Base Village map as of 2014
Base Village map as of 2014

SNOWMASS VILLAGE – Aspen Skiing Co. is prepared to invest $100 million in the development of a Limelight hotel for Snowmass Village after signing a purchase and sale agreement last week with Related Colorado.

According to SkiCo CEO Mike Kaplan, more certainty about specific improvements tied to the Base Village project weren’t the only reasons the company returned to the bargaining table with Related to buy slopeside property in the heart of the unfinished base area.

Widespread public support for a Limelight hotel in Snowmass Village voiced through a series of pre-sketch plan meetings between the developer and the community “encouraged us to come back in,” Kaplan said.

“First we heard, ‘let’s get Base Village done.’ Second was, ‘we’d really like to see the Limelight,’” Kaplan said.

SkiCo officials originally proposed a hotel last year but withdrew in March because of too many unknowns out of their control.

The project’s popularity and SkiCo’s role as the unlikely white knight will be tested through a joint application that Related Colorado expects to file on behalf of both entities by Oct. 15.

The town of Snowmass Village is asking Related, the master developer, for a more comprehensive look at what it has in store for finishing the project that’s been stalled for nearly five years due to financial troubles.

“There needs to be one applicant here. They can speak with one voice,” Kaplan said.

In exchange for an extension of its vesting rights, Related Colorado must agree to meet milestones tied to the completion of improvements both public — including a traffic roundabout, snow melting system and road repairs — and private, primarily the development of the Viceroy hotel’s second phase.

The land sale to SkiCo is contingent upon Related getting the vesting extension and its project approval in a timely fashion. The 2004 development approval for Base Village is due to expire in November. If vesting expires, Related says the new requirements for affordable housing could add tens of millions of dollars to the project.

“It’s important Related hits their milestones. It’s also important the town gives them enough breathing room,” Kaplan said.

Base Village in the fall of 2013. Little has changed since then on the property.
Base Village in the fall of 2013. Little has changed since then on the property.

Politics and rage

The Limelight hotel project was first proposed in fall of 2013 but withdrawn in March of this year, derailed by too many unknowns, such as the timeframe for public improvements like a roundabout, from Related.

The company now has a firmer schedule that’s guaranteed through what it calls “kill switches.” Those are dates and milestones that, in theory, could allow for work stoppages and the forfeiting of vesting rights.

The Snowmass Village Town Council is expected to act upon a recommendation by the planning commission and grant a four-year extension of vesting rights at its next regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 8.

Frustration by the public and elected officials over the state of Base Village came to a head during the first discussion of the vesting rights extension last Monday. One person in the room who asked not to be named described the scene like this: “It was four years of pent-up rage.”

The discussion, which spanned nearly three hours, had a decidedly political undertone due to several candidates in the Nov. 4 election seeming to jockey for position from the council table and the audience.

That’s worrisome for Kaplan and SkiCo, which doesn’t know the composition of a new town council that could determine Base Village’s future.

Ten years ago, as the original PUD application was being considered, SkiCo also had a new council, but one that was more favorable to the developer.

In 2007, two-and-a-half years after receiving its approval, SkiCo and Intrawest sold to Related WestPac for $169 million. The property has since been through a foreclosure and receivership and is now in the hands of a Related Colorado concern.

In their second go-round of trying to buy property back from Related Colorado, Kaplan wouldn’t confirm whether SkiCo negotiated a better price, as rumored. But he did admit to the increased purview and control SkiCo will now have on the neighboring properties.

“This construction project is huge,” Kaplan said. “$100 million with all of the improvements we’re talking about making … obviously we want to know what goes in next door and vice versa.”

Contiguous to the Limelight lot (see map, page 12) is the site designated for a community facility such as an aqua center. If SkiCo moves forward with the purchase and hotel development, the community facility may be closer to the elevators that access the parking garage.

“We’d like to engage in a discussion about the community facility,” Kaplan said, regarding what’s the best use for the site.

In the October major PUD application that Related Colorado plans to submit, more detail will be offered on buildings 7 and 8 (the fake front buildings along Wood Road), building 6 and SkiCo’s interests, which include the Limelight complex.

Anderson Ranch Arts Center once considered developing part of building 6 but those talks were terminated in late 2013. A multi-use building, it’s approved for nine residential units.

The Viceroy’s second phase, “13B,” is included in the schedule of project milestones.

The current thinking is to include 67 new residences in the building and an enhanced workout facility for hotel guests.

There are no specific plans for several of the other buildings, those designated on the map as 10, 11 and 12. Building 12 is sited above the Viceroy’s second phases: across Wood Road, in the vicinity of parking lot C, is the future home of the 10 and 11 series of buildings.

“It’s impossible to say what they’re going to be without knowing the state of the market,” said Steve Alldredge, spokesman for Related.

Under a separate application, SkiCo is expected to seek approval for the Fanny Hill Townhomes, a 10-unit luxury development that in the original PUD application was tangled by completion of other phases in the project, which have not yet been met. Unlike the Limelight site, SkiCo currently owns this land.

SkiCo is hoping Fanny Hill will have a clean slate in this round of approvals because it’s one of the Limelight’s economic drivers.

“How we make (the hotel) work is through the Fanny Hill Townhomes and the Snowmass Mountain Club,” Kaplan said, regarding a private club.

The Lynn Britt Cabin, which will be presented within a separate mountain master plan application, will also complement the Snowmass Mountain Club’s offerings. More information will be forthcoming about the on-mountain property that SkiCo has used for snowcat dinners.

The platform for a potential Limelight hotel in Base Village.
The platform for a potential Limelight hotel in Base Village. Credit: Brent Gardner-Smith / Aspen Journalism

What if SkiCo never sold?

Asked if the company was sorry that it sold the project, Kaplan’s response was mixed.

“It definitely made it more complicated,” he said. “The world was going to do what the world was going to do. We were on a path that was moving more quickly. Maybe we would have been moving faster in terms of construction. 2008 was going to happen regardless of who owned Base Village.”

He suggested that the end result might have been “a bunch of unsold inventory. But it would be built.” Kaplan has said in the past that the unfinished development has hurt the SkiCo brand and the resort community.

Throughout Snowmass Village, there are 159 multi-family units for sale, according to the Aspen/Glenwood Board of Realtors MLS. Nine are under contract or pending.

Approved for 610 units, less than half, or 243 residential units, have been completed in Base Village.

Kaplan also said the property sale to Related WestPac was key to financing Snowmass’ on-mountain improvements. SkiCo bought the land for just $11 million in December of 1999.

“From an Aspen Skiing Co. standpoint, we were able to take that capital and invest it in the mountain,” Kaplan said. “We wouldn’t have half the on-mountain facilities we have now, Sheer Bliss (lift), the Elk Camp restaurant, the Treehouse kids’ center.

“But to have a half-finished village is no good,” he said. “We don’t regret selling it but wish we could get moving sooner.”

Base Village map as of 2014
Base Village map as of 2014

What could be built in Base Village

By Oct. 15, Related Colorado says it will submit a plan outlining what’s in store for the rest of Base Village. The application will include a 102-room Limelight hotel that Aspen Skiing Co. wants to develop on the parcel, called Lot 2, adjacent to the Elk Camp Gondola.

The 2004 planned-unit development (PUD) approval allows for 610 lodging units in Base Village. Just 243 have been built to date in the Viceroy, Capitol Peak and Hayden Lodge.

What follows is a building-by-building list of what has been approved per the 2004 Base Village PUD, what is anticipated in the future and what has been completed to date. Read left to right on map, above.

• Building 13A: Completed. Viceroy Snowmass. 152 free-market, two employee units.

• Building 13B: Phase 2 of the Viceroy. 72 units approved but latest thinking is 67 units. Anticipated to begin construction in July of 2015, finished by December of 2016.

• Building 12: Approved for 41 total residential units (55,435 square feet allowed). No specifics known at this time.

• Building 10A: Approved for 45 residential units (59,815 square feet allowed). No specifics known at this time.

• Building 10B: Approved for 45 residential units (59,815 square feet allowed). No specifics known at this time.

• Building 11: Approved for 50 total residential units (64,220 square feet allowed). No specifics known at this time.

• Aqua Center site: Future unknown. Requirement for community amenity may be shifted to Building 9ABC parcel.

• Building 8: Approved for 27 residential units (96,084 square feet allowed). One of the two fake-front buildings on Wood Road. Once envisioned as Residences at Little Nell, now under consideration for vacation club/fractional use. Emergency clinic will have space in the building.

• Building 7: Approved for 8 units of residential and mixed usage (27,327 square feet allowed). The second fake-front building on Wood Road. Includes the incomplete Base Village arrival center.

• Building 6: Approved for 9 units residential and mixed usage (17,286 square-feet allowed). Plan will be discussed in October.

• Building 5: SkiCo proposal for 102-unit Limelight hotel, 15 condos and two employee units. 4,500-square-foot Snowmass Mountain Club, 2,200-square-foot conference space. Restaurant and lounge. 16 months of construction needed.

• Building 4AB: Part of Limelight hotel and condominium project. Site of Four Mountain Sports.

• Building 9ABC: Under current consideration as relocated “community amenity” site; water feature or events area possible.

• Building 3DE: Completed. 8,322 square feet of commercial space. Iconic red barn structure houses Slice and was original home to The Sweet Life.

• Building 3ABC: Completed. Commercial, retail and ski-related facilities include Base Camp restaurant and bar. Total is 16,347 square feet.

• Building 2C: Completed. Includes 23 residential units and North Face retail store. Total of 36,911 square feet.

• Building 2B: Completed. Mixed use with 25 units and restaurant space for a total 41,914 square feet in Capitol Peak complex.

• Building 2A: Completed. Ricard restaurant, 29 residential units and conference space included in 70,052-square-foot Capitol Peak complex.

• Building 1: Completed. Treehouse kids center and 14 units of residential in Hayden Lodge. Total of 48,843 square feet.

• Fanny Hill townhomes: 10 townhomes averaging 2,500 square feet, plus a 610-square-foot apartment. Located to the right of The Enclave on map.

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism and the Aspen Daily News are collaborating on coverage of Snowmass Village and local governments. The Daily News published this story on Wednesday, August 27, 2014. The Daily News also published a sidebar story.