Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Warm Springs resort to be ‘downsized’

City grants extension to developers seeking to scale back plans

Developers who plan to transform the vacant 77 acres of former Warm Springs Golf Course into a luxury resort say their plans need to be "downsized."

Mike Barnard, founder of resort-advising company Blu Hotel Investors, told the Ketchum City Council on Monday that the extent of the reduction is uncertain because the developers—Delaware-based Helios Development and Utah-based DDRM Greatplace—are still studying the project's "economic feasibility."

"We need to relook at this project and see if we're doing the right thing," he said, claiming the recession has made it difficult for resorts to attract investors.

The council unanimously granted developers a one-year extension of their deadlines. The city originally approved the project and its phased construction plan in November 2009, calling for developers to apply for a building permit and start construction within four years of approval and to finish within 10 years of approval.

Developers now have until January 2015 to file for a building permit and until January 2021 to finish.

Warm Springs isn't the first hotel developer requesting more time, and for the same reason. The council gave Jack Bariteau, developer of proposed Hotel Ketchum, a two-year extension in February. He now has until November 2012 to file for a building permit, instead of November 2010.

Barnard and Warm Springs Ranch Resort's developers told the city they'd return within a year to present their updated project plans. Original plans called for a 93-foot-tall, circular hotel consisting of 120 hotel rooms and condos, a nine-hole golf course bordered by luxury cabins, a new restaurant building, restoration to Warm Springs Creek and more.

Possible changes include relocating the golf course to the northwest portion of the project to reduce the cost of roads and to also allow room for four tennis courts, not originally included.

Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's director of community and economic development, said in an interview that if that happens and the courts are open to the public, developers would be relieved of their $500,000 payment to offset the loss of the original courts, which were public.

"That all remains to be seen," she said.

However, it's uncertain what changes will happen. City attorney Susan Buxton said that as long as the changes are to take out design elements and not add them, the project doesn't have to start over at square one in terms of city approvals.

The uncertainty of project changes bothered Councilman Larry Helzel. He told the developers that extension requests usually come with more "specificity" than just "we need to downsize." Something is usually offered in return.

Helzel demanded that a detailed phasing plan be provided to the city by the year's end, describing exactly what will be built and when. Ed Lawson, the developers' attorney, said that can be done but a phasing plan is already in place.

Helzel argued that the phasing was left vague. Plus, Bernard said, more phases would be needed.

"My intention is, that at the end of 2011, the phasing plan should be a hell of a lot less vague," Helzel said.

Helzel's requirement will be included in a written approval for the extension, scheduled to be formally adopted by the council at its Jan. 18 meeting.

Councilman Baird Gourlay was not present for the Monday meeting.

Trevon Milliard:

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