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Blame game at the Jerome

Sorry I missed the outpouring of anguish at the apparent fate of the Hotel Jerome – anguish expressed in a mass verbal assault on the City Council. I love throwing rocks at politicians.Leading that assault was Dick Butera, whose anguish is certainly understandable. He was largely responsible for the 1980s project that was not merely a renovation, not just a restoration, but truly a rescue of the Jerome. He has a deep emotional connection to the hotel – as he should.But, though I share everyone’s concern that the Jerome may become a timeshare condominium complex masquerading as a hotel, I’m not sure I’m willing to pin all the blame on the Aspen City Council.To be sure, the council was not entirely innocent. In reviewing renovations proposed by the hotel’s current owners, council members indulged in a certain amount of shameless, wrong-headed nitpicking.The council’s apparent deep concern about preserving those glorious “original” tiles in the hotel lobby was an example of nitpicking at its worst. In fact, very few of the tiles in the lobby are original. Mr. Butera knows this because he oversaw the replacement of the floor, which was falling to pieces when he began his restoration.Still, the council shouldn’t have to take all the heat.The Gaylord family of Oklahoma has to be awarded its fair share of the blame and shame. And that fair share is a large share indeed. The majority share, in fact.The Gaylords are the billionaire owners of the hotel, who proposed the renovation the council was reviewing. They got their approval – and then suddenly decided to sell the Jerome to a Chicago timeshare specialist, leaving Aspen in the lurch (and snatching a quick $20 million profit on their $30 million investment).Now there’s nothing wrong with grabbing a quick $20 million. I do it every chance I get. (Full disclosure: Number of actual chances I’ve had to turn a $20 million profit? Zero … and counting.) The Gaylords get to do it because it’s their money, and that’s the way the world works.But what they don’t get to do is grab the money and run, blame the city and still claim to be taking the high road.I was amazed to hear the Gaylords’ representative say, in a radio interview, that they were an “old-fashioned” family. “When you have our word, you can take it to the bank,” he solemnly declared.Those were the same claims the Gaylords made when they first bought the Jerome. They also said they loved the hotel, they loved Aspen and they were here “for the long run.”And now their spokesweasel had the nerve to repeat those same claims when discussing the fact that they had broken their promises and gone back on their word.The only thing anyone is going to “take to the bank” is that $20 million the Gaylords made on the deal.The Gaylords were apparently insulted that the city asked them to actually put some of their promises in writing. In other words, it was so outrageous for anyone to even imagine they would break their word that their reaction was to … break their word.The Gaylords – proud owners of the historic (I’m sure) Opryland Hotel and, by the way, the Daily Oklahoman, which the Columbia Journalism Review has labeled “the worst newspaper in America” – claim they do business the “old-fashioned” way.Well, hey, nothing’s more “old-fashioned” than lying. (The Bible’s first lie comes in Genesis, Chapter 3, when the serpent lies to Eve. The next lie comes in Chapter 4, when Cain lies to the Lord. How much more old-fashioned can you get?)But never mind. It’s too late for any of that. The question now is what comes next.Some people say the lesson is that the city must be nicer to developers.I don’t think so. I think the lesson is that a developer’s promise is worthless until it’s in writing and backed up by the force of law.And if anyone doesn’t like that … well, take it up with the Gaylords.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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