Aspen Times Weekly: Base Village — concrete dream? | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: Base Village — concrete dream?

by Jill Beathard

It could be argued that Base Village was born long before 2004, as the Snowmass Village Town Council looked at plans for years; it was then backed by Aspen Skiing Co., which championed it as Snowmass' renaissance.

But the council would vote unanimously in favor of it on Oct. 20, 2004, despite strong opposition from residents who thought it was too big to be successful. The decision went to a referendum, but ultimately residents voted in favor of it by a margin of about 10 percent.

On its 10th birthday, Base Village looks much different than expected. Today, the first phase of the Viceroy hotel is complete, as are six other buildings on the development's west side as well as improvements such as the Elk Camp Gondola, arrival and transit center, and a parking garage — just a portion of the 1 million square feet of construction promised.

So what happened?

“We will not reapply … period.
When in our 20-year history
have we said one thing and done
another?” – Jim Crown

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Construction of The Little Nell Residences, envisioned for Building 8 and now one of the half-finished buildings near the base's entrance, stalled in 2009 due to a lack of funding. The following year, the four European banks that were Related's lenders for Base Village claimed that the company had defaulted on its loans, propelling a judge to send the project into receivership and out of Related's control. A foreclosure sale almost 18 months later sent the project back into the hands of the lenders.

The receivers installed false siding on the incomplete buildings and made some other improvements to the project's appearance, but otherwise, construction sat idle. Restaurants and businesses opened and operated in the retail spaces, but many were unable to sustain themselves on the limited number of guest rooms in the base.

Who's to blame? Related Cos., who with California developer Pat Smith purchased the project in 2007 for the hefty price of $169 million? Related representatives blame the Great Recession, but there are many in the community who believe the developers made missteps along the way, or that it should have swallowed the cost and finished at least the buildings it had started.

It probably didn't help either that Skico initially broke ground on the project a year late, due in large part to delays in obtaining a necessary permit from the Army Corps of Engineers, which was reviewing the project's impact to a half-acre of wetlands near Snowmass Creek, the town's primary water source.

Either way, in 2012, the project ended up back in Related's hands when it purchased the development from its former lenders for $90 million — just more than 50 percent of what it originally paid. Smith, who continues to develop in other parts of the country, is no longer involved.

The first thing Related did upon reacquiring the property — through an affiliate called Snowmass Acquisition Co. LLC — was complete the arrival center in Building 7. But construction has not progressed as much as expected since the acquisition. The town approved amendments to Related's plans for the second phase of the Viceroy, but it did not break ground on the building this spring as anticipated, and a Skico owned-and-operated hotel in the works was also canned.

In order for the Base Village developer to retain its vested rights, everything west of the ski-back trail as well as an aqua center on the east side was to have been completed by November of this year. On Oct. 6, the Snowmass Village Town Council voted to extend Related's vested rights on the project, essentially protecting it from changes in the town's code — something the developers have said was essential for lining up prospective investors. Investors such as Skico, which is now back on board to purchase a Base Village lot and build the Limelight Snowmass, modeled after its hotel of the same name in Aspen, in place of condo buildings; and Sunrise Co. and Oaktree Capital, which have agreed to construct a condominium complex in Buildings 6, 7 and 8, the incomplete structures at Base Village's entrance.

Where will Base Village be in another 10 years? According to Related's new agreements with the town, in order to keep its vesting for the next four years, it must complete the roundabout by July 1, 2016, and the second phase of the Viceroy by the end of that year. The Sunrise complex, which will also house the Snowmass Clinic now operating on the Snowmass Village Mall, must be ready to open by Nov. 1, 2018. And the Limelight is required to be finished by Nov. 1, 2019, although Skico has said it will consider accelerating the construction.

As for the other buildings — 10a, 10b, 11 and 12 on the diagram — Related has not submitted plans for them yet, and it won't for some time. Those are still several years down the road, although the developer has not requested that the town extend its final deadline for vesting, currently 2024. So, on Base Village's 20th birthday, a much different picture might be gracing the cover of this magazine.

Only time will tell.

Base Village Timeline

Oct. 20, 2004: Town Council approves the final plan for Base Village.

Feb. 3, 2005: Referendum on council’s decision fails, as 55 percent of residents vote in favor of Base Village.

September 2005: Base Village construction is put on hold until spring 2006.

March 1, 2007: Related WestPac, a joint venture between California developer Pat Smith and Related Cos., purchase Base Village for $169 million.

March 2009: Construction on The Little Nell Residences is suspended due to lack of funding.

Thanksgiving Day 2009: Viceroy Snowmass opens.

July 8, 2010: Four European banks file legal action alleging that Related defaulted on loans. A local judge puts Base Village into receivership the next day.

Nov. 16, 2011: A foreclosure sale places Base Village back into the hands of the lender group.

May 1, 2012: Related Cos. announces that it has entered an agreement to purchase Base Village from the holders.

Sept. 28, 2012: Related closes on Base Village for $90 million.

Oct. 6, 2014: Snowmass Village Town Council approves a four-year extension of vesting for the project.

Oct. 15, 2014: Related submits new plans for the future of Base Village.

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