Roger Marolt: Learn to say “no” or kiss this place goodbye
A Russian from Miami paid $76.25 million for an acre of Aspen land. It’s the Gorsuch Haus site which was approved for development by half of Aspen’s voters. If all went according to plan, we would have a new ski lift there now. Can we blame COVID-19? Why not? How else to explain that nine months ago the friendly local Gorsuch team bought that land from Aspen Skiing Co. for only $10 million. It seemed a lot at the time.
Gorsuch team captain Jim DeFrancia declared, “There’s no reason for anybody to be disappointed or concerned.”
Across town, Skico issued a statement stating, “We are disappointed …”
The captain doubled down, “As for the community and our efforts, we’re quite satisfied that we have a very locked-in plan that will comply with what everybody agreed to.” Apparently he forgot that Aspen voters agreed to have local, community-minded developers partnering with them for the long haul.
I’m not going to lay too hard into Gorsuch or DeFrancia. If the devil got to Adam with an apple, how much harder would it be to tell a billionaire to shove $76 million? Integrity has limits. Thoughts of honor are even cheaper than talk since we don’t have to verbalize them.
It’s not that I don’t understand the betrayal Aspen feels. It’s just that I felt it three years ago and have come to terms with it. In July 2019 I wrote:
“There actually never was a project to vote on here. We voted on a concept, with the emphasis on ‘con.’ This was nothing but a recipe for dough-less, fruitless pie in the sky that a group of dreamers cooked up and got approved so they could sell it. Every variance, concession, and exemption we gave only served to line their Teflon pans through a higher asking price.”
That column was harsh, personal and inked with venom. I’m sorry for it. But I wasn’t wrong. I am no fortune teller, only an old local who has seen this before.
Team Gorsuch did not cause Russian investment, the alarming inflation of hard asset values via trillions in pandemic stimulus money, or Airbnb short-term rentals. Theirs was a crime of opportunity, a venial sin in the grand scheme. Our anger doesn’t change anything.
Or does it? It depends on how it is channeled. While there is no sense crying over spilt milk, there may still be opportunity to corral this cash cow. Assume we were just handed our lunch and are washing it down with stiff drinks. Hand me a cocktail napkin and let’s start scribbling.
There is a rule of thumb in the hotel industry for backing into an average nightly room rate necessary to make the business work. The land for Gorsuch Haus is $76 million. It will cost at least another $50 million to build a luxury hotel on it. Employing the rule of thumb, an investment of this magnitude will required an average nightly room rate of around $1,666.
Ah, but we’ve got October, half of November and half of April where you can expect nothing but vacancies. They might fill up half the hotel at steep discounts from Thanksgiving until Christmas and from the end of spring break until closing day of the ski season. Even January and February, are ruled by bargain hunters. In short, averaging $1,666 per night per room year-round is not happening.
Here’s where things get interesting. Mark (Hunt) my words: the developers will come to City Council crying, “This property is too expensive. We can’t make it work. We need another floor, more rooms, and less employee housing.”
Here is our only recourse: Repeat after me, “Hell NO!”
To which the developer threatens, “OK, then we can’t go through with this and the whole 1A corridor project we’ve all worked so hard on will die.”
To which we stand resolute and scream, “WHO THE HELL CARES?”
Half the town didn’t want this project to begin with and now, I’m guessing, at least 90% of the other half doesn’t want it either. Old Lift 1A is fresh air in this suffocating new era. Townhomes instead of a Brown brothers’ hotel will be better, anyway. We’ll end up with fewer “hot pillows,” and this town needs a break from hot pillows.
The pandemic seems to have knocked control over our destiny right out of us. It is time to exert what little strength we have left. Just say “NO!” until we get back on our feet.
Roger Marolt doesn’t know what it takes to buy trust of the community back, but he thinks a good start might be to pay back all the entitlements they duped from us. Email at email@example.com.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
Aspen City Council’s recent actions are proof that you get what you pay for, argues Elizabeth Milias in her Red Ant column this week.