Friday, August 15, 2008

Hanging in the balance

Hotel Ketchum fate yet to be decided

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum City Council has heard the first of three pending hotel applications, but made no decision on the proposed 73-room Hotel Ketchum.

At a special meeting on Tuesday evening, the council, applicant and members of the public discussed the project and took a visit to the site to get a better idea of how the hotel would be positioned there.

The lot on the southeast corner of Main and River streets is currently occupied by Trail Creek Village, which includes restaurants Chandler's and Baci.

The Planning and Zoning Commission recommended the planned-unit development application for approval in June and also approved the project's design review the following month. However, despite the green light from the commission, some public opposition remains, largely due to the scale of the hotel.

As proposed by Ketchum-based developer Jack Bariteau, the hotel would have three floors of guestrooms, six "for sale" penthouse condominiums on the fourth floor, a two-story underground parking structure, as well as a restaurant, bar and retail space. 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.

Most notably, the hotel would also house an observatory, which could stand up to 75 feet high at the top of its dome.

The hotel has a total square footage of just less than 150,000, including parking, and a footprint of around 28,000 square feet.

It's this size that led Commissioner Steve Cook to be the lone vote against the PUD and design review approval, which he explained to the council at Tuesday's meeting.

"I have a strong suspicion that it's too massive to be at the gateway," Cook said. "Perhaps there is an over-consumption of the site."

Cook took particular interest in the west façade of the building, since it would face state Highway 75 and, therefore, be the most visible, especially to cars entering downtown Ketchum.

The corner was designated by planning consultant Nore Winter in last year's Gateway Study as an optimal location for a hotel.

The height was also an issue for a number of nearby residents, as well as for Cindy Forgeon, owner of the Kentwood Lodge, located directly across River Street from the proposed hotel. At 58 feet, the height of Hotel Ketchum would put the 37-foot lodge in shadow for large portions of the day, Forgeon contended.

However, there was little debate over the potential quality of the four-star hotel, which would be run with help from Bariteau's partner in the project, Paolo Patrone, owner of Piazza Hotels. Patrone, who was in Ketchum for the meeting, runs the Hotel Healdsburg in California's Sonoma Valley, which was just named as the 24th best hotel in the continental U.S. and Canada by readers of Travel and Leisure Magazine.

Patrone said that since the hotel opened in 2001, occupancy rates have risen to around 80 percent year-round, assisted by the fact that there are no other high-end hotel accommodations offered in the area, a situation he said is similar to that in Ketchum.

According to Bariteau, if the hotel is approved, his optimistic estimate would be to break ground in the fall of 2009 and open the hotel in the summer of 2011.

Of course, due to the project's cost of about $65 million, Bariteau said that timeline would also depend on the state of credit markets, which are difficult in today's economy. He said there is currently $4 million of equity in the project, but that an additional $20 to $25 million is needed before a loan can be obtained.

While Bariteau said is confident he can accomplish this, the question of employee housing remains. Though Bariteau said he's committed to create this required housing for his workforce within Ketchum, no plan has been determined yet.

Bariteau said that he needs the council's approval of the hotel PUD before he can truly begin to pursue the purchase or lease of land for this use.

The public hearing was continued to the Sept. 15 regular council meeting, when the council will look more specifically at the review standards that must be met for the PUD approval.

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