Hotel not financially possible unless it is much bigger, says ownership team
A new hotel at the base of the mountain on South Aspen Street is not economically feasible unless it is built some 80 feet tall, which would be impossible politically in this town.
That was the message a group of developers working on a plan for the site that was once to be the Lodge at Aspen Mountain brought to Aspen City Council at the end of Monday’s meeting, signaling the end of a six-month planning process that began with the hope of reaching a consensus on a new lodge.
Local firm Bald Mountain Development, which has been working on the 2.4-acre site near the base of Lift 1A, realized in the last month that the plan it was taking through the city’s approval process would not attract financing or a hotel operator, said Bald Mountain principal David Parker.
In late October, council reviewed plans for an 84,000-square-foot, 76-room hotel, which would share the site with 86,000 square feet of free-market condos.
As more detail was put into those plans, and after consulting with outside real estate experts, it became clear that the proposal was not something that was realistically possible, Parker said.
“We can’t make it work and we’ve tried and tried and tried,” he said.
A financially “sustainable” project in a seasonal resort environment would have to be much bigger — “too big to be taken seriously,” Parker said.
Such a project would likely entail six stories of condo development and five stories of hotel rooms, he said, which would put it in the 70- to 80-foot-tall range and with a scale and mass pushing 400,000 square feet.
“[That] isn’t going to make it across the finish line, and we’re not sure it would be appropriate if it could,” Parker said. “We’re headed toward purgatory with this thing now and I’m not sure that’s to anybody’s benefit.”
With no lodging proposal, the site’s owners — ASV Aspen Street Owner, tied to Boston and Chicago investors — have an approval granted in 2003 for a townhomes and affordable housing project to fall back on. After ASV first acquired the site in 2010, following the previous owners’ bankruptcy, it decided a hotel wasn’t feasible, and sought to amend the townhomes proposal by moving more of the affordable housing off-site. City Hall practically begged the developers to reconsider a hotel, since the site is seen as possibly the last place in town where a new lodge could be built. City officials would rather see a lodge on the site and not residential development, because of the economic benefits of more tourism.
ASV and Bald Mountain came back earlier this year and began working on a new hotel plan.
With Parker’s news being delivered around 10:45 p.m., council members and city staff emphasized the unfortunate decision nearly 10 years ago to approve townhomes on the site.
“When you are standing on Aspen Street or skiing down from 1A, you think, ‘this is where a lodge should be,’” city community development director Chris Bendon said.
He added that he understood the developers’ reasoning for not pursuing a larger project.
“We’ve been down the path before of looking at buildings that are way too big, and we know how disruptive that can be,” Bendon said.
Two previous versions of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain, as it was known under previous ownership, have been voted down by City Council — in 2007 and 2008 — for being too big and out of character with the west Aspen neighborhood.
Councilman Adam Frisch said he would be willing to extend development deadlines on the townhomes as long as necessary if it meant a workable hotel proposal could come forward, someday. In the past, he has called getting a new hotel for South Aspen Street, and not the townhomes, one of his biggest priorities on council.
“It’s a bad day for everyone in the community,” he said during Monday’s meeting.
Mayor Mick Ireland also noted that the city is “stuck with the consequences of a bad land use decision from many years ago.”
For now, the developers — who have experience in hotels and were involved in the Hyatt Grand Aspen project — will consider reviving the amended townhomes application.
“Everyone on our side is quite disappointed,” Parker said. “We are hotel people.”