Guest column: Gorsuch Haus would be development done differently
The idea behind Gorsuch Haus begins with Jeff Gorsuch and Bryan Peterson, two men who have invested their lives in Aspen and the sport of skiing. But more than their ideas, the project begins with their ideals. They started a truly unique development process by securing a contract with Aspen Skiing Co. to build a hotel and a new lift and then talking to scores of community members and neighbors well before putting a proposal together.
That’s not the way development is normally done. As a longtime developer of resort properties, I can assure you that the normal path is to secure a piece of property, create your plan and then move it through the process. These days, many developers ask for the moon — and often get it. That is not how Jeff and Bryan wanted to make Gorsuch Haus happen.
They — and now my company, as a partner in Norway Island LLC — aim for Gorsuch Haus to be something our community can be proud of for years to come. We need lodging and activity if we want to preserve any real access to the historic side of the mountain.
Just look at how much Aspen Street is changing. Fourteen luxury townhomes are under construction on the west side of the street, along with a sizable, 17-unit affordable-housing complex. On the east side, where the old Lift 1 line runs, there is a 76,000-square-foot private residence club already approved, which includes large buildings on either side of the original lift line. The townhomes and the private club are replacing scores of lodge rooms that served many of Aspen’s guests from the 1940s the the 1990s.
The old Lift 1 neighborhood has been through a lot of changes in the past 15 years, and for me it is exciting to be a part of the team trying to add lodge rooms and a restaurant back into Aspen’s original base area.
We at Lowe Enterprises love Jeff and Bryan’s approach and joined in presenting designs to the community, culminating with our presentation at the Limelight in December. This has been a work in progress from the beginning, and we continue to make adjustments based on community and now Planning and Zoning Commission input. It’s the community’s input that ensures we get it right.
Jeff, Bryan and I know we have to get it right. The Lift 1 neighborhood is the granddaddy of skiing in the western United States and the venue for the first FIS championship race in the United States. It was the site of numerous lodges and restaurants and was integral to Aspen becoming one of the world’s great ski areas. It’s quiet there now, but we as a community have a unique opportunity to bring that spirit back. Gorsuch Haus will be a public venue, centered around the vibrancy that only a hotbed hotel can bring.
The location where Gorsuch Haus is envisioned, snug at the bottom of Aspen Mountain, is ideal for a hotel. There is nowhere else at the base of the mountain to build a new hotel.
We aren’t asking for the moon. What we are asking for is a project that is just big enough to serve today’s visitors, who have different needs from the visitors of the mid-20th century. That said, the rooms at Gorsuch Haus — at about 400 square feet — are considerably smaller than the luxury rooms that most resorts are building today. That is how we get to 81 keys in a modest building area, the number needed to viably serve our guests, create public spaces for all to enjoy and build a new lift that ensures an open and vital portal for skiers and snowboarders into the future.
All of us on the development team will continue to respond to the input the Planning and Zoning commission, the community and finally the City Council. In exchange, we ask that you, members of this community, look at the big picture that this opportunity presents — a great new hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain and a new lift to serve generations to come.
Jim DeFrancia is a Principal of Lowe Enterprises Inc., a national real estate development company engaged in residential, commercial and resort development activities. He has had a home in Aspen for over 30 years and a local family history of over 100 years.
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A faithful reader, known to his internet friends as “Ski Bum,” sent me the following quote after my last column. It seems fitting this week.