Guest column: Time to look at the whole pie
Arguably, the best thing that ever happened in Snowmass was the Great Recession that stopped Base Village construction from continuing. The original proposal was a bad idea, and the recession proved it because it lacked the depth or the economic value to be constructed after the recession hit. It was a shallow proposal. Snowmass was given a second chance, and it has to act now before it approves another shallow proposal.
The current proposal is basically the same plan as 2004 without all the formulas postulated by its supporters that supposedly brought the residential and commercial into balance so that each feeds off the other. In 2004, everything was scientifically scrutinized in painstaking meetings to make it “just right,” or the Goldilocks effect as I once called it. It’s debatable whether this proposal could survive another contentious vote if it were subjected to the citizenry’s examination without the Goldilocks sales pitch we were subjected to in 2004.
Lately the council has been concerned with something called “community benefit.” I, too, am troubled with community benefit, but a pool is very low on my priority list. I tend to think about Snowmass as a resort and what it offers to its guests now and far into the future.
True community benefit would be a Snowmass resort that functions seamlessly for our guests and the community.
Previous councils were concerned with “hot beds.” These types of condos need to be small and relatively inexpensive in order for the owners to want to rent them to pay for their mortgages. I believe that small condos have no marketable value, and I point to the Viceroy as an example.
Real estate consultant Tim Estin called the Viceroy’s lackluster sales “natural maturation.” I call it undesirable product. The Viceroy’s larger condos sold out long ago, but the small ones sit unwanted and unsold. The current proposal from Related will dump more product that is undesirable on the market. Related knows this, and I’d bet it would like to change its proposal to something more viable.
Related will never construct any of these “hot beds” until the market can support them. Approval of this plan assures 20 more years of unconstructed Base Village. Hot beds are so 2007.
If the lack of marketable condos is the biggest problem with the plan, the reduction of commercial space at the Base Village has to be second. Face it: Our resort is dated. The Mall and the Center are both teardowns now. How long can we keep adding paint and expecting these retro buildings to be our face to the world? If these buildings don’t burn down, they will likely fall on their own. If one district were to catch on fire, what would happen to the town’s sales tax base? Property taxes would have to rise if the town government is to survive.
With Related proposing less retail at the base, who’s to say what will be proposed in 10 years at the Mall or the Center? Losing these tax bases to attrition would be way more shortsighted than losing one to fire. These two areas should be dealt with now while we have the leverage to make it happen.
The town’s consultant, EPS, labeled our commercial districts a “challenge.” Challenge was never defined, but its implications are clear. Tri-nodal disjointedness in a town with such a small population base is clearly a detriment to the businesses attempting to operate here. The pie is split too thin, and the slices are smeared all over the kitchen.
One need only look downvalley to Basalt to find another shining example of splitting the pie. Basalt can’t redo the mistakes that were thrust upon it by the Willits development. Snowmass Village can.
The one thing that keeps us afloat is our mountain. The blight in the center of town may affect real estate values, but it hasn’t had a detrimental influence on our visitor numbers. Snowmass mountain is the one factor that makes us successful. There is nothing we can do to make the mountain any better. It’s already the best intermediate mountain on the planet and it’s really the only thing that matters to our guests.
Because of the fact that we continue to be successful, we have the luxury of not taking just any development that comes along. The town needs to get it right this time, for it is the only chance we have. As much as we’d all like to see continuing construction at the Base we are not desperate.
The council should approach this as if the Base Village is a new proposal never before seen. The council should take a few field trips to fact-find what our competition has done. Whistler has a Base Village that includes everything from groceries to jewelry and all things in between. Vail has built the most modern base imaginable. Council should spend some time researching the competition and then come back and stand in the middle of Daly Lane and take a look at the Mall with the eyes of a first-time visitor and ask if we measure up.
Related owns the Center and much of the Mall, plus the Mountain Chalet and the Snowmass Inn. All of these properties can be redeveloped as luxury real estate. Bulldozing these dated buildings and replacing them with high-end luxury condos would give Related real estate that it could sell to buyers that can pay cash for them.
In return for real estate that has a market, the Base Village would be developed into a vital village. The Limelight hotel, Timbers-type fractional ownerships and a sensible mix of units that would bring in guests could be constructed. I would add in several hundred employee housing units full of local families to add vitality.
The market and the post office would move there. Office space could be spread throughout. Underground bars with live music and no neighbors to annoy could round out the offering. Making it the place the citizenry has to go to do our daily business by placing the market and the post office in it would assure it has vitality. All businesses would have the ability to compete on the same footing as all others.
Many of the problems in Snowmass would be solved for the foreseeable future. Tri-nodal “challenges” would be a thing of the past. Dilapidated business districts would be replaced with a modern resort. We will have taken control of the resort’s future rather than leaving it in the hands of the developers. Our “downtown” would be vital year-round with people living in it and using it on a daily basis. Related would make its profits.
This is a win/win for Snowmass Village and Related.
Johnny Boyd is a resident of Snowmass Village and a former Snowmass Sun columnist.
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