Bald Mountain Hotel enters home stretch
Council vote expected Tuesday
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
More than three years of planning and more
than a year of public hearings will culminate next week when the Ketchum City
Council votes to either support or deny plans to build a tall downtown Ketchum
The Bald Mountain Hotel is shown as
it would appear from the Forest Service Park.
Rendering courtesy of CAD Drafting Systems
At the core of the associated public
debate is the building’s proposed 59-foot height, accented with a 69-foot clock
tower. Opponents say the height is too far beyond the city’s 40-foot height
limit. Proponents say the proposal is the city’s best shot at achieving
resort-oriented economic development in a tourist-dependent economy.
The Ketchum City Council will host a
public hearing on the issue Tuesday, Jan. 21, at Ketchum City Hall at a meeting
that begins at 5:30 p.m.
The new hotel would replace the historic
Bald Mountain Lodge, which occupies an entire city block at the south end of
Ketchum’s Main Street. It would include 81 high-end rooms and a
46,000-square-foot conference facility. Rooms at the full-service hotel would
rent in the neighborhood of $275 per night.
Despite its lofty maximum height, the
project’s developer, Brian Barsotti, pointed out that the structure’s
stepped-back, wedding cake-like design would impact city streets less than many
of the city’s two-story buildings.
"By putting 12 percent of the building on
the fourth floor, you gain more than 14,000 square feet of open space at the
ground level," Barsotti said. "We’ve spent money on this project for the past
five years. We’re just ready to move on. We’ve just spent way too much time and
money on this thing."
The proposed Bald Mountain Hotel would
occupy an entire city block where the existing historic Bald Mountain Lodge
is located. The building’s ‘H’ layout would create courtyards of open space. The
building’s tallest roof lines, measuring 59 feet tall, would be situated near
the crossbar of the ‘H’. Rendering
courtesy of CAD Drafting Systems
The number of hotel rooms in Ketchum and
Sun Valley has been on the decline for several years, and business owners have
taken notice. From 1999 to 2002, Ketchum lost 111 hotel rooms and a
difficult-to-surmise number of condominiums. Sun Valley lost 132 rooms last fall
when Elkhorn closed its hotel.
Hotel rooms lost in recent years,
including Elkhorn, constitute 26 percent of the north valley’s previous hotel
Citing the need for short-term lodging,
more than 20 Ketchum restaurant and bar owners signed a letter to the editor
appearing in today’s paper calling for approval of Barsotti’s project.
"The new hotel will enhance the economic
vitality of the Ketchum commercial core," they wrote. "Our businesses are
dependent on tourism, and Ketchum needs new hotels."
Though support for the hotel appears
widespread, including a unanimous endorsement from the city’s planning and
zoning commission, that support may not be where it will count most.
In a Ketchum City Council meeting two
weeks ago, council members Chris Potter and Randy Hall expressed trepidation
with the project. Councilman Baird Gourlay recused himself from consideration of
the project because of a perceived, though not legal, conflict of interest.
Potters and Hall, therefore, have the votes to sink the proposal if they wish.
"The height does it for me. It’s just too
much," Potters said last week. "When we had huge numbers of people coming out to
talk about the comprehensive plan and how they wanted the plan to develop and
how they wanted the town to be, it didn’t include buildings that were 70 feet
Slightly complicating the matter, the
historic hotel is one of only two Ketchum properties listed on the National Park
Service’s National Register of Historic Places. However, listing does little to
prevent historic structures from being razed, said National Register spokeswoman
"Basically, owners can manage their
properties as they wish," McClulland said. "Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot we
can do to intervene, because it’s certainly outside of our authority."
Listing only makes properties available
for government tax credits and grants that will be used to restore a property to
historically accurate standards.
Nonetheless, Ketchum’s historic
preservation gurus are pushing for preservation.
"The Bald Mountain Lodge compliments the
(neighboring Forest Service) park and park buildings, in size, height and
historic age," wrote Historical Society President Ann Zauner in a letter to the
Idaho Mountain Express. "The lodge adds to the character of the area and makes a
statement about the town as one enters the city on Main Street."
Zauner said in a separate interview that
her goal is to purchase and preserve the building.
"We would love to buy it, which would be
ideal, and bring it back to its actual historic status," she said. "We haven’t
given up hope yet."
The preservation camp will have to act
fast, whether a hotel is built or not.
Barsotti said he has already been
approached by another developer interested in partnering to build a 100 percent
residential project at the site if the hotel sinks.
But Barsoti said Ketchum is in need of a
"Short term, the small town character of
the town is something everyone’s concerned about," he said. "But long term,
whether you can maintain a vibrant commercial core without a hotel—when you look
at retailers and restaurant people, you’re going to see a lot of the services
disappear because of a less vibrant commercial core."
The following URLs connect to various
computer renderings of the Bald Mountain Hotel proposal, which were built by
Ketchum-based CAD Drafting Systems: