Friday, June 10, 2005

Resort: Yes to new hotel, maybe not for gondolas

Sun Valley Co. manager outlines latest development plans

Express Staff Writer

In the latest rendition of Sun Valley Resort's development plans, a new hotel and spa to be located on the site of the Sun Valley Village parking lot will take priority, while two of three gondolas planned for Bald Mountain might be put on hold.

The news was delivered by Sun Valley Co. General Manager Wally Huffman during an address to the membership of the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Wednesday, June 8, at the Sun Valley Lodge.

In an animated speech, Huffman told a full house in the Lodge Dining Room that Sun Valley Co. owner Earl Holding and others involved in guiding the company's development have made some changes to their master development plan since it was first unveiled in April 2004.

However, one key element of the original plan has not been significantly altered, a hotel with a spa facility and underground parking that would be built on the "ugliest three acres in Sun Valley Village," the main parking lot, Huffman said.

"Mr. Holding would like to build a 125- to 175-room hotel very soon," he said.

The hotel would be linked to the existing village core where the Konditorei restaurant and Boiler Room lounge are located. The hotel would ultimately replace those buildings, offering a new restaurant in place of the Konditorei, Huffman said.

"We're looking at a spa because it's one amenity we could use in the off-season that is not weather dependant," he noted.

In addition, the Sun Valley Post Office would be relocated and the resort might seek to install a new gourmet food store in the vicinity.

Sun Valley Co. still plans to build a permanent facility for the Sun Valley Symphony in the open space northeast of the Sun Valley Lodge, Huffman said, and still plans to build a new ballroom near the Ram Restaurant. Plans for a gondola from Sun Valley Village to Dollar Mountain and River Run and new condominiums around the village are also intact.

The major change to the original plans for the village core involves a second hotel proposed for the area directly east of the Lodge. That hotel is now planned to be located further east, on the shores of Sun Valley Lake. The company has purchased some of the private properties there already, Huffman said, and will seek to gain ownership of the entire area.

Sun Valley Co. would like to build the central hotel/spa in the "next two years," Huffman said. If that is done, he noted, then the company would seek to immediately implement a plan to develop a new nine-hole golf course on its Gun Club parcel east of the village, and possibly another nine holes of golf near Trail Creek Cabin.

On the resort's Prospector property, located immediately south of Sun Valley City Hall, plans call for 66 housing units, 32 estate lots and 34 townhouses.

As for the Penny Mountain parcel, at the intersection of Sun Valley and Dollar roads, which is zoned to allow up to 112 condominium units, Sun Valley has proposed to give up development rights there if it can build approximately 70 units along the tree line extending southwest toward Ketchum.

The exact configuration of development there and at other "sensitive" sites would be determined with city planners when a formal development application is submitted.

As for the company's 160 acres of land in Blaine County surrounding the River Run Lodge, near Ketchum, Huffman said he has commenced discussions with the city of Ketchum to annex the land into the city. A formal application for annexation will likely come in early summer.

The original plans for the mostly Tourist-zoned land included a 200-room luxury hotel southeast of the lodge, adjacent to a 1500-space, mostly underground four-level parking lot. The 2004 River Run master plan also called for some 350 condominium units—located primarily on the northern and eastern portions of the site—10 estate lots near the existing bike path, and limited commercial space.

Huffman said Wednesday that the company would like to develop about 630 units—hotel and residential—at River Run. He said the plan is to integrate the area into Ketchum, not to compete with the city as a separate village.

"Any other owner of that property ... would develop it as a self-sufficient, completely contained ski village ... What we're proposing is to make it a bedroom community."

The resort needs "hot beds" to increase its skier numbers, he said, but wants to pursue a plan that helps revitalize downtown Ketchum.

The River Run plan, Huffman said, could allow for an approximately 35-acre "eco-park" in an area comprised of wetlands and might call for use of the parking structure as a municipal facility during evenings, off-seasons and summer months.

All told, Huffman said, the overall master plan calls for developing 2,100 "development units"—single-family, hotel or condominium—on its vast private lands zoned to allow up to 3,400 units.

Regarding development on Sun Valley's mostly leased land on Bald Mountain, Huffman said formal comments made about the company's proposed 10-year mountain development plan have prompted some potential changes.

Plans to build a new gondola from the River Run base area to the Roundhouse restaurant are still in effect, he said. However, because of public opposition, proposed gondolas from Roundhouse to the Lookout summit and from the Warm Springs base area to the summit—to replace the Challenger lift—might be put on hold.

"For the life of this (10-year) master plan, we'll probably leave the Challenger lift where it is," Huffman said.

The ski-area plan—submitted as an update to the existing Bald Mountain Master Development Plan—also calls for expanding the ski-area boundaries, developing a new beginner's area near Seattle Ridge, adding considerable amounts of new snowmaking equipment and remodeling the Roundhouse.

The public comment period on the mountain plan closed Thursday, June 9. It will now undergo numerous studies by the National Forest Service.

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