Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ketchum P&Z endorses Warm Springs measure

Plan aims to garner retail, hotel space in ailing base village

Express Staff Writer

The shriveling vitality of Warm Springs Village was targeted Monday by the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission, which approved a measure designed to give business there a shot in the arm.

The unanimous approval is a recommendation to the Ketchum City Council to enact a requirement that new commercial buildings in a 10.2-acre area of the village are built with retail or hotel amenities on their ground floors.

"The purpose is to put restrictions around the base area while we're working on the Warm Springs Master Plan," said Ketchum Planning Director Harold Moniz.

The city kicked off the master planning process at a Feb. 28 meeting at Warm Springs Lodge, where 170 people packed the timbered structure.

"It may be one of the most underdeveloped ski bases in the United States—maybe the Western world," said Tom Hudson, executive director of the Ketchum Community Development Corporation.

The area in question Monday, called the Pedestrian Access Overlay District, was designated in 1989 to ensure that parking and vehicles did not dominate the "vibrancy and pedestrian nature" of the base area. But Warm Springs is hardly vibrant, and pedestrians can be few and far between.

Ketchum attorney and developer Brian Barsotti is a significant property owner in Warm Springs. He owns the Baldy Base Camp building and the commercial building containing Apple's Bar & Grill.

"The only person to build commercial property in Warm Springs in the last 30 years is me," he said.

Barsotti is concocting plans to build a five-story hotel there, and he pointed out that requiring retail space on the ground floors of buildings will hardly accomplish much if there aren't hotel beds—and people—to feed business.

Rents at the Baldy Base Camp building are half what they were in 1987, Barsotti said. Half of the space is still empty, "and there's no demand."

"Warm Springs has not one thing open after 5 p.m. It's not a real village," he said. "Without more retail out there, it really is questionable whether that area will come alive."

The overall plan at Warm Springs involves Sun Valley Co., the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and The Water Co. There is also potential for developing geothermal water resources in the area.

The Ski Education Foundation hopes to expand its operations by creating a nationally recognized winter sports education and training institute on Sun Valley Co. property. Additional work will focus on Picabo Street and Sun Valley Co. land on the south side of Warm Springs Creek.

Moniz said Sun Valley Co. is a significant partner in the project.

"Warm Springs was not on their radar at all," he said. "They not only jumped on the band wagon but in many ways are leading the charge."

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