Roger Marolt: No need to pave paradise; gravel will be fine
January 11, 2018
There is something to be said in favor of paving paradise and putting up a parking lot. Not only can it be a fine gesture, but it also can be the absolute right thing to do. I mean this both ways: It can be a community enhancer and a helluva a profitable venture.
I am not proud and oftentimes find myself looking for the easiest way out. I'd like to spend more time skiing and less time worrying. I don't need to make a name for myself; this column has already ruined any chance of that. All of this allows me to be a get-rich-quick dreamer.
It's why I like parking lots.
Gorsuch Haus should become Gorsuch Lot. Think it over, guys, before you turn over that first shovel of dirt in the money pit. Hire a grader and flatten your land, paving is actually optional. You will end up with about 200 spaces for skiers to park their cars at the bottom of Aspen Skiing Co.' multi-million-dollar ski mountain investment. They have to build the lifts, make the snow, groom the runs, and all that. You just have to put in an automatic pay station and collect cash. It would be the ultimate, basically free ride, for you.
You think I'm kidding.
Remember Don Lemos? He ought to be the first one inducted into the Downtown Real Estate Owners' Hall of Fame. Notice that I did not call him a developer. For years he owned the gravel parking lot behind Boogies. He plowed the darn thing in the winter and collected the monthly rent from drivers who paid happily for the privilege of not having to deal with Aspen parking. He engaged The Boot Man on a freelance eat-what-you-kill basis to deal with parking scofflaws. He basically made open space in the middle of town profitable.
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Don always struck me as a mellow, easygoing sort. I'm telling you, he will go down as the smartest commercial landowner this town has known.
If you still think I'm full of crap, look at what has happened to that former parking lot. Some savvy developers bought it a few years ago for a pile of cash and then doubled down, at least, on their investment by spending millions more constructing what is commonly known as the Lego building. It has been mostly vacant since.
Tell me how that pencils out. On top of the financial hole they've dug, you know what kind of headaches the owners had to go through to build that thing? They made everyone in town mad. It will be years or even decades before that venture pays off. I would go so far as to say the developers will be in Heaven before it does.
I think one of the things commercial developers have forgotten is that buildings do not generally appreciate in value. They begin deteriorating even before the last nail is driven. They need constant maintenance. They require frequent repairs. Basically, buildings are not a good investment unless they earn their keep by being occupied continuously and producing steady rental income. It's a lot of work.
Land, on the other hand — now there is where appreciation happens. You can completely ignore land. You can store junk and burn trash on it. You can put absolutely no time, effort or money into it and it is still almost guaranteed to increase in value over time. If you let people park on it for a few bucks a day, that cash flow is pure, buttery, lump-free green gravy!
I know you still think I'm kidding. Let's remember a little bigger. The new and impudent Aspen Highlands was brought to us by a world-famous developer. He arrived on the scene with big dreams, bigger bank accounts, and a wealth of experience. I promise you he would have been well ahead in the game if he had just paved the parking lot out there.
Finally, there's Snowmass Base Village. That million square-foot, billion-dollar Renaissance of what's left of that town is on its fourth renowned developer a decade into the project and there is still little to show for the immense investment of wasted effort and resources. Had they simply smoothed out an area to park 500 cars at the bottom of that popular ski area many people would yet be unfamiliar with bankruptcy proceedings.
I hope the people at Gorsuch Haus are taking notes.
Roger Marolt is not happy that paving paradise is the best option. Email as firstname.lastname@example.org.
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