Gondola Square work may begin soon

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— Members of the Gondola Square Condominium Assoc-iation are advancing a multiyear plan intended to transform the buildings at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area from a stark monolith into a base village that reflects a wide range of textures, colors and shapes.

The association, led by Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond and Christy Sports executive Keith Liefer, has initiated the city planning process. The first phase, which could still begin this fall, would be modest, making minor improvements to pedestrian flow in the commercial area closest to the ski gondola.

The top priorities include realigning a pair of staircases in the middle of the square. Also planned for this fall are improvements to the area where skiers arriving form the transit center walk into the square with skis over their shoulders.

"It will be more of a sense of entry into Gondola Square," Diamond said. "We want to create a sense of entry rather than the sense of a garage."

City Planner Jonathan Spence, who has been assigned to the project, said Thursday that the ski area won't fully enter the planning process until after the first of the year. The limited first phase, however, can be approved administratively this fall.

The changes to the transit center entry would build a small staircase eliminating the need for skiers to walk down a ramp covered with pavers. Landscaping would soften the entrance and ultimately, a burgundy awning over the entry would be replaced by wooden timbers. The current entry resembles a tunnel.

The ski area built Gondola Square in 1970 at the same time it built the original six-passenger Stagecoach gondola. The commercial district that surrounds the gondola building has undergone remodeling since that date, but has grown by contemporary standards for ski area base villages.

The ski area originally owned all of the buildings in the square with the exception of some residential condominiums on its upper floors. However, within the last four years, American Skiing Company, the publicly held parent of Steamboat, has sold off a number of buildings to its tenants in order to ease its financial difficulties.

Other owners include George and Janis Noyer, who own the space their store, Gondola General, occupies. Jim and Raeanna Ellis, owners of Gondola Grill and Pub are the other owners.

Documents on file at the city Planning Department do not include a narrative description of the plans, however material boards supplied by architect Chip Melick of Melick Associates reflect an intent to differentiate among the different commercial buildings through the use of fresh and varied building materials.

"Gondola Square looks like one structure, but it's really a bunch of individual buildings," Diamond said. "Some of them are stacked, but they have distinct functions. The whole idea here is to give them individual personalities."

For example, Melick's drawings suggest the use of both walnut and semi-transparent green stains on exterior wood on the Christy Sports building. It would also incorporate buff colored brick and trim the color of weathered bronze. The elevation drawings for the ski school building show rust-colored stain in tandem with a Cape Cod gray and extensive use of angular stone walls. The gondola building itself would retain stucco on its exterior, but in a darker earth tone than the existing tint. The clock tower on the building would be clad in a another type of angular stone.

Diamond said the complete remodeling project will probably unfold over at least five years. The final exterior treatments will depend upon the appetite of the individual owners to take on the expense, he added.

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