Friday, March 11, 2005

Will Ketchum get a new hotel?

New owners of Bald Mountain Lodge property announce plan to build 60- to 70-unit luxury lodge

Express Staff Writer

A development partnership from Seattle, called Bald Mountain L.L.C., has bought the Bald Mountain Lodge property in downtown Ketchum and has conceived tentative plans to develop an approximately 60-unit hotel on the site. Photo by David N. Seelig

After one plan to build a luxury hotel in downtown Ketchum fell by the wayside, another has taken its place.

The new owners of the approximately one-acre parcel at 151 S. Main St.—the site of the defunct Bald Mountain Lodge motor inn—provided details this week about their plan to build a 60- to 70-room high-end lodge on the site.

The ownership group, called Bald Mountain L.L.C., is comprised of the principals of two Seattle-area construction companies, RCI Construction Co. and Steve Burnstead Construction Co.

The group on March 1 closed a deal to purchase the property—which comprises an entire city block near the southern entrance to Ketchum—from Ketchum attorney and developer Brian Barsotti.

Steve Burnstead, a principal of Bald Mountain L.L.C., said Wednesday that the ownership group intends to develop a building on the parcel that would include a "four-plus star hotel" and 10 to 20 condominium units, likely perched on the top.

Conceptual plans for the hotel structure, Burnstead said, also call for ground-level retail spaces, a restaurant, a small banquet facility and a small spa facility.

"There are fairly limited opportunities for places to stay in Ketchum," Burnstead said. "We think an upscale, boutique hotel would be put to good use."

Burnstead—who with his wife Donna has been visiting the Ketchum area since the 1970s—said he hopes to start construction of the hotel in spring 2006.

In the meantime, Burnstead said, he and his partners will seek to work with Ketchum city officials on finalizing a proposed set of amendments to the city zoning code that would make it simpler and more attractive for developers to build hotels in the commercial core.

In 2003, Barsotti received permission to build an 80-room, three-story, 47-foot-high hotel on the parcel, after more than a year of often-bitter public hearings. Barsotti's original plan for a 59-foot building was rejected by the Ketchum City Council.

Opponents of Barsotti's original plan said the building would be too tall and would dominate Main Street. Supporters said development of a new downtown hotel is critical to maintaining Ketchum's service-based economy and its position as a premier tourist destination.

Currently, the height limit in the city's commercial core is 40 feet, but planning staff and some elected officials have shown an interest in amending the code to allow hotels of up to 47 feet.

Barsotti put the Bald Mountain Lodge property on the market last summer, after a lengthy search for partners to invest in his estimated $40 million project came up short. At the time, Barsotti said he strongly believed that new hotel projects in downtown Ketchum are not viable under the city's current zoning regulations.

This week, Burnstead agreed. He said his research so far has indicated that a four-story building—with the higher floors stepping back from Main Street—would best support his plan.

"You couldn't do a hotel with the current zoning on the site," he said. "We think we can build a better building with a fourth-floor option."

Burnstead said the planned condominiums would serve to offset the debt incurred in building the hotel and operating it during slow periods in spring and fall.

"The majority of hotels have gone to that concept," he said.

Burnstead—who noted that he and his partners intend to be active in the operation of the planned hotel over the long term—said he believes a new hotel in Ketchum would benefit many businesses.

"I think there is a need that is recognizable that the city and its businesses need more foot traffic," Burnstead said. "We want to develop a project that benefits the city and is financially feasible."

Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon said he has doubts about whether the public would support a plan for a four-story hotel downtown.

On the other hand, Simon said he believes the city should consider providing more flexibility to hotel developers, in part because few land parcels in Ketchum that could support a centrally located hotel remain undeveloped.

"There are very few opportunities left to us, and I think it is something we need to look at for the vitality of the downtown."

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