A view of the finished slab on which Building 5 in Base Village is to built, just behind the Elk Camp gondola.
A view of the finished slab on which Building 5 in Base Village is to built, just behind the Elk Camp gondola.Smith / Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – The Aspen Skiing Co. has put the brakes on the Limelight hotel project in Snowmass after determining there were too many unknowns surrounding the future of the overall Base Village plan.

“I’m very sorry to be saying we are withdrawing that application and terminating our agreement with Related,” SkiCo president and CEO Mike Kaplan on Monday told the Snowmass Village Town Council.

Kaplan said that uncertainty about the traffic roundabout, building phasing, vesting rights and just what Related has in store for Base Village’s future was enough for SkiCo ownership to decide the project carries too much risk.

Not only was there fear that the hotel’s certificate of occupancy might get held up if requirements, including the traffic circle, weren’t satisfied, Kaplan said the lack of a plan for the rest of Base Village could make it difficult to sell the free-market condos proposed with the hotel application.

In posing the question to Related, “What’s it going to look like directly behind the Limelight?” in the future, Kaplan didn’t receive a firm answer.

The unfinished Building 8 in Base Village. It was once to be a Little Nell Snowmass and its future remain uncertain. Smith / Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Hotel as catalyst

Last fall, SkiCo announced it wanted to develop a version of its popular Aspen Limelight hotel in Snowmass Village in an attempt to “kick start” development in Base Village, where construction had been stalled for four years.

At the time, Kaplan said, “the unfinished condition in Base Village is damaging the brand, our customers are losing patience and local businesses and taxing districts are struggling.”

The plan for a 102-room hotel and 18 condos, to be constructed on lot 2 — part of the section of Base Village that’s recognizable by its concrete building slabs — was under Snowmass Planning Commission review since January. The board convened weekly in an attempt to meet SkiCo’s aggressive review, approval and construction schedule.

Commissioners were in the middle of completing a recommendation for approval to the Snowmass Village Town Council when Don Schuster, SkiCo’s vice president of hospitality, requested a “pause” to give the company time to speak further with Related — the owner of the property on which the Limelight could have been built. As of Feb. 27, Schuster was still holding meetings with the project’s architectural team in Evergreen, Colo.

Dwayne Romero, president of Related Colorado, said SkiCo’s decision to pull the plug on the Limelight “came together within the last 48 hours.”

About $1 million has been spent by SkiCo on planning for the now-scuttled Limelight, Kaplan said.

An illustration of the vision for Base Village as shown on a construction fence around the unfinished core of the village. Smith / Aspen Journalism Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

Lights on, or off?

During Monday’s meeting, Councilman Fred Kucker spoke of an acquaintance whom he called “a successful developer.”

The developer described the current state of Base Village as a “neon sign flashing on and off saying, ‘no market, no market.’ To my mind, the Limelight was a catalyst to turn that sign off. Now, sadly, I think that sign’s back on,” Kucker said.

Mayor Bill Boineau said he suspected this situation might ensue when council on Feb. 18 unanimously upheld a decision by Mark Kittle, the town’s interim community development director, that classified changes proposed by Related to extend its vesting rights in Base Village as a major rather than minor amendment. That could have resulted in a longer review process.

Then last week Schuster requested the “pause” before the planning commission was to act on the Limelight resolution. At the meeting when examination of the application was to have begun, representatives from both SkiCo and Related Colorado said the project had been terminated.

“If the right opportunity arises again,” Kaplan said, SkiCo might consider working with Related in the future.

When asked about next steps for Base Village, Romero said, “all is not lost. We’re going to continue to move forward and solve these problems together.”

He said Related would soon be submitting building plans for the second phase of the Viceroy Hotel with the hopes that construction can begin this summer.

Looming in the future is a November deadline when some of the original Base Village approvals are set to expire. That’s just one of the “uncertainties” faced by the developer.

“An extension of the vesting will allow for commitment and completion of several critical pieces of the project,” Romero said. “An extension of the interim milestone will give us room, time and confidence to move forward.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News collaborated on this story. The Daily News published the story on Tuesday, March 4, 2014.