town Council, representatives of Related and some members of the public on a tour of Beaver Creek in July. That raised eyebrows for some, particularly after the announcement of the firm's letter of intent, but Frampton emphasized that the company always has had an interest in Base Village, and he added that talks were not occurring at the time of the tour.

Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler set up the tour, which Frampton said happened after she had been at a presentation he gave last winter discussing how ski resorts would succeed in the future.

"We're the Vail guys"

In that presentation, Frampton noted that public-private partnerships would be key to future development in ski resorts. He said the relationship between the Base Village developer and the Snowmass Village community is contentious and the company is concerned about that, although he hopes it will be able to surmount it, adding that he believes the majority of the community wants to see Base Village completed and successful.

"We know we've got to go over there and prove ourselves," Frampton said. "We're the Vail guys, but we have a history of doing that."

Even though it appears East West will be the company to complete Base Village now, Snowmass Acquisition Co. is still representing the application with the town to amend the project's current approvals. Having final approval on the project takes away one uncertainty, Ferraro said, although more importantly, East West Partners didn't want to have to start over on what could be a multiyear land-use review process.

"I don't think the Town Council or town staff or citizens want to start all over again," he said.

As of Friday, town staff members were still reviewing Snowmass Acquisition Co.'s final plan application for completion and for making recommendations. While the Related subsidiary is still legally the applicant, the town supports representatives of East West attending public hearings during the council's review of the final plan application, Town Manager Clint Kinney said Thursday.

"We're supportive because we want to make sure there are no surprises and everyone knows what the requirements of the project are," Kinney said.

In taking over the project, East West plans to stick to the milestones set up by the current development agreement with the town and Related, Ferraro said, including breaking ground on the next phase of construction in the spring. The company might want to make some minor changes to the project down the line, but it's buying into the "macro concept" of the project, Frampton said.

Who's who

East West Partners will set up a team in the Roaring Fork Valley that will be 100 percent dedicated to Base Village, Frampton said. Because of where the company is in the negotiations process, it hasn't yet interviewed employees of Related Colorado who may want to stay on in their positions, he said.

"We will have a need for a meaningful number of those people, and we'll treat them with respect and consideration," he said.

As for tenants of commercial space in Base Village, Ferraro said the company will honor existing leases and continue to work with tenants with a goal of leases being successful for both parties. Snowmass Acquisition Co. currently subsidizes at least in part many of the commercial leases it has in Base Village, which has been accredited to the lack of enough residential space to support those businesses. East West has subsidized leases in other projects in the past, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, Ferraro said.

East West already has begun meeting with the management of the Viceroy Snowmass hotel and condominium complex, the remaining assets of which it will take ownership of if the purchase of Base Village closes.

Skiing in their DNA

Frampton was president of Vail Associates, the precursor to Vail Resorts, from 1982 to 1986. When the company sold, he wanted to stay in the valley, and he founded East West Partners that same year.

Frampton also is a partner of Slifer Smith and Frampton Real Estate, the Vail Valley's biggest brokerage firm.

East West Partners is headquartered in the Westin Riverfront in Avon.

"Almost all of our key people came out of the ski industry," Frampton said. "That's unusual. That's in our DNA.

"We understand that's the DNA of the community and understand that once we build this thing, it needs to work. We're not just going to build this thing and walk away."

jill@snowmasssun.com