Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Warm Springs commercial faces threats

Residential developments encroaching farther into village core

Express Staff Writer

A trend of new residential development encroaching into the commercial heart of Warm Springs Village appears to be reaching new heights.

Two commercial buildings in Warm Springs, in northwest Ketchum, could soon be converted to residential uses, while a sizable vacant lot zoned for service-related uses or high-density housing has been subdivided to accommodate single-family houses.

Brian Barsotti, owner of the Baldy Base Camp building on Picabo Street, said he is considering tearing down the high-profile commercial structure and replacing it with a new residential development.

Concurrently, a business partnership including Barsotti is seeking city approval to convert the Eagle Crest Inn, a hotel located next door to the Baldy Base Camp, into condominiums.

"The demand is residential," Barsotti said. "The economics dictate what's going on."

Barsotti—who rents units in the Baldy Base Camp to several businesses, including Paul Kenny's Ski and Sports, Wrapcity restaurant and The Outabounds Lounge—said lease payments commanded for commercial sites in Warm Springs are not keeping pace with inflation. Taxes are going up, he said, and rent prices are going down.

"The rents we receive today are less than the rents we got in 1989," Barsotti said.

One restaurant unit commanded approximately $60,000 per year in 1989, he said, but last year leased for only $17,000.

Barsotti said he has tried to help his Bald Base Camp tenants by keeping rents low but has now decided not to extend any of their leases beyond April 2006.

Baird Gourlay, co-owner of Paul Kenny's, said he is planning to open a new store in downtown Ketchum but will likely operate a satellite store in Warm Springs. Nonetheless, Gourlay said he would probably not move the business if he could extend his Warm Springs lease.

The proposal to convert the Eagle Crest Inn to condominiums is currently under review by city officials. Although the building has struggled as a hotel, a debate has ensued over whether the building can legally be converted into private-ownership units.

The city has already approved the Monte Vista subdivision, which converted a Tourist-zoned parcel north of the Baldy Base Camp—along Howard Drive—into eight lots. The parcel—which has served as parking for a skier's group—had been considered a prime candidate for a high-density development that might bring new life to the village.

"It's certainly disappointing to me that a property that should be multi-family or a hotel goes to single-family residential," said Harold Moniz, Ketchum planning director.

However, Moniz noted, residential developments are clearly dominating the marketplace.

"I'm not even getting any commercial built in the downtown," he said. "Everything is residential."

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