The city’s elected officials on Tuesday agreed to take up the issue of developing a policy around fostering hotel development in the downtown core after Aspen Skiing Co. CEO Mike Kaplan suggested that the resort will lose its competitive advantage without affordable rooms.
Aspen City Council should support new hotels by allowing developers to build beyond certain city-imposed restrictions that are intended to dissuade other projects like free-market residential units, said Mayor Mick Ireland. More hotels downtown would ensure the vitality of Aspen, he said.
“We need to say as a council that we are willing to make allowances in some circumstances ... for development of institutions like hotels that promote vitality,” Ireland said.
What types of hotel projects council would offer allowances to is something that needs to be discussed further, Ireland said. Council agreed to have a meeting on the topic before the new year with SkiCo representatives.
In light of a recent city ordinance that placed a 28-foot cap on downtown building heights, Kaplan suggested that council try to figure out what three new 100-room hotels would look like if they were built in the downtown core. No one can predict the unintended consequences of limiting building heights and creating other development restrictions, Kaplan said. That’s why the city should come up with tangible projects that council supports to see what they look like before creating ordinances restricting development, Kaplan said.
“I’m worried more about the unintended consequences [of the building height cap] because it’s hard to make policy in theory,” Kaplan said. “I’m suggesting that we take a tangible example and say if we want to build three 100-room hotels where would they go, how big of a footprint would it make and what would the program look like? ... You could figure that out and then I think you could make a more informed policy.”
Kaplan, during his annual address to council, said the downtown area needs more mid-sized hotels to provide lodging for new visitors who will eventually make up the city’s tourist base, as well as support the SkiCo’s business model.
Baby boomers, who were the first to embrace the idea of the resort destination, currently make up a large portion of the customer base, Kaplan said. As they age, they’re not going to want to travel to Aspen any longer, he said.
“Yes, things are good now,” Kaplan said. “But the baby boomers aren’t going to keep coming here forever. They’re not going to keep skiing forever, they’re not going to keep hiking forever and they’re not going to keep as physically active as they are now.”
In an effort to stay competitive and attract a new customer base, the resort community needs to focus on creating more lodging options that are similar in size and location to the Limelight Hotel, which is owned by the SkiCo.
“I think the hotel of the future is this limited service hotel that’s the right size and that’s properly located so that it’s vibrant on a year-round basis,” Kaplan said.