Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Lodge developers get 1-year extension

Poor economy, political uncertainty has put hotel project on ice


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Plans for the Bald Mountain Lodge call for a luxury, 87-room hotel on Main Street in Ketchum, on the block between First and River streets. Courtesy graphic

Admitting the economy has made hotel development difficult, the Ketchum City Council granted a one-year extension to Highmark Investments on its building-permit application deadline in the Bald Mountain Lodge development agreement.

Project representatives appealed to the council Monday, citing difficulties in financing the project as well as the possibility of an entirely new City Council next year.

"What it boils down to is the uncertain economic and political climate, not only nationally, but here locally," said CEO Michael Kerby.

Kerby reiterated a notion held by some hotel developers that the initiative to change Ketchum's government from a strong-mayor form to a council-manager system is making them ill at ease.

That possibility "concerns us from a development standpoint," Kerby said.

Project developer Jack Bariteau echoed that sentiment, calling continuity of elected officials "a huge plus."

Kerby said the development team is looking for a third-party investor to help spread the risk. If that doesn't pan out, he said, they will take a "wait-and-see" position.

Bald Mountain Lodge, approved last year, was envisioned as a luxury 87-room hotel with 26 residential units on Ketchum's Main Street between First and River streets.

The council unanimously allowed the extension, to Dec. 31, 2012. The one-year building-permit extension also gives developers an extra year for an employee-housing requirement waiver.

"I think this is an appropriate request," said Councilman Curtis Kemp.

Councilman Baird Gourlay agreed.

"I look at this extension as a necessity," he said.

Councilwoman Nina Jonas agreed to the extension but said it didn't reflect well on the project. "It does erode my confidence in the project," she said.

One possibility that is just in the conceptual stage is to build cabins on site, Kerby said. Their interiors would look like the condos slated to be built in the lodge. They could serve both as a marketing tool for the condos in anticipation of their eventual availability, as well as a short-term rental for guests. They could later be moved off site when the hotel is built.

"Again, this is conceptual," Kerby cautioned.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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