Friday, June 22, 2007

Evolving plans unveiled for Warm Springs Ranch

New restaurant, 5-star hotel, housing envisioned

Express Staff Writer

Project architect Mark Philp takes a question Tuesday night from resident Robert Rudy, right, at Warm Springs Ranch Photo by Willy Cook

It has passed through more owners' hands than an Idaho hot potato.

But now the latest owner and developer of the iconic Warm Springs Ranch property are hoping they have the team in place to allow unfolding concepts for a five-star hotel, housing and restaurant to move forward.

Toward that aim, project developers held the first two of three proposed community meetings this week, on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Possibilities for development of the approximately 77-acre site on Ketchum's northwest flank were both praised and questioned.

Lisa Horowitz, owner of Montana-based LH Land Use Consulting and a contract planner for the city of Ketchum, said she met with the developers in preparation for the neighborhood meetings.

"We said they are on the right track," she said. "But we are not the decision makers."

Warm Springs Ranch in recent years had been embroiled in a series of long-running lawsuits involving ownership disputes. It is now owned by Helios LLC, a company based in Santa Barbara, Calif., that has developed hotels in Europe.

Stan Castleton, CEO of DDRM development, based in Park City, Utah, kicked off the first meeting in front of an audience of about 100 people on the Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant patio. With charts and photos¾accompanied by drinks, snacks and music¾developers presented their latest ideas for the property.

"Nothing is cast in stone," Castleton said. "We don't want to screw it up, to be honest."

Castleton told the audience that he had spent his entire professional career developing major-brand hotels and hospitality projects. He cited Ketchum resident George Tischer, a business partner in a previous incarnation of the project, as responsible for pulling the current proposal together. Tischer was present for the Tuesday neighborhood meeting.

Tischer has a financial interest in the latest proposal but is not involved in the day-to-day details, Castleton said in an interview.

Architect Mark Philp, of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Allen + Philp, walked the audience through the evolution that brought development planning teams to "Scheme 5." He presented a large chart and map containing a development synopsis that included a 180-room hotel with suites and whole and fractional ownerships, 40 family "lodges," 90 resort "cabins" and one single estate.

The existing nine-hole golf course would be redesigned and rebuilt, Philp said in an interview. The course is proposed as an "executive" par-3, nine-hole course that would be open to the public, he said.

Several Warm Springs neighborhood residents praised the developers for trying to incorporate their concerns.

"I think they have done a marvelous job of doing that," resident Jack Williams said.

He said trail access was important to him and his grandchildren, especially for cross-country skiing.

"I think they presented great options to think about," resident J.B. Evans said.

One resident expressed concerns about a proposal to annex the 65 acres of the Warm Springs complex that are in Blaine County into the city of Ketchum. The remaining 12 acres are already within the city.

But resident Susie Koharski said she was surprised by comments architect Philp made about annexation that implied it might be a done deal.

"I got the impression they already knew what they were going to do," Koharski said in an interview after the presentation.

Castleton did not specify a price tag for the plans, saying, "costs were very, very, preliminary." He said construction costs have "skyrocketed" recently.

Developers said no agreements have yet been signed with any five-star hotel operator. However, Philp said, St. Regis, which has a five-star hotel in Aspen, Colo., is part of the design team.

"They are not the brand yet," he said. "(But) everyone hopes they are the one."

Some elements of the iconic restaurant at the ranch, which has catered to generations of Ketchum residents, will be preserved, Castleton said.

"We will recreate the atmosphere and sense of place," said Dale Bates, president of Living Architecture, the Ketchum-based firm that is also on the development design team.

Castleton said developers met with some vocal critics of their concepts on Wednesday morning.

"We are already evaluating input we received last (Tuesday) night," DDRM planner Chuck Klingenstein said.

Other residents had more pragmatic concerns.

"I couldn't see the presentation, I could only hear it," Bob Bartleson said. Some deck vantage points were better than others.

The developers said they hope to submit a pre-application by the end of June. If that happens, a pre-application review hearing could be held before the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission on Aug. 13, Horowitz said.

A pre-application is not a formal application for development. Essentially, it is a tool to allow developers to get comments from city officials about a proposal before a formal application is submitted.

The developers said there may be concepts beyond "Scheme 5" and changes to the plans might necessitate submitting the pre-application at a later date.

Ultimately, development of the entire site would require several formal applications to the city, including one for annexation of the land located in Blaine County.

The third neighborhood meeting is scheduled for July 6 at 5 p.m. on the Warm Springs Ranch Restaurant patio, in the hope that second-home owners will be in town and able to attend.

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