Friday, December 31, 2010

Ketchum questions linger into 2011

Hotel developers ask for more time; Ketchum Market off the table for now

Express Staff Writer

Tim Michael, killed Jan. 22 in a Bald Mountain avalanche, enjoys a laugh with his son, Jake, 10. Photo by Mountain Express

Drawn-out dilemmas dominated Ketchum's news for 2010, some of which spanned the entire year and still remain unresolved going into 2011.

A prime example is a project put forth by Seattle grocer Vern Howard, who announced in January that he had bought the former Stock Building Supply property and planned to start construction on a grocery store by early summer. However, it became apparent by May that his plans would be stalled. Resistance arose from a segment of the public that opposed a grocery store in Ketchum's light-industrial area, arguing that it belongs in the downtown retail core. City leaders also grew uneasy about approving the zoning change needed to allow grocery stores in the LI zone.

Come the end of the summer, Howard had yet to start building as planned or, for that matter, even earn a single government approval toward breaking ground. He was stuck on the LI issue. By September, it had become apparent that the former Williams Market on Main Street was being remodeled by a competitor and would be reopened in early 2011 as Roxy's Market, taking Ketchum from having one grocery store, Atkinsons' Market, to the possibility of three.

Since then, Howard has been wading through government reviews and public opposition, finally receiving the Planning & Zoning Commission's support for a grocery store in the LI at the end of September. However, Howard needed the City Council's vote to change LI zoning. The council tackled the topic in November but was split 2-2. Mayor Randy Hall broke the tie in favor of the zoning change, but this action merely passed the first reading of the amendment—out of the three needed to change the zoning.

Howard's attorney, Jim Laski, withdrew his zoning request in early December at the threat of the council denying it, effectively halting his efforts for now. Laski said Howard would reapply when the time is right. In the meantime, it was revealed that Mayor Randy Hall flew to Seattle to visit Howard in a private meeting, which is legal but some have asserted ethically questionable.

Death darkens 2010's first days

The avalanche death of 35-year Ketchum resident Tim Michael on Jan. 22 started the year on a sour note. Authorities hesitated to release details in the days following Michael's death. Despite the slow flow of official reports, much of the small town knew by word of mouth: 54-year-old Tim Michael was gone, leaving behind his wife, Susie, and 10-year-old son Jake Michael.

Residents show care for square

Ketchum residents used their checkbooks to exhibit support for a central plaza, contributing a total $450,000 in donations this year to build the new town square. The city handed over an additional $160,000 to Ketchum's Community Development Corp., which led the project. The fundraising began in early February, with enough money raised to start construction in early May and finish the square by July Fourth.

Since then, the CDC and city have hailed the square as a success as it serves as a haven for foot traffic. The square has also prompted controversy because of a plan to allow food vendors. Restaurants mobilized in defiance, claiming the competition is unfair, but the city moved to allow vendors.

Hotel developers ask for time

It was revealed Tuesday that developers of the 77-acre Warm Springs Ranch Resort are asking for a one-year extension to all construction deadlines. In its contract with the city, Helios Development agreed to apply for a building permit and begin construction by fall 2013, finishing by fall 2019.

"The overall profitability of the project was not adequate to incentify additional investments from institutional investors or to secure a loan," said Helios Development in a November letter to the city. "Please understand that no one wants to execute this project more than Helios."

Helios isn't the first hotel developer wanting more time, and for the same reason.

The City Council gave Jack Bariteau, developer of Hotel Ketchum, a two-year extension in February. He now has until November 2012 to file for a building permit, instead of November 2010.

"Obviously, everyone knows the situation we're all facing," Bariteau said in February, referring to hotel developers' struggle to obtain financing.

Hospital makes swift shift

The valley's hospital, St. Luke's Wood River Medical Center, hired a new CEO in April. With him came many changes yet to fully play out. John Kee, former CEO of the St. Luke's Twin Falls hospital, revealed the hospital's first price cuts in early October, meant to standardize costs with St. Luke's in Boise and Twin Falls. Kee acknowledged "community dissatisfaction" with hospital prices.

Kee has also led an effort to standardize the hospital's kitchen with that of Boise and Twin Falls, retaining the hospital's focus on healthy food but using a more cost-efficient food-delivery system. Kee has hired a new food-service manager, Tom Shearer.

Trevon Milliard:

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