Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Hotel Ketchum clears first hurdle

Proposal calls for 73-room, 4-story structure

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum developer Jack Bariteau was on hand Monday night to present his proposed 73-room Hotel Ketchum, which would be located at the corner of River and Main streets, the current site of Trail Creek Village. At Mondayís meeting, the Ketchum Planning & Zoning Commission gave the projectís planned unit development application a favorable recommendation to the City Council. Photo by Willy Cook

Ketchum just took one step closer to bringing a new hotel into the city, as the Planning and Zoning Commission gave a favorable recommendation to the planned unit development application of the proposed Hotel Ketchum.

At a special meeting Monday, June, 16, the commission heard a presentation from Ketchum developer Jack Bariteau and his partner on the project, Paolo Patrone, owner of Piazza Hotels, which developed and runs the Hotel Healdsburg in California's Sonoma Valley.

The design of the 73-room hotel has undergone some slight changes since it was first introduced to the public almost a year ago.

Because of its location on the southeast corner of Main and River streets, where Trail Creek Village currently sits, the four-story hotel would step downwards with the slope of the hill towards Trail Creek.

At Monday's meeting, Bariteau said the partnership, Trail Creek Fund LLC, purchased the property in 2004 with the intent of constructing a hotel of four-star service or higher.

"We feel this will bring a new dynamic to downtown Ketchum, as well as much needed high-end hotel rooms," Bariteau said of the estimate $65 million project.

In addition to three floors of guestrooms, the hotel would include a 98-space, two-story underground parking structure, a restaurant, bar, retail space and six "for sale" penthouse condominiums on the top floor. A lower level, which would be a story below the grade of River Street, would feature a spa, pool, dining area and conference space for around 300 people, a highly sought after amenity in town.

Perhaps the most unique feature of the hotel would be an observatory that would stand approximately 60 feet above River Street and be accessible to the public.

"If you give us the opportunity to do it, we'll do a great job," Paolo Patrone said. "It will be a place you'll be proud to put your family and friends."

Judging by the public comment, it was evident that many agreed with this sentiment.

While some neighboring Leadville Avenue residents opposed the project due to its size, density and proximity to a residential neighborhood, there was plenty of support for the project.

"The location is great for everybody but me," said John Murray, who lives directly across from the parking garage entrance on Leadville Avenue. "But I think the hotel is good for the town."

Murray said that it was likely that he would lose his view of Bald Mountain regardless of what kind of building was developed on the property, as the current zoning allows for a height of 44 feet.

Murray said that he had been in conversations with Bariteau about possible measures to mitigate the impact to his property, including screening and even possible use of the hotel's amenities.

Tim Eagan, who has managed the Trail Creek Village property for the past 15 years, also noted that if a hotel is not built, there's a good chance a large townhouse project would take its place.

"Taking inflation into account, rents are where they were since 1995," Eagan said. "This is clearly indicative of anemic sales."

In addition to providing new "hot beds," the 148,000 square-foot project would create around 75 new jobs, another stimulus to the local economy.

Bariteau said that he's currently looking into several different sites within Ketchum to fulfill the 25 percent workforce housing requirement, as the hotel location is too small to provide on-site housing.

Another issue that remained unresolved is the financing of burying the power and telephone lines to the hotel.

Bariteau said that initial estimates with input from Idaho Power put the cost of this operation at approximately $750,000, adjusting for inflation at the earliest potential construction start date in 2009.

As the city's comprehensive plan calls for putting the power lines underground, and considering this section would serve more buildings than just the hotel, Bariteau suggested a $250,000 contribution to the project. However, Commissioner Sam Williams said that the city should ensure that the developers pay their fair share based on the amount of linear feet of line required by the project.

While these outstanding issues weren't enough to keep the commission from recommending the planned unit development to the City Council, there were still enough remaining question marks to postpone the design review process. Originally scheduled for Tuesday, the design review was pushed back to July in order to give the developers more time to respond to comments made by the commission.

In particular, Commissioner Steve Cook, the sole member opposed to the PUD approval, said that the design was lacking. Cook cited the scale of the hotel, the wood, stone and metal material selected, and the minimal amenities provided to the public in exchange for the requested height, setback, and density waivers.

"There's no more important spot in our community than that corner," Cook said, explaining that the hotel's aesthetics would be an amenity for the community.

However, while Commissioner Williams disagreed with Cook on the overall quality of the current design, he did state that the western façade, which runs adjacent to state Highway 75, would benefit from a greater variety of material in order to break up the length of that side.

The commission is tentatively scheduled to hear the design review process towards the end of July.

Bariteau said that if the project is approved, it would take 10 to 12 months to draw up plans and another 22 to 24 months for construction.

"It's a tremendous risk, but even in this economy, where debt is not available for this kind of project, we can make it work," Bariteau said.

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