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Is there such a thing as ‘critical mass’ for retail development?

Jeff Tippett

Supporters of the overly large Base Village that will be the subject of a Snowmass Village voter referendum in early February would have the rest of us believe that Base Village (as approved) is “just big enough” to achieve “critical mass” and therefore allow Snowmass Village to achieve what they define as success.

How did our elected officials arrive at the conclusion that 65,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space would achieve “critical mass?” First, they hired a former employee of Intrawest, who told them the minimum square footage for “critical mass” was 100,000 square feet, on the same level, in the same location.

But Intrawest didn’t think it could sell or rent that much space so the council hired another consultant who told them 65,000 square feet would work. Now everyone was happy because 65,000 square feet was what Intrawest had proposed in the first place. Neither of the consultants claimed any experience with communities that achieved “critical mass” with three, separate commercial areas ” the situation that will exist in Snowmass Village. The consultants were unable to satisfy questions about the effect that the proximity of Aspen, a world-renowned, million-square-foot retail destination would have on their predictions.

There is no science behind the “critical mass” calculation. It’s a wild guess. Pure speculation designed to justify the approval of an overly large, undistinguished, collection of condominiums that may produce a quick return for the developers and real estate agents but are not supported by any long-term plan for success.

The day the last condominium is sold Intrawest will be off to its next real estate adventure and the Aspen Skiing Co. will be satisfied with several thousand extra skiers during the prime six weeks of the season and with the 40 percent commission on every dollar spent in Base Village.

The town’s financial analysis that is part of the Base Village submission calls for an increase of 60 percent in overnight stays by guests. That’s 300,000 guest nights annually on top of the 500,000 that we currently enjoy. Who are these new people? Why will they want to come here? How, with our airport at capacity, will they get here? What will be done to attract business during the spring, summer and fall seasons? These are important questions that have been asked often but never answered.

Intrawest’s village at Copper Mountain is already larger than what has been approved for Snowmass but it has not been successful even without a competitor like Aspen down the road. According to the Summit Daily News, the developer’s proposed solution is to create “critical mass” by building another 1,155 condominiums and 150,000 square feet of commercial space with the parking located in Frisco. The Summit County commissioners thoughtfully turned down Intrawest’s proposal.

Although we can only rely on speculation that Base Village will be successful, we can be certain that there will be negative impacts. Arriving visitors will be greeted with a view of towering buildings that will closely resemble the skyline in 15 or 16 other Intrawest resorts. Our view of the ski area from Brush Creek road will be lost along with much of the charm and character that attracted all of us here in the first place. Our roads will be shaded, congested and damaged by up to 20 years of construction. Affordable housing will be in critically short supply. The public will carry a huge burden to support public transportation.

If the ordinances that approved Base Village are allowed to stand, the floodgates will be opened and massive development will be approved at the Snowmass Center, in the vicinity of the mall, and on town-owned land at the entryway. In just a few years no one will recognize the town they once loved.

Residents of Snowmass Village who hope to someday see reasonable and responsible development at the base of the ski area and elsewhere in the village must vote no on this Base Village.


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