Editor’s note: This story is the result of a collaboration between Aspen Journalism and Aspen Public Radio.
The four major stakeholders in the Lift One Corridor project at the base of Aspen Mountain have long agreed that construction of the two planned hotels, a new lift, a new base area on city land and ski museum should be sequenced in a way that minimizes the disruption to the skiing public.
Since an entity connected to Vladislav Doronin’s Miami-based OKO Group in March purchased the entitlements to Gorsuch Haus — one of the two slopeside hotel projects on South Aspen Street central to a plan narrowly approved by Aspen voters in 2019 — how well-coordinated the construction sequencing would be between the new developer and the neighboring Lift One Lodge has been an open question.
But representatives of both the Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus now say they have made significant progress since September on coordinating their projects.
“The Lift One corridor stakeholders, including OKO Group, have had productive discussions and we believe everyone is working hard to synthesize the construction timelines,” said Michael Brown, the local point person for the Lift One Lodge, on behalf of both the Lift One Lodge project and the developers of Gorsuch Haus. “It appears the timing for construction of the two projects may be more aligned than appeared to be the case several months ago.”
In August, the developers of Lift One Lodge said in a document shared with the city that they were anticipating moving into the building permit phase of their project soon, but that they could not yet forecast Gorsuch Haus’ construction timeline. A spokesperson for the Gorsuch Haus said in late September that they did not yet have a firm construction timeline in place.
But now the two projects, which stakeholders have described as “intertwined,” appear to be on a more coordinated path.
The developers of the Lift One Lodge are close to finalizing their entitlement documents and securing the vested rights to their approvals for the construction of two ski-in, ski-out buildings on either side of a skiway next to Aspen Street below the current Lift 1A base area on the western side of Aspen Mountain.
Once their final plats and other development documents are recorded, the Lift One Lodge developers plan to apply for a building permit from the city of Aspen, which is expected to take nine months to a year for the city to approve. The 107,000-square-foot project includes 34 lodge rooms that can be broken up into 104 keys, six free market condominium units, 16,000 square feet of commercial space and one affordable housing unit. The development also sits on top of a new 126-space underground parking garage.
Since buying the entitlement rights and an acre of land at the base of Aspen Mountain in March for $76.25 million, the developers of Gorsuch Haus have not sought to make any changes to the project’s vested rights. The entitled project consists of a 64,000-square-foot building with 81 lodge rooms, four condominium units, 7,700 square feet of commercial space and one on-site affordable housing unit, on top of a 54-space underground parking garage.
While the prior owners of the Gorsuch Haus project finalized their development and plat documents before the sale to OKO, the new owners still need to submit a building permit application to the city. That review could also be lengthy.
Sequencing plans critical
When and how both potential hotel projects unfold is of great interest to the two other primary stakeholders in what’s called the Lift One Corridor project — the city and Aspen Skiing Co.
The city is in a unique position with the Lift One Corridor because the new base area on the western side of Ajax requires the use of 2.5 acres of city park and open space land.
In one sign of how interconnected all the stakeholders in the Lift One Corridor are, the city committed $4.36 million in public funds to make the new base area possible — money earmarked for relocating and renovating the historic Skiers Chalet lodge building for use as a skier services building and a ski museum, and creating a pedestrian plaza at the entrance to the new lift.
The Gorsuch Haus approvals also require a $1 million contribution from that project to the relocation and renovation of the Skiers Chalet lodge building. The Skiers Chalet restaurant building will also be renovated and used as a restaurant by the Lift One Lodge.
Given the use of city land in the project, the city is an active stakeholder in the Lift One Corridor project.
Jen Phelan, a development manager with the city’s asset management department, has been meeting since March with representatives of OKO Group, the Lift One Lodge project, SkiCo, and the Aspen Historical Society, which is to run the museum.
Jim True, the city’s attorney, confirmed last week that it is his impression that the two hotel developers are now much more closely aligned in regard to potential construction sequencing than they were this summer.
While the separate approvals from the city for the two projects do not require that the two hotels be built at the same time, they do require that the hotels, the city, and SkiCo all approve a construction sequencing document that lays out the timeline for how the project will come together.
A draft construction sequencing plan submitted to the city on Aug. 25 indicated that the developers of Lift One Lodge were uncertain as to what the developers of Gorsuch Haus intended to do regarding the timing of construction. It laid out a schedule focusing on land Lift One Lodge controls while stating it could not anticipate what effect Gorsuch Haus construction might have on existing or future lift operations. That appears now to have changed, but clarity won’t be forthcoming until a formal construction sequencing plan is made public.
When the Lift One Lodge developers submit their final entitlement documents to the city, among them is expected to be an updated, and required, construction sequencing plan that includes coordination with the Gorsuch Haus, SkiCo and city parks department.
Such a plan is of high interest to SkiCo, and to skiers and riders on Aspen Mountain, because the plan will shed light on how long the 1A side of the ski area may have to go without a base-area lift.
The venerable 1A lift will operate this season as usual, and likely next ski season, as under the most optimistic timeline, the two hotel projects would likely still be in the building-permit-review stage of the process at the start the 2023-’24 ski season.
Once construction does begin, “there’s a strong likelihood that it’s going to miss at least a year at some point,” said Jeff Hanle, SkiCo’s vice president of communications, about a base-area lift on that side of Ajax. And even under an aligned sequencing plan, one ski season could become two.
A 2018 construction sequencing representation filed on behalf of Lift One Lodge, Gorsuch Haus and SkiCo laid out the potential for one ski season without an operating Lift One chairlift, if both projects started digging their foundations and building subgrade structures at the conclusion of a ski season.
It’s possible the new chairlift could be operating 20 months later, while exterior and interior construction of the lodge buildings continued, prior to an opening of the hotels 24-to-28 months after work began, according to the 2018 conceptual framework.
The new lift also goes right by the edge of the planned Gorsuch Haus building, so it’s in the interest of both hotel developers, the SkiCo, the city and the skiing public if the hotels are built in such a manner that once the lift opens, it doesn’t have to close because of Gorsuch Haus construction.
Hanle said it is good that the stakeholders are “working together toward a common timeline.”
“The partners are happy about that,” Hanle said. “It does not guarantee that all the stakeholders hit that timeline … but it could happen.”
He acknowledged that the draft construction sequencing plan in August did not include input from developers at the OKO Group, but they are now participating in sequencing discussions. Phelan, with the city, identified the OKO representatives participating in stakeholder meetings as Fran Scola, the CFO of OKO, Ken Miller, the chief architect of OKO, and Chris Yoder, who oversees development and acquisition for OKO.
“It’s just good that everyone is now communicating,” Hanle said. “We are all part and parcel of the construction sequencing plan and we all are trying to work together to develop a plan that works best for everyone with the least amount of impact.”
The SkiCo has not yet ordered the new lift from Poma in Grand Junction, but still has time to do so based on the likely development schedule of the Lift One Corridor project. A similar lift is up and running at Copper Mountain, called the American Eagle lift.
The Gorsuch Haus project was the subject of intense community focus earlier this year when the project’s original developers — including Jeff Gorsuch, who touted his family’s ties to the area in a multi-year campaign to secure development approvals — sold the land to Doronin’s OKO Group on March 3 for more than seven times what they paid SkiCo for the one-acre parcel in a deal that closed in July 2021.
However, the Gorsuch group had the land under contract since 2013, at which time it was subject to restrictive conservation zoning. That changed when Aspen voters approved the corridor plan referred by Aspen City Council in a March 2019 election decided by just 26 votes.
Doronin, a Swedish citizen, sued The Aspen Times for libel in April over the newspaper’s use of the term “oligarch” and how the Russian-born billionaire’s background and wealth were characterized in news and opinion pieces concerning the Gorsuch Haus purchase. The parties settled the lawsuit the following month, but it kicked off a saga that was covered by The New York Times, The Atlantic and The Aspen Times.
Also noteworthy is that the developers of Lift One Lodge and the owners and developers of Gorsuch Haus have an existing business relationship, as they are working together on a resort in Mexico.
Jason Grosfeld, the CEO of Irongate, a Los Angeles-based resort developer, is also the manager of the entity that controls the Lift One Lodge project, Lift One Lodge Aspen LLC.
On its website, Irongate lists Aman, a luxury resort company of which Doronin is the owner, chairman and CEO, as a “partner.” Asked to clarify the relationship, Brown, of Lift One Lodge, said, “Irongate is developing an Aman resort residences within the Costa Palmas community.”
Costa Palmas is a beach resort near Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
“As is often the case in the hotel business, Irongate is developing this Aman-branded property under a licensing and management agreement, but neither Aman/OKO group nor Vlad Doronin is a partner with Irongate in the Costa Palmas project,” Brown said.
Although much remains unclear about the timing of the Lift One Corridor, the city’s Phelan emphasizes one point: The approvals for the city for both hotel projects requires them to submit a building permit application to the city by Dec. 24, 2025.