Boomerang development project seeking to become a lodge again

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Developers behind Aspen’s Boomerang redevelopment are eyeing the possibility of converting the project back to a lodge, after changing the approvals in 2011 from a hotel to affordable housing.

“It wouldn’t be called the Boomerang if it wasn’t coming back,” quipped Aspen’s community development director Chris Bendon, who said he was aware that the developers were considering the change.

The new plan, which seeks to increase the proportion of free-market condos from 2006’s initial lodging approval, comes as city officials are trying to encourage redevelopment and rehabilitation of the town’s tourist accommodations.

The change to affordable housing from lodging also wasn’t popular with the neighbors, who sued the city and the developers to stop the project in 2011, and were concerned about parking impacts from the new residents in the 40 approved apartments. A judge last month ruled in favor of the developers and the city, but the neighbors are considering an appeal. 

The Boomerang, located on West Hopkins Avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets, was originally built as a 1960s-era ski lodge. Its longtime operators sold the property in 2005, and in 2006 the new owners secured city approval to tear down the lodge — except for the unique front entrance — and build 47 condominium hotel rooms, five free-market condos and two affordable housing units. Redevelopment plans, for either the hotel or affordable housing, include a 33-space underground parking garage.

The property is owned by Aspen FSP-ABR, a partnership including Baltimore real estate investors Alex Brown Realty and local man Steve Stunda.

After the approval in 2006, it took the developers nearly two years to secure a building permit, during a historic backlog of development applications at City Hall. The great recession hit during that time, and initial financing plans fell apart, leading the site to sit dormant for years. The old lodge was demolished in 2007.

 Chris Janjic/Special to the Aspen Daily News
The Boomerang, a former lodge on Hopkins Avenue, received approval in 2006 for a hotel redevelopment project. Stalled in the midst of the recession, the owners converted the approval to affordable housing in 2011, but are now considering going back to a hotel.

The developers in 2010 changed plans, and petitioned the city to convert the project from lodging to affordable housing. The move sought to take advantage of a new program that encouraged the private creation of housing by rewarding builders with credits, which could then be sold on the open market to other developers in order to meet city housing requirements.

While the building’s size was whittled down to 38,000 square feet, from 45,000 in the 2006 hotel approval, neighbors felt that housing was a more intense use on the site than lodging, and sued following City Council’s approval of the conversion.

Stunda has been meeting with the neighbors who filed the lawsuit, and is hoping they will sign off on the plan to change the project back to a lodge.

Daniel Verner, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, confirmed that he is in discussions with the developers, but declined further comment.

“We’re talking,” Verner said. “That’s a good sign.”

Stunda said the affordable housing plan came with financing challenges, and that he was concerned with how long it would take him to sell the 80 affordable housing credits that would have come with the 2011 project. Credit markets also have improved since the recession hit, making a hotel again a viable proposition, he said.

Stunda added that increasing the amount of free-market real estate is critical to the plan, as revenue from the condo sales would help provide the financial muscle needed to complete the project.

The partnership that owns the Boomerang also is bringing in local man James DeFrancia and Lowe Enterprises, which is helping redesign the lodge and would manage the project if it gets built. Lowe manages the Gant condominium hotel in Aspen. DeFrancia also will take the lead on seeking city approvals for whatever changes are sought from the 2006 plan, Stunda said.

Whether those changes will require another round of City Council hearings remains to be seen. Stunda said he hopes the proposed tweaks to the 2006 approval can be approved administratively and expeditiously.

The 2006 lodging approval is still the entitlement of record for the property, with vested rights lasting through October 2015, according to Stunda. The detailed affordable housing plan was never finalized due to the pending litigation.

Stunda said the Boomerang would hope to take advantage of incentives city officials are considering to spur investment in the lodging and condo sector. These include breaks of up to 75 percent on building permit fees, reductions in required affordable housing and quicker review times.