Preliminary plans for two big residential projects -- One Steamboat Place and Wildhorse Meadows -- are reminders that big changes are in store near Steamboat Ski Area.
The developments are proposed at the ski area base next to Gondola Square and for property adjacent to the Meadows parking lot and The Tennis Center at Steamboat Springs.
If approved, they could jump-start base-area improvements and also create a sustainable source of funds for affordable housing in Routt County.
At the center of the vision for both projects is Whitney Ward, developer of Wildhorse Marketplace, a cluster of commercial buildings at Central Park Drive and Mount Werner Road.
Together, One Steamboat Place and Wildhorse Meadows will make up between 375 and 450 mostly high-end condominiums, townhomes and single-family "villas," as well as some commercial space.
Ward is proposing a transfer fee from sales and future re-sales of all units that would funnel into a fund for affordable housing efforts.
The ambitious projects are costing Ward some sleep.
"I don't think people understand how monstrous a task this is," he said, noting the work involved in securing investment capital.
Although the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission and City Council have reviewed pre-application plans, Ward and his partners cannot enter the building-permit process until Nov. 1.
That's when the city expects to have completed the Mountain Town Sub Area Plan -- a vision for redevelopment and improvements to the out-dated base area.
Although the moratorium ultimately will help revitalize the area, it's a word that makes investors nervous, said Ward, noting that he risks losing capital if the moratorium is any longer. "If it goes past that, I probably won't be developing anything," he said.
In the meantime, there is some confusion within the community about the location and scope of the projects as well as criticism of Ward's proposal to develop the meadows, a longtime base for the Balloon Rodeo.
Ward emphasized that the land has been zoned commercial or high-density residential for 30 years.
"All I'm doing is trying to be a good steward of the land where the community has decided it wants these types of projects," he said.
If built, Ward said the projects will be a needed spark for more redevelopment and also will provide funds for an urban renewal authority. The URA will use a portion of property tax revenues from new development for public improvements to the base area.
"If it were easy, it would have already been done," Ward said.
One Steamboat Place
In 2004, Ward purchased the gondola parking lot and adjoining land -- a 4.2-acre site known as Snowflower II -- as part of a $9 million deal with American Ski Co. that also included the Meadows property.
Envisioning luxury whole- and fractional-ownership condominiums, he brought in the Timbers Company of Carbondale, which specializes in those types of projects throughout the world.
Ward and Timbers representatives will proceed through the planning process jointly and, following approval, the Timbers Company will acquire the property and proceed with full development, including building, marketing and management.
Ward may or may not be an investor.
For One Steamboat Place, the Timbers Company is proposing two, five- to six-story buildings with 34 whole-ownership units and 40 timeshares.
The company wants the project to have a village feel that is pedestrian friendly and flows with the base area, Timbers president David Burden said.
Planning Commission and City Council members have voiced concerns about the buildings' height of 116 and 111 feet. The zone district allows 67 feet.
"We feel very confident we can deal with that to everybody's satisfaction," Burden said.
The project will be similar to the Timbers Club at Snowmass, which had 80 percent occupancy this year and helps bring vitality to the otherwise subdued Snowmass base, he said.
One Steamboat Place also will include two additions to the gondola building -- a fitness center and spa area, and a new ski school.
Residents not living or staying at One Steamboat Place may access the amenities, as well as parking and ski storage via the private Alpine Club.
The Timbers Company and Ward also are proposing a gondola connecting One Steamboat Place with Wildhorse Meadows. They are negotiating with Steamboat Ski Corp. and the city about the possibility of making the gondola public, Ward said, noting a full-service gondola would cost four times as much as a private gondola.
While designs still are in the preliminary stages, Burden estimated the units would range from 2,200 to 3,000 square feet.
With "top drawer" finishes and amenities, the project should set a new bar for pricing in the area with whole ownership units ranging from $2 million to $3 million, he said.
Burden emphasized the project will be casually elegant and in tune with Steamboat's style.
"We think we will be a good citizen -- we're going to listen. ... We're not trying to bring our culture there," he said.
In response to Planning Commission requests, Burden and Ward are exploring employee housing at One Steamboat Place as well as additional units in Wildhorse Meadows, Burden said.
Timbers Company plans to break ground on the project soon after approval, hopefully next summer, he said.
For Ward, high density on the 47-acre Wildhorse Meadows site did not mean the 900-plus units ASC had proposed several years earlier.
Instead, he pictured 300 to 375 units, a mix of condominiums, townhomes and single-family homes in a variety of styles, sizes and price ranges appealing to Steamboat's family-friendly market.
Ward partnered with David Hill, previously of the Cordillera Group of Edwards, for the Wild-horse Meadows site.
Resort Ventures West will be the development group for that project, building infrastructure and some buildings, though some parts of the development may be contracted out to other builders.
Together, Hill and Ward are planning six development pods, with the northern-most pods across from Steamboat Boulevard containing as many as 200 whole-ownership and timeshare condos.
In the middle of the property, the project would have as many as 120 townhomes as well as the "neighborhood core" including a pond, sledding hill, fitness center and pool.
The single-family homes would be in the southern portion of the site.
The proposed gondola terminal would be directly east of the Meadows parking lot and would have a country store, restaurant, cafe, real estate office and other uses.
Although it's hard to estimate how long the development review process will take, Ward said he hopes to break ground on Wildhorse Meadows next summer. The entire project will take at least five years to build, he said.
Ward, who has pursued affordable housing efforts through nonprofit groups such as Habitat for Humanity, said he understands the pressure development can put on property values and the cost of living.
That's why he is proposing one-half of 1 percent of all sales and all future re-sales of units in One Steamboat Place and Wildhorse Meadows go toward helping middle-class families secure housing, he said.
"It keeps the fabric of the community together and also supplies the work force for a broad spectrum of jobs," Ward said.
The fees would gather in a foundation with a board of community members considering grant requests from nonprofit, nongovernmental groups such as the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, involved in affordable housing projects.
Organizations would be able to use grants to purchase land, for construction, down-payment assistance and other needs.
Ward estimated the initial sales of the units in the two projects would generate about $2.5 million.
Other developers would have the opportunity to contribute to the foundation.
"It's really exciting. ... I will hopefully set a precedent that does way more than give lip service to a complex problem," Ward said.