Tired of limbo, Skico wants new Limelight hotel in Snowmass Base Village

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The Snowmass Elk Camp Gondola rises above the top of the Base Village parking garage. Aspen Skiing Co. is reviewing the opportunity to build a hotel on the site.

Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

The Snowmass Elk Camp Gondola rises above the top of the Base Village parking garage. Aspen Skiing Co. is reviewing the opportunity to build a hotel on the site.

A view of the location in Base Village where Aspen Skiing Co. has proposed building a second Limelight hotel.

Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journaiism

A view of the location in Base Village where Aspen Skiing Co. has proposed building a second Limelight hotel. Smith / Aspen Journaiism

Aspen Skiing Co. wants to be “the catalyst” for completing Snowmass’ Base Village and would like to develop a Limelight Hotel and 10 luxury cabins called the Fanny Hill Townhomes beginning next summer.

After four years of no forward movement, time is of the essence, said Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan. He noted in a memo to the Town of Snowmass Village that “the unfinished condition in Base Village is damaging the brand, our customers are losing patience and local businesses and taxing districts are struggling.”

On Oct. 7, Skico will formally ask the Snowmass Village Town Council to overturn a decision made by its former planning director who ruled in late August the hotel application be treated as a “major” PUD amendment rather than minor amendment.

This could potentially add months to the approval process, said Don Schuster, Skico Vice-President-Hospitality Development. So if the town’s decision isn’t reversed, the project and Skico’s plans to purchase Lot 2 within Base Village from Related Colorado (dba Snowmass Acquisition LLC), are essentially dead in the water.

“For this to happen, we need to be building by next summer,” Kaplan said Monday from Skico offices at the Aspen Business Center. That same position was reiterated in a letter to TOSV: “Adding the sketch plan component to the major PUD process only adds time and cost to both the town and the applicant and delays this project enough to make it unviable.”

Skico would like the review process to be completed by next April.

Town Attorney John Dresser said he was unable to comment at this time. “Because this is a pending appeal, I can’t speak to it prior to the council meeting.”

But Related Colorado President Dwayne Romero had this to say: “We support the purchase of Lot 2 in Base Village by the Aspen Skiing Co., and we also support their appeal of the minor PUD amendment. Constructing a Limelight Hotel instead of unbranded condominiums in Building 5 greatly increases ‘hot beds’ and will increase overall vitality in the core of the project.”

‘Hotel, per se, doesn’t make sense’

While rumored for months, this was Skico’s first public confirmation that it was indeed considering a Limelight Hotel for Snowmass Village. The potential purchase price of Lot 2 wasn’t disclosed.

As envisioned, the ski-in, ski-out property would include 102 or 103 hotel rooms, 18 privately owned suites and three employee housing units in Building 5. Also to be located in the structure: the Snowmass Mountain Club, a spinoff of the private club with about 230 members that’s headquartered atop Aspen Mountain and commands an initiation fee of $220,000 plus $6,000 annually.

Limelight’s for-sale suites (which may or may not be rented to the public), the private membership club and the Fanny Hill Townhomes will defray development costs of the hotel, Schuster said. “A hotel, per se, doesn’t make sense. The only way this makes sense for us is to put the Mountain Club there (and to ask the town to) unlock the Fanny Hill Townhomes.”

Long considered the gem – and potential cash cow – of the Base Village development, the Fanny Hill Townhomes are 10 luxury for-sale cabins and one of the few properties that Skico retained after selling the bulk of its commercial assets (in Base VIllage) to Related WestPac in 2007 for $169 million.

But the slopeside cabins are bound by a phasing schedule that mandates certain public improvements be completed prior to groundbreaking. Schuster admitted that Skico has been in “limbo” waiting for Base Village to be finished; though owner of the mountain amenities, it is essentially powerless in the face of another developer’s timetable for the base area.

This only adds to Skico’s urgency to “jump-start getting this stuff done,” Schuster said. He emphasized that the company believes this project remains true to Base Village’s original intention of bringing more vitality and “hot” beds to the ski area.

The Limelight would also use the same footprint and comparable square footage to what was permitted in the original Base Village approval for this site. Skico once envisioned a Little Nell Hotel for Snowmass in a separate location, but abandoned those plans during the recession. Today, the Limelight is considered a better fit for Snowmass, especially because the Viceroy Hotel seems to satisfy the highest end luxury market.

Interim Community Development Director Mark Kittle determined that a major PUD amendment is appropriate for this application.The change in usage of this building – from condos to a hotel product – is considered significant in some quarters.

Additional structures could actually be built on Lot 2 though if the deal is completed, Skico wants to leave the site of Building 9ABC (where log cabin-style buildings were planned) vacant for event usage.

Building 4, also on this lot, is still envisioned for retail uses. Proposed is an expanded Four Mountain Sports rental shop totaling nearly 5,000 square feet, with four residential units upstairs.

Skico’s Kaplan and Schuster believe this enlarged rental shop would also better serve the customer base, unlike the partially completed base area project of today.

“Base Village and the Snowmass visitor experience is currently incomplete and suffering from uncertainty,” the memo to TOSV concluded. “Acting now allows for a December 2015 completion, while waiting further only deepens the hole we will collectively need to climb out of.”

Editor’s note: This story was corrected on Oct 7, 2013. It was Town of Snowmass Village Interim Community Development Director Mark Kittle who determined that a major PUD amendment was appropriate for the SkiCo’s application, not former TOSV Planning Director Steve Ferris.

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