Luxury hotel chain makes a big splash
“It is a big hotel, not doubt about it,” said Planning and Environmental Commissioner Rollie Kjesbo after he and his colleagues got their first look Monday at plans for a 140-room Four Seasons hotel at the entrance to Vail.The luxury hotel chain, which operates 57 properties worldwide, is proposing to build a horseshoe-shaped hotel in place of the Chateau at Vail, on a sloping lot between South Frontage Road and East Meadow Drive across Vail Road from the Vail Gateway building.Contrary to an earlier proposal, this project razes the Alpine Amoco Standard gas station in the southwestern corner of the Main Vail Roundabout. The terraced structure would step down from a five-story facade on the Frontage Road to two stories facing Vail Mountain. Some wings of the building would be as high as seven stories, topped with 40 condominiums and fractional-fee units.”It looks like a cruiseliner backed up against Frontage Road,” said commissioner Doug Cahill, expressing a dislike of the of the multi-million-dollar project’s appearance from the north.”That’s a lot of confidence in Vail,” added Vail businessman and former lodge owner Joe Staufer, who surveyed a scaled-down model of the project with Johannes Faessler, owner of Sonnenalp Resorts.Others milling about the model called it “gutsy” and “huge.”The demise of the gas station and the addition of a prestigious name to Vail may be worth the mass, however, said Staufer.”For the last 35 years, we have tried to get rid of the gas station,” he said.”This is a coup for the Vail Village – to get a Four Seasons in Vail itself,” Staufer said. “If we miss this opportunity, there will be a Four Seasons down the road in Lionshead.”Lon Moellentine, who owns the gas station, said he isn’t taking people’s glee personally. The sale of his property is under contract, contingent on the hotel’s approval, he said.”If it’s approved, we sell and go away,” he said.T.J. Brink of HB Development Company, the Minneapolis-based development company under contract to build the massive hotel on behalf of the Four Seasons, said the luxury hotel chain wants to have “a huge presence” in Vail. “They’ve been looking for a long time. They just hadn’t found the right place they liked,” he said.Brink said he hopes to complete the hotel “in time for the 2005 ski season.”Before ground can be broken on the 190,000-square-foot hotel, which includes 42 employee units, the developer will have to win variances for set-backs and building heights. The project’s architect, Tim Alosa of Zehren & Associates, said the goal is to stay largely within the perimeters of the previous redevelopment project for the site.Alosa worked on the previous project, a 116-room hotel proposed by Vail businessman Waldir Prado, as part of the planned redevelopment of the neighboring Vail Village Inn.Jeff Winston, an independent consultant said the hotel appears bigger than most of the large buildings in Vail.”The Vail Masterplan identifies Frontage Road as the appropriate location for taller buildings,” he said. “(But) this is a new scale for Vail. It is potentially the biggest building in Vail.”To cut down on the the hotel’s perceived mass, Winston said, the project’s architect should break up buildings and flatten the steep roof. Additionally, he recommended height be concentrated in the middle of the building.Neighbors said they did not want to see balconies out their windows, nor retail spaces facing Meadow Drive.Tuesday, Vail Town Planner Allison Ochs said town staff will pay close to the proposal’s maximum height, which is just under 81 feet in places. The previous proposal did not exceed 74 feet.”They are working to bring that down,” she said.By comparison, the proposed hotel would be slightly higher than the existing Vail Village Inn at 77 feet. The Marriott in Lionshead, meanwhile, would be bigger in size, with about 350 rooms.The project will be back before the planning commission March 10 and make a stop before the town’s Design Review Board Feb. 5.Prado ‘pleased’Brazilian-born Waldir Prado, who has been trying to redevelop the Chateau at Vail and the neighboring Vail Village Inn for years, says he is proud of having brought a big-name chain to Vail.”I’m very pleased that the Four Seasons came in,” he says. “This kind of name will help push us ahead. It’s new blood, new strength for Vail.”Marred by ongoing litigation with the Vail Village Inn, Prado says financing for both of his redevelopment proposals – estimated to cost $220 million combined – was a tough task. The Four Seasons and HB Development Company, he says, also have expressed an interest in redeveloping the Vail Village Inn, which in May 2000 the town of Vail approved as a 140-room, 422,000-square-foot hotel.That project, stalled for two years by a lawsuit by neighboring property owner Charles Lipcon, “seems to be in the final stages,” says Prado.Lipcon has argued the town and Prado conspired in the approval of the project and disregarded adjacent property owners’ rights. However, Prado and the town won a counter suit in January 2002. The $7.8 million verdict against Lipcon is currently on appeal.Meanwhile, designation as a special development district expires in May, but Prado says he is confident town leaders will understand.”We will go to them and say “it wasn’t our fault, we are not playing games,'” he said. “I’m sure they will understand.”Geraldine Haldner can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 602, or at email@example.com.