Friday, August 12, 2005

More costly Ketchum City Hall hemming and hawing

Express Staff Writer

What is it about the Ketchum City Council that it chokes when faced with approving more lodging rooms?

Once again, a project that could help reverse the drain of hotel rooms has collapsed under the weight of a nay-saying, burdensome City Council that wants more and more study.

Once it heard of yet more delay from Ketchum City Hall, Seattle-based Noble House Hotels pulled out of the ambitious Warm Springs Ranch redevelopment project this week. That means a 60-room boutique hotel that had been neatly folded into the multi-faceted plan is, at best, in serious jeopardy, or, more likely, dead.

This comes at a time when the area has lost 313 short-term lodging rooms, leaving the area with about 1,450 to handle a growing tourism industry.

It also is another victory for a City Council that seems drawn to nit-picking delays rather than bold, visionary action.

Earlier plans for an 80-room hotel on Ketchum's Main Street also collapsed when the developer was forced by the council to trim its height from 59 feet to 47 feet, and thereafter couldn't find a hotel partner for the modified design.

So what was behind crippling the Warm Springs Ranch plan, whose confection of features include the hotel, condominiums, a new restaurant, a new public hiking trail, restoration of Warm Springs Creek, a nature preserve, 30 affordable housing units, six public tennis courts and an annual cash grant to youth golf?

If the volume of public opponents is any explanation, the plan's lack of a golf course was the villain.

Yet, when weighed against the other rich assets the project would add to the community, was golf important enough to perhaps kill a major project?

In a survey for project developer Sun Valley Ventures, Boise-based Clearwater Research found that golf ranked ninth out of 11 recreational pursuits of Ketchum residents.

Only 46 percent golfed or knew of someone who had golfed in the 12 months prior to the survey. Topping the list was walking (96 percent), then local bicycling (77 percent), bicycling in the valley (72 percent), bird watching (72 percent), cross-country skiing (59 percent), jogging (57 percent), picnicking (57 percent), snow-shoeing (47 percent), golfing (46 percent), fishing (36 percent), and tennis (26 percent).

The outrage in this is that hard-nosed investors saw the relative unimportance of a golf course and were willing to back a hotel, whereas the Ketchum City Council lacked the vision to look beyond a few golfers who've undermined a serious addition to the community's economic well-being.

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