City of Aspen commits $4.3M for public-private Aspen Mountain base redevelopment
The Aspen Times
The majority of Aspen City Council late Monday night agreed to put in over $4.3 million as part of a public-private partnership with developers who are proposing to redevelop the western portal at the base of Aspen Mountain.
The 3-2 decision came at around midnight, with councilman Adam Frisch making the swing vote in favor of taxpayer money going to pay for a new ski museum and improvements to Dean Street.
Frisch last week — and up until Monday’s vote — had taken the position that developers stand to make a sizable profit so why should any public subsidy be needed?
“I don’t see the value of contributing millions of dollars,” he said Monday night, adding it’s a bad use of public money. “I don’t believe there’s not added value” for Lift One Lodge owners who relocated their buildings to accommodate a new chairlift to come down to Dean Street and also gained additional square footage.
Acknowledging that the project could be in jeopardy and to end Monday’s seven-hour meeting, Frisch acquiesced and agreed to a straight payment of $4.36 million, delivered to the developers after the new chairlift is in operation.
The project includes new lodges, the Lift One Lodge and Gorsuch Haus, along with a new Telemix chairlift that’s accessed at Dean Street, a relocated and refurbished Skier’s Chalet Lodge that will provide 11,000 square feet to house a ski museum, ticketing services and ski patrol and new public parks, to name a few amenities.
Combined, the properties would provide 185 new lodge keys, including 104 in the Lift One Lodge timeshare project and 81 in Gorsuch Haus as a traditional hotel.
Frisch also argued that Lift One Lodge developers Michael and Aaron Brown had previously committed to paying for the build-out of a ski museum in the old Skier’s Chalet Lodge.
When they bought the Lift One Lodge timeshare project and its entitlements from another development group in 2015, that commitment was attached to the approval.
The approval has since been amended and now the Browns are seeking approval of a new land-use application to accommodate council’s desire for a chairlift to come farther down the hill.
“You bought the obligation, honor that,” Frisch told Michael Brown at Monday’s meeting.
Brown intimated that if there wasn’t city buy-in to pay for the ski museum, the project and the Skier’s Chalet Lodge could disappear.
There is no historical designation on the building and therefore could be demolished, he pointed out.
“That aspect of the project will change dramatically,” Brown said. “Maybe we don’t come back, I don’t know.”
Councilman Ward Hauenstein, who was in favor of a public-private partnership, said he felt like he was in a game of poker.
“I feel like we’re calling someone’s bluff,” he said, joking that he was in for $360,000 to keep the conversation going.
Hauenstein said there appears to be community support for the entire corridor project and it’s headed for a March 5 vote so why not take a leap of faith?
“I think it’s short-sighted of council to not make this work,” he said.
Councilwoman Ann Mullins agreed, and said the historic resources associated with the project, along with providing a venue for international ski racing and much-needed lodge rooms are enough for her to support putting taxpayer dollars toward it.
“This is going to be an enormous community benefit in the end,” she said. “Twenty years from now or 30 years from now people will thank us for having done this. I am of certain of it.”
Mayor Steve Skadron and Councilman Bert Myrin did not support a subsidy for the project, arguing that the community has given up enough concessions, such as added square footage and less affordable housing — although the development is in compliance with the land use code.
The city’s financial support is different than what developers had asked for. They wanted the city to invest in the project by reallocating 80 percent of the project’s development fees, estimated at $3.6 million, to pay for the ski museum.
But elected officials didn’t want to set a precedent in taking money out of dedicated funds to pay for something else.
The city’s contribution to Dean Street improvements would be $760,000 toward an estimated $1.2 million price tag, if approved by city voters.
The municipal government also would be responsible for between $1 million and $1.5 million to develop two public parks in the corridor.
Council continued the public hearing until Jan. 7 to hash out final details of the entire corridor plan, which has been three years in the making.
It is expected that council will vote on an ordinance that would go to a public vote March 5. The deadline to get a question on the ballot is Jan. 14.