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For the week of June 14 through June 20, 2000

No room at the inn

Sun Valley area’s short-term accommodations decline


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

A decline in available lodging could pose problems for the Wood River Valley’s economy.

From May 1999 to May 2000, the valley lost 951 short-term beds. That’s a 16 percent decline from last year’s 6,710 beds, according to the Sun Valley/Ketchum Chamber of Commerce.

In interviews over the past two weeks, developers said retail, office or long-term residential units command higher rents than does hotel space.

Of the valley’s short-term accommodation losses over the past year, 410 were in Sun Valley and 567 were in Ketchum, according to chamber data. Hailey’s short-term accommodations increased by 26 beds, the chamber’s figures indicate.

The decline is punctuated by the recent losses of the Christiania Motor Lodge and Heidelberg Inn, both in Ketchum.

The Christiania will soon be torn down to make way for a new commercial building by the same name, and the Heidelberg was purchased by Thunder Spring LLC management to be used as employee housing for those working on the massive planned-unit development along Saddle Road.

Additionally, Ketchum Korral and Ski View Lodge, both long-time lodging accommodations along Ketchum’s southern entrance corridor, are for sale. In interviews, their owners and real-estate representatives said they doubt the properties will be kept in the short-term housing market.

Condominiums, too, are coming off the rental market. In an interview, Premier Resorts president John Wells said that as new owners who can afford to buy in an ever-rising real-estate market are choosing not to rent them.

All of the city of Sun Valley’s 410 losses originated in the condominium market.

Chamber executive director Carol Waller pointed out in an interview that the numbers are a little rough because property owners are not required to respond to chamber surveys. The chamber did not keep track of short-term beds prior to last year, she said.

Waller said she fears the decline could indicate the resort community is heading for trouble. She contended that short-term accommodations are at the core of any resort community’s economy.

"Without them, tourists don’t stay," she said. "Stores remain empty. The resort community becomes less of a resort and city sales tax collections drop."

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Ketchum developer and resident Brian Barsotti bought the Bald Mountain Lodge, on the corner of Ketchum’s First and Main streets, in the early 1990s.

He said in an interview last week that he’s looking at ways to get the property into the black, and restoring the historic lodge, built in 1929, or building a new lodge aren’t in the cards.

"Those beds will probably be taken out of circulation," he said of the lodge’s approximately 118 short-term accommodations in 27 rooms.

"We’re kind of stuck," he said. "It’s not a winning proposition right now, so we need to do something with it."

He said he’s looking at an array of options, from selling the property to another developer to building a commercial building himself. None of the options he’s considering would perpetuate the existing Ketchum bed base.

The conundrum Barsotti faces is that he’s concerned about the declining number of Ketchum’s short-term beds as well as interested in finding the most profitable way in which to develop his property.

"If you don’t have tourists staying downtown, they’ll end up somewhere else," he said. "We’re still a tourist town. Business is brought to the core by short-term beds."

Ken Carwin has been a local hotel owner for the past six years. He owns Hailey’s Wood River Inn and Ketchum’s Tamarack Lodge.

He said in an interview two weeks ago he fears Ketchum could lose nearly all its hotels in the coming years.

"The Kentwood, Clarion and the Tamarack—it’s conceivable that we could lose everything else," he said.

And he’s got a finger to point.

"The city, the council, with all its grand schemes, is legislating away the ability to have tourist lodging in a tourist-based economy," he said. "On one side, I say, ‘Thank you very much.’ My hotels will always be full. But the people we’re turning away aren’t very happy."

The "legislating away" Carwin referred to is the drafting of regulations for the city’s core that could limit the height and size of buildings. An interim ordinance limiting building height and bulk in Ketchum will expire in five months, and city officials are not sure what actions they will take following the ordinance’s termination.

New design review standards, which are in the works, could limit height and bulk, but finished standards will not be completed until fall. Nothing is written in stone on the issue.

Carwin said hotels and lodges must be built on a large scale to turn a profit, and he fears the end result of Ketchum’s current efforts will result in regulations that limit building sizes, heights and densities.

Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Peter Ripsom disagrees with Carwin’s read.

"We’re trying to promote short-term housing," he said. "We’re just not sure exactly how to do it."

Ripsom cited the draft Ketchum Comprehensive Plan, which is on track for completion and final adoption late this summer or early fall.

One of the short-term action plans for the southern entrance corridor section of the plan calls for revision of the city’s zoning ordinances, "limiting office and other general commercial uses while promoting tourist uses."

"It’s definitely a concern, and it’s been brought up frequently at recent meetings," Ripsom said, optimistically adding, "but hotels aren’t going to disappear from the Ketchum area."

Ketchum planning administrator Lisa Horowitz said in an interview that Ketchum doesn’t have any policies in place to promote short-term lodging.

"It’s kind of a new issue. As far as a policy on the issue, I think you’re seeing the beginning of it now," she said in reference to the draft comprehensive plan.

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Last October, Aspen city officials grappled with the issue of a declining short-term bed base, and a "lodge preservation ordinance" resulted.

Aspen senior planner Chris Bendon was the point man on drafting the ordinance.

In a nutshell, Bendon said in an interview last week, the regulations offer lodge or hotel owners incentives, such as increased development densities or heights, or smaller setbacks or less parking, in exchange for adding short-term units.

Those exchanges are effected through the city’s planned unit development ordinance, the same ordinance the city uses to provide developers incentives for affordable housing, Bendon said.

In the 1990s, Bendon said, Aspen lost 317 short-term lodging units. Another 97 were lost from the areas immediately surrounding the city of Aspen, though the newly adopted regulations do not apply to areas outside the city, Bendon said. The losses were the result of redevelopment, which displaced hotels and lodges with residential or commercial uses.

Aspen’s new lodge preservation ordinance revises a lodging overlay zone that was created in the 1970s to accommodate lodges in zones where they were not permitted uses, Bendon said.

He said the ordinance seems to be working.

One Aspen lodge has taken advantage of the new ordinance, expanding by eight units. Two more lodges awaiting design review approval could proved an additional 17 to 30 units on top of what they could previously develop, he said.

Throughout the adoption and initial implementation processes, Bendon said, there haven’t been any negative reactions to the regulations.

"The business community, the lodging community, Aspen Skiing Co.—they’re all in favor of this," he said.

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Back in the Wood River Valley, not one person interviewed in the past two weeks said the decline of short-term accommodations is merely a perceived phenomenon.

"We’re marketing and trying to attract people here," Ketchum Mayor Guy Coles said. "If we’re going to be a tourist community, we’d better act like it."

 

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