Article by Madeline Osberger: Aspen Daily News
Groundbreaking marked for $600 million project that’s sat dormant since 2009
When Mike Sura leased commercial space in the Snowmass Center back in 1979, he did so with an eye on a new Base Village project at the bottom of Snowmass Ski Area that was envisioned by developers Jim Light and Jim Chaffin.
“Jim and Jim,” as they were and are still known, would go on to develop other successful Snowmass Village projects, including the Snowmass Club and the Divide and Pines subdivisions, while the base area project has suffered from fits and starts, foreclosure, receivership and, finally, reacquisition by its original co-developer, Aspen Skiing Co.
On Tuesday, atop a surface that has sat for years behind construction fencing, and amid a much-needed downpour, Base Village took its next step in a $600 million, 10-year upgrade of the unfinished core.
Before a crowd of business leaders and community members, Mike Kaplan, Aspen Skiing Co. president and CEO, noted with irony, “This is not my first Base Village opening.”
With former partner Intrawest Corp., SkiCo also had a celebrated groundbreaking about 12 years ago, before the 1.1-million-square-foot project ground to a halt in 2009 under Related Cos., which bought the project from the original owners and would end up selling it back to them a decade after the original acquisition.
SkiCo and KSL Capital Partners are the major investors in the new Snowmass Base Village company, with East West Partners taking the lead on the construction management but with a smaller stake.
Andy Gunion, managing partner of Snowmass Base Village for East West, spoke of how fast things had moved in the six months since the partnership closed on the beleaguered property in December 2016 for $56.5 million.
Infrastructure work actually began in May, and already elevator shafts for the 100-room Limelight Hotel, the project’s pinnacle, are starting to rise. The concrete forms provided a backdrop to the speakers’ brief remarks, which were delivered under a tent and on the surface of the future Base Village plaza.
“Hopefully we’ll be standing on an ice rink in 2018,” Gunion said about the party venue.
He joked that East West Partners’ founder Harry Frampton, who was in attendance, “started working on Base Village in 1984.” Frampton said earlier he had explored working with Chaffin and Light on the Snowmass project during that time period.
Kaplan said the SkiCo had made major investments in the on-mountain lift and restaurant upgrades but that the base was obviously the much-needed piece. In June, the U.S. Forest Service granted final approval on the Lost Forest summer amenities project that will be built in the Elk Camp section of Snowmass. It includes an alpine coaster, canopy tours and new bike trails.
“It’s going to be a whole new day here in summer,” Kaplan said.
Base Village will provide the missing link, and will follow the Lost Forest’s summer of 2018 debut by a few months.
“Here we go. We’re going to fill in that final gap,” he said.
Madeleine Osberger/Aspen Daily News
Work on five buildings and an events plaza is either under way or slated to begin later this year, according to a press release issued by the new partnership. The work includes:
• Limelight Hotel, a 100-room, 11-residence project. Also to be housed within the Limelight is the private Snowmass Mountain Club.
• A central events plaza that will allow ice skating in the winter and summer events.
• Building 4, now called “Lumin,” that will house three residences and a Four Mountain Sports.
• Building 6, the Discovery Center that will showcase the story behind the 2010-11 Ziegler Reservoir ice-age fossil discoveries.
• Buildings 7 and 8, the fake front structures along Wood Road, which include 41 residences, ground-floor commercial and a permanent replacement for the medical clinic. Work is to begin in late fall on the project’s most visible unfinished buildings.
Five different architectural firms have been engaged, each designing separate buildings, to provide “their unique interpretation of mountain contemporary design,” according to information provided by the partnership.
“The project is the largest ski resort development under way in North America — $600 million and 10 buildings planned in the coming years,” it continued.
Base Village is being touted as a redevelopment that’s twice as large as one in Taos, N.M., and four times that of a forthcoming Killington, Vt., project.
It was noted that over the past 12 years, SkiCo has invested about $100 million in on-mountain improvements at Snowmass Ski Area, which have included the Elk Camp gondola and restaurant, as well as a new High Alpine quad chair, and recently, the rebuilt Gwyn’s High Alpine Restaurant.
Included in the Base Village assets the new partnership purchased was the 162-room Viceroy Hotel, the last building completed in November 2009 before Related halted all construction. Also completed in the first phase were condominiums in the Capitol Peak and Hayden Lodge buildings and some commercial spaces.
Base Village was originally developed by a partnership of SkiCo and Intrawest Corp., which sold the property in 2007, two-and-a-half years after receiving its final approval from the town of Snowmass Village, a ruling that was ultimately decided by a referendum vote. It fell into foreclosure and then receivership before eventually being reacquired by an LLC controlled by Related Cos.
Treehouse Kids Adventure Center was the first building completed in Base Village, in 2007, and for a while it stood alone. Ten years later and at the opening party, children’s program director Sue Way said she was glad to see the base area finally on the road to completion.