Plans enter initial phase

Harbor Hotel redevelopment in city process

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An ambitious plan to redevelop the Harbor Hotel on a pivotal street corner in downtown Steamboat Springs has entered the city planning process.

A development group with connections to Steamboat and suburban Chicago has submitted a preliminary plan that envisions an 118,951-square-foot building that would straddle a city alleyway and offer storefronts on Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street. It would have 16 retail units totaling 41,364 square feet and 26 residential units comprising 34,780 square feet. The balance of the space would be used for underground parking, public spaces and a private rooftop garden for residents.

Plans to redevelop the site became controversial before planning documents were filed with the city. Steamboat's historic preservation community does not want the 66-year-old hotel demolished. Realtor Jim Cook, a member of the development group, counters that downtown Steamboat needs the boost that the development could provide.

"This is a critical time for downtown Steamboat," Cook said. "Whitney Ward (a developer with two large projects planned near the base of Steamboat Ski Area) is a friend of mine, and I admire him. However, Wildhorse Meadows and others, with all the connectivity to the ski base, are laying siege to downtown, and this concerns the hell out of me. We need to create better entertainment and retail venues downtown."

Unique design

Tentative architectural drawings of the Harbor site reflect a building that would fill the space occupied by the Harbor Hotel as well as the parking lot at Seventh and Yampa streets.

Seventh Street slopes down from Lincoln Avenue to Yampa Street, but the proposed building would maintain a relatively consistent roofline across the grade changes. That would be accomplished in part by a design Steamboat has never seen before -- the developers' proposal envisions the building bridging the city alley. The result is that there would be residential units stacked above the alley.

City planner Jonathan Spence has been assigned to analyze the proposal and present issues related to it to the Planning Commission and City Council. He is careful to point out that the Harbor redevelopment proposal is in an early planning stage called "pre-application."

"It's very much a concept," Spence said. The pre-application process is intended to give developers feedback from planning staff, the Planning Commission and City Council so they can identify issues that need to be resolved prior to seeking a final development permit.

Spence said the plan to build over the alleyway could prompt interesting discussions.

"What they're proposing is a building that spans the alley. It's not merely a pedestrian bridge," Spence said. "It deviates from traditional settlement patterns in the downtown. Who owns the air above the alley? Does the city own it?"

Cook said although the building spanning the alley is new to Steamboat, it's not out of the ordinary in other American cities. He said in exchange for being allowed to develop units above the alley, developers would create a strong pedestrian connection along Seventh Street between Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street.

The plans include a sidewalk that is twice the normal width and propose a 26-foot-wide promenade that would begin at ground level on the Lincoln Avenue grade and continue along the east side of the building until it's at the level of second-story shops.

"We envision gathering spots along Seventh Street with cafe tables, benches and opportunities for street sculpture along the promenades at both levels," Cook wrote in a memo to planning staff. "Ultimately, we think Yampa Street will be a more important pedestrian corridor (than Lincoln Avenue)."

Cook said a large, elevated commercial space on the Yampa Street elevation is intended for a restaurant with an outdoor deck overlooking Howelsen Hill.

The primary architect for the building is Vaught Frye Architects of Fort Collins. Chicago architect Joe Antunovich is consulting on the project. Cook said Antunovich has extensive experience in projects involving infill retail in urban areas.

Although the proposal hasn't had a design review at the city level, Main Street Steamboat Springs' design committee has reviewed it twice, and significant changes were made after the initial review.

"The initial drawings were not appropriate for Steamboat, in our opinion," design committee member Cami Bunn said. "It didn't take into account the history, traditional materials and rooflines" of downtown Steamboat.

Bunn is an architect by training. She said the development team responded to suggestions to differentiate the retail units in the building to give the appearance of separate storefronts. They also eliminated pitched roofs, which the design committee didn't think fit with downtown's character.

The building's "presence, in terms of scale, is going to be huge," Bunn said. "We asked, 'How do you take something that prominent and make the building's facade undulate so it looks like several smaller buildings?'"

Chicago connection

The project's development group is GCP-Steamboat. GCP, or Green Courte Partners, is a Chicago-area private equity real estate investment company. It reports having completed about $180 million in transactions last year in three niche sectors of real estate development, including infill retail such as the Harbor Redevelopment project, urban parking garages and large manufactured housing subdivisions in Midwestern states.

Green Courte's Robert Dun--can leads the company's retail division and is managing director of GCP-Steamboat. He is a member of the executive committee of the Urban Land Institute, which promotes leadership in the responsible use of land to the betterment of the urban environment.

The local component in----cludes Jim Cook and Troy Brookshire, associates at Colorado Group Realty. Terry Drahota, principal in Fort Collins-based Drahota Construction, also is a member of GCP-Steamboat.

The city imposed a 90-day waiting period before a demolition permit can be granted for the hotel. Cook consistently has said his group will not entertain a plan to rehabilitate the old hotel, and the filing of the pre-application documents with the Planning Department is consistent with those statements.

City Council members have discussed the possibility of changing city ordinances to require developers to have final development permits before they can obtain demolition permits. However, that discussion has not resurfaced in the past two weeks.

Cook has said restoring the hotel is not economically feasible, and the historic preservation community has expressed a desire to help his group find grants that would make restoration more practical.

-- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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