Base-ic upgrade

Development plans in the works as part of ski area base renovations

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The site of the one-time Selbe dairy farm has become a focal point in the recent surge of new development interest near the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.

The 40-plus acres where, until recently, hay was harvested annually, is the site of a proposed development that would create hundreds of new resort homes. Wildhorse Meadows also could link the ski area's largest day skier parking lot with the gondola base via a people mover or "cabriolet" gondola.

The plans are part of a resurgence of interest in new developments at the ski area base that has been triggered by the establishment of an urban renewal authority that would reinvest property tax dollars in public improvements at the aging ski area base. The wave of interest has come so suddenly that the City Council enacted an emergency ordinance this week. The temporary moratorium on bringing new base area developments through the city planning process is intended to create time for city and resort officials to plan how public and private improvements would work together.

A case study

Within the broader picture of the URA and base-area redevelopment, Wildhorse Meadows is a case study about how conditions have changed in the past six years.

When former American Skiing Co. chairman Les Otten proposed in January 1999 to build a mix of retail buildings and 900 residential units on 47 acres then known as Tennis Meadows, the City Council shut his plans down.

Six years later, Otten has been removed from the picture for four years, and private developer Whitney Ward is knocking on the city's door with a plan for the parcel he now calls Wildhorse Meadows. Ward closed on a $9 million real estate purchase with ASC in January 2004. He acquired the Wildhorse Meadows site for $7.5 million and purchased the gondola parking lot for $1 million.

Chris Diamond, president of the Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., said his company is involved in ongoing conversations with Ward's development group. However, he said, many details remain to be worked out.

Terms of the real estate deal reserved important rights for the ski area pertaining to parking, deliveries and ski school facilities, Diamond said.

Ward and two development partners plan to build a pair of condominium buildings on the parking lot and adjoining land. Wildhorse Meadows, adjacent to the ski area's remote parking lot, would be the site of a resort village with between 350 and 400 residences. The two projects would be linked by a people-mover gondola, or "cabriolet."

Ward, who already is building the nearby Wildhorse Marketplace shopping center, said he purchased Wildhorse Meadows and the site for One Steamboat Place because he thinks an increasing number of successful Americans in their 50s and 60s are finding ways to move, at least part-time, to desirable resort communities.

"The whole reason I bought the property is that I believe the (trend of) aging baby-boomers looking for lifestyle is accelerating, and pretty places like Steamboat will benefit from that," Ward said.

Ironically, on the very day that Ward dropped off preapplication documents for Wildhorse Meadows at the city planning department, the City Council voted unanimously on its emergency ordinance.

Between 1999 and 2005, much has changed at the base of the ski area, and some things remain the same.

When Otten made his proposal in 1999, city and resort leaders had long since recognized that Steamboat's base village was woefully out of date. Otten said Tennis Meadows offered an opportunity to refocus Steamboat as the pre-eminent "luxury family destination" in North America.

However, former City Council President Kevin Bennett and other council members feared that if they allowed Otten to "leapfrog" the problems in Gondola Square, the ski area base would continue to be neglected.

The future of the ski base began to change late last year when city officials agreed to plans for a URA drawn up by property owners in the Gondola Square and Ski Time Square areas.

The URA will capture a portion of the growth in property tax revenues generated by improvements within its boundaries. Those funds would be dedicated, as the city sees fit, to public improvements in the area.

The URA already is working the way its proponents intended -- the promise of reinvestment in infrastructure has stimulated development and redevelopment proposals at the ski area base.

Ward hopes the city will view his plans for the cabriolet as a form of public transportation that will benefit visitors to the mountain and ease the number of shuttle vans that congest Mount Werner Circle. He said this week that he would like to see his development group, the city and Ski Corp. equally share the cost of the cabriolet.

Diamond said he thinks that Ski Corp. is agreeable to participating in the cost but that it's too soon to talk about how the cost would be shared.

"Would it be a good thing? Absolutely," Diamond said. "But the (shared cost) needs to be based on the value to each party. How is his development going to benefit? I think there's a lot to be discussed before any cost sharing could be put in place."

Wildhorse Meadows

Ward has formed a 50-50 partnership with Edwards-based developer Cordillera to complete Wildhorse Meadows. Cordillera developed Catamount Ranch and Club in the late 1990s. Ward will see Wildhorse Meadows and One Steamboat Place through the city approval process, but he will turn over the lead role in Wildhorse Resort Ventures to Cordillera's David Hill. For his former employer, Intrawest, Hill was responsible for development of the new residential village at Copper Mountain.

Ward and Hill plan to develop Wildhorse Meadows during seven years. The tentative site plan envisions the highest-density condominium buildings at the north end of the site, closest to Mount Werner Road.

The condominiums would be cut into a hillside, Ward said, and would comprise as many as five, stepped stories over two decks of parking.

Medium-density townhomes and residential flats would be situated in the middle of the project, and an undetermined number of residential estates would be clustered around several putting greens at the southern end of the site. They would be closer to the city's tennis facility.

The architects for Wildhorse Meadows are Cottle, Carr, Yaw Architects of Carbondale. Ward said they envision designing a variety of rooflines and clusters of buildings of "reasonable scale" to achieve an appearance that is reminiscent of the ranches and outbuildings that can be found in the rural areas surrounding Steamboat.

The land plan is being designed by Design Workshop of Aspen and Patten Associates of Steamboat. The plan includes importing water from one of several possible sources, including the ski area's snowmaking main during summer, to create recirculating water features within the development.

Ward said he decided not to incorporate significant retail in Wildhorse Meadows so as not take away from existing commercial districts. However, he has proposed an "old-fashioned" country store in the heart of the Wildhorse Meadows development that would specialize in Colorado products.

Ward thinks that with convenient access to shopping, dining and entertainment, Wildhorse Meadows will appeal to full-time residents as well as vacation-home buyers.

One Steamboat Place

One Steamboat Place would be built on the gondola parking lot, a 4.2-acre site previously referred to as "Snowflower II."

To accommodate the loss of that lot, development plans include a new drop-off/pick-up loop and short-term parking for parents with children attending ski school.

The tentative plans also call for nearly half of the land to remain open space for a public plaza for the new cabriolet lift terminal. In a two-minute ride, passengers could get from the remote parking lot to the gondola area. They would ride standing up in covered cars with open sides.

Passengers would be delivered to the new plaza, which would be built around two condo buildings at One Steamboat Place, Ward said. The plaza would be built at the current level of Mount Werner Circle. Arriving skiers could walk into Gondola Square and down the short flight of stairs to the ski area ticket office and gondola line.

Ward has brought in two developers to participate in One Steamboat Place, which will have between 105 and 125 residential units.

Farthest west and accessed from Mount Werner Circle would be a full-ownership condominium building to be developed by the U.S. branch of a Toronto, Ontario, firm, Dundee Realty USA. Dundee has offices in Avon and has been active in developing projects in the Bachelor Gulch neighborhood of Beaver Creek.

A fractional-ownership condominium building will occupy the eastern portion of the plaza. The Timbers Company of Snowmass has signed a letter of intent to develop the second building. In addition to The Timbers Club Slopeside at Snowmass, The Timbers Company has built The Rocks Luxury Residence Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Esperanza in Cabo San Lucas.

The third major component of One Steamboat Place is a proposed three-level building that would contain new ski school facilities and an "Alpine Club." The Alpine Club would be Steamboat's first private day lodge with ski valet service. Owners at Wildhorse Meadows and One Steamboat Place would have access to the club. Ward said there is also a possibility that a reciprocal agreement could be forged with Catamount, giving its owners access to the Alpine Club and owners at Wildhorse Meadows and One Steamboat Place access to the Lake Club at Catamount.

Diamond said his company anticipates many conversations with Ward and his team about the details of how One Steamboat Place will go forward while accommodating Ski Corp.'s needs.

"We'll be right there with him, whether or not we want to, because we're joined at the hip," Diamond said with a laugh.

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