Will Aspen warm up to a Four Seasons?
The pace of Aspen development has been slowed by the City Council’s freeze on commercial projects and last year’s citizen referendum restricting variances, but a key figure behind a potential Four Seasons said the volatile building climate isn’t a deterrent.
“We are very aware of the challenges facing Aspen today,” said Patrick Freeman, president of Florida-based Cisneros Real Estate, in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We understand them intimately and we think we can be part of the solution. We’re not dropping this on the community — take it or else.”
Cisneros Real Estate, which is controlled by the same family that owns the three parcels eyed for a luxury hotel, filed a land-use application to develop 6.6 acres of the property May 9 with the city’s Community Development Department. The preference is to build a Four Seasons resort hotel, Freeman said.
Preliminary research into constructing a five-star resort hotel on the south side of the 700 block of West Hopkins Avenue began about three years ago, Freeman said. One of the lots has a Victorian-style home on it that was built in 1989.
“When I first went to Aspen about three years ago to take a look at the parcels, I wanted to see where they were, what are the options for these parcels,” he said. “We engaged a few professionals and said we wanted to keep the parcels in the family. We went through an analysis in terms of lodging, and it seemed like there was an opportunity.”
Annexation is the first step
For the project to move forward, the property it sits on first would require annexation into city limits. Currently zoned residential in Pitkin County, the land was deemed eligible for annexation by the City Council in September.
The council voted 3-1 in approval, with Councilman Bert Myrin dissenting. Councilman Art Daily recused himself because he practices with the Holland & Hart law firm, which represents developer Cisneros Real Estate.
At the time of the approval, a mere formality in the greater picture, City Council members said the vote had no bearing on their position on a Four Seasons development or whether they would vote to officially annex the property.
Freeman said he expects the annexation process to begin later this year. The council would have to pass an ordinance to annex the land, City Attorney Jim True previously has said.
Freeman said he is aware an ordinance could trigger a citizen referendum, similar to what opponents of the Base2 Lodge did last year. The council, instead of rescinding the Base2 ordinance, referred the matter to the Aspen electorate. In the November elections, 1,792 votes, or 62.8 percent, were cast against developer Mark Hunt’s Main Street lodge.
“We’re going to enter this process with eyes and ears wide open,” said R.J. Gallagher, a spokesman for the project. “We’ve already begun outreach, and we got a better understanding of a cross-section of the community prior to submission (of the land-use application). We will be transparent; we will be proactive.”
Freeman said they have been in touch with Aspen Skiing Co. officials, residents and general managers at the local lodges, among other people.
“Skico has been very clear about their directive in terms of the growth of their business and how it ties back to hotel beds,” Freeman said.
The land-use application could have been filed after the annexation proceedings, he said. But Cisneros felt it was important to be clear with the city about what the intentions are for the property.
“We didn’t want to annex the property and start figuring out what to do with it,” Freeman said.
The property proposed for annexation is part of a 19.6 acre swath of land. The remaining 12.6 acres not considered for annexation would be donated to the Open Space program, Freeman said.
Like any Aspen development, this one will have its objectors, Freeman noted. That includes John Bennett, Aspen’s mayor from 1991 to 1999.
In a letter dated May 22 to members of City Council, Bennett called on elected officials to deny the annexation.
“As you know, City Council has absolute discretion in considering annexation applications,” Bennett’s letter said. “Please do our community a favor and avoid the inevitable internecine warfare that allowing this project to proceed would provoke. Put this one to rest quickly and move on to more important civic issues.”
Bennett’s letter advised the council to take a straw poll about the annexation to “allow a majority of Aspen residents to breathe a sigh of relief.”
“This should be a no-brainer,” Bennett wrote. “In 2016, can anyone argue seriously that Aspen needs another huge ultra-high-end hotel? … Which of Aspen’s core values would this reflect? Do we need another divisive community battle with an obvious ending?”
Bigger than Jerome, smaller than St. Regis
In its land-use application, Cisneros envisions a resort hotel with a spa, pool, restaurant and four buildings with 118 lodging units, 22 fractional-ownership residents, four free-market residences and dormitory-style affordable housing for as many as 80 tenants.
The cumulative floor area for the Four Seasons’ lodge, free-market units, fractional units, restaurant and spa would encompass 181,974 square feet, according to the application. The affordable-housing component’s floor area would span 24,018 square feet. All told, that’s 205,992 square feet.
By contrast, the Hotel Jerome has a total area of 113,282 square feet, while the St. Regis Aspen covers 242,040 square feet, according to county property records.
Cisneros Real Estate plans to break ground on its first Four Seasons later this year in the Dominican Republic.
“We’ve got a great relationship with Four Seasons through our project in the Dominican Republic,” Freeman said, adding, “I think a Four Seasons would be a great fit for Aspen.”
The Aspen lodge would create 200 to 300 jobs, Freeman said.
But for now, he said he recognizes that the entire project and proposal are in their early stages. The process could be a drawn-out, complex and controversial affair, he said.
“We need to be open-minded because we realize this is a long road to get where we want to be,” he said.
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