Four Seasons gets more time
The seven-member council has voted unanimously to allow T.J. Brink of the Denver-based H.B. Development Company until July 10 to close on the property.
Brink says things may happen sooner than that.
“It’ll happen as soon as we can make it happen,” says Brink, who represents the applicant in the project, Nicollet Island Development Company Inc. “We’re actually very close. We’re almost done.”
The council approved the project – which includes 118 rooms, 22 time-share units, 18 condominiums, 34 employee-housing units and various retail, restaurant and spa facilities – in October. The property, located south of the Amoco gas station on the southwest corner of Vail’s main roundabout, is occupied by the aging Chateau at Vail, once operated by Holiday Inn.
The current owner, Brazilian developer Waldir Prado, also owns the Vail Village Inn across the street, which is slated for redevelopment into another five-star hotel, the Vail Plaza.
Brink said in October that he would purchase the Chateau at Vail from Prado upon final approval by the council – but that has yet to happen, and the Feb. 1 deadline has passed.
Brink said last month he was in “a Catch-22 with underlying agreements” and he has asked the council for more time to close the deal.
The longer it takes for the project to proceed, the more it raises eyebrows, at least at Town Hall. At least one councilman, Greg Moffet, remains an ardent supporter of the project.
“This is a great project for the town of Vail. Four Seasons has a great product for the front door to the town,” says Moffet. “But any hiccup in what they’re doing concerns me, and I can’t imagine it doesn’t concern the others.”
At issue now is financing, specifically how it is structured. Brink says he’s “exploring the possibilities” of asking the Town Council to allow changes in the way the fractional-fee, or time-share, units are sold.
“What we’re looking for is the ability, if those units don’t sell as anticipated, to sell them as condos so we can provide a feasible exit strategy for the lender, ” Brink says. “It provides a more definable end to the construction loan.”
George Ruther, the town planner in charge of the project, said the specifics of how the units are marketed and sold to buyers is not a matter for the town – it’s how often people stay in the units.
“For the town of Vail, it has some impact on the number of live beds,” said Ruther, using a term used for guests staying in rooms short-term. They spend money in town and ultimately generate more business for local merchants and more sales tax revenues for the town. “Fractional-fee units have a higher rate of occupancy than condos.”
Although the town could not require the units to be rented out, that is preferable, Ruther said. If Brink does decide to ask for approval of changes to the development plan to allow for the additional condos – which he hasn’t – town officials may insist he at least include a management program for short-term rentals.
“In a perfect world, of course, we’d like 100 percent hotel rooms.”
Moffet said he and other council members are not likely to support any changes if they don’t allow for as many live beds as possible.
“One of the reasons Vail is in a pickle is the value of condominiums got too high, and the owners who could afford them don’t have the need to rent them out at all,” Moffet says. “I’m amenable to anything that will keep beds in the rental pool. But just having a front desk for rentals isn’t going to feed the bulldog.”
East vs. west
Prado originally had planned to redevelop the Chateau at Vail himself and call it Vail Plaza West. It was to be the Italian wing of a massive project estimated to cost $220 million. Early designs featured a 10,000-square-foot atrium, a 27,000-square-foot convention facility and a 34,000-square-foot spa to go with along the Vail Plaza East, a $110 million luxury establishment with 238 rooms, convention space, a health club and restaurants to replace the Vail Village Inn.
The Chateau at Vail was going to be vacant this winter as asbestos was removed from it, and demolition was planned for spring. But in December, for the second season in a row, Vail Resorts leased the building through April as an economically priced hotel with 120 rooms.
As far as what giving the developers more time to get their finances together means in terms of when actual demolition of the Chateau at Vail and construction on the new Four Seasons would begin, Ruther says, well, it’s hard to say.
Any changes to the development plan would be reviewed by the Design Review Board, the Planning and Environmental Commission and the Town Council, he said, which could take months.
“But they could move forward anytime with the development plan they have now,” Ruther said