Size of new Snowmass unsettles some
Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of four articles about the state of Snowmass Village and Snowmass Ski Area as they relate to the proposed Base Village project. Different perspectives will be presented in each. On Tuesday, Snowmass Village voters will be asked to decide on an ordinance limiting the Town Council’s ability to approve large projects such as Base Village.
The possibility of 623 new hotel and condominium units sprouting up in Snowmass Village would make any local business owner or landlord salivate, right?
The residential developments are only part of the equation, as 63,927 square feet of additional commercial space would allow an entirely new set of competitors to set up camp in the village.
For the majority of Snowmass Village mall owners, that is a frightening possibility. But most mall owners maintain that it’s not the potential new competition that concerns them – it’s the project’s imposing size and the uncertainty that has created.
“I want Base Village to happen in an appropriate size,” said John Francis, who owns the Gateway building at the west end of the mall.
His tenants include the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Alpine Bank, Sidewinder Sports, Sunglass Panache, Surefoot and the Snowmass General Store, among others. His holdings account for roughly 25 percent of all the commercial space on the mall.
“This thing is too big – everything has to fit and this just doesn’t fit,” Francis said.
While the mall has garnered criticism for being old and in need of serious repairs, Francis said the Base Village proposal has put renovations on hold.
“[Base Village] poses an uncertainty, and in an era of uncertainty, people don’t make great business decisions,” he said. “I wont make any bones about it that the mall needs some investment, attention to detail, renovation and excitement, but this uncertainty keeps anything from happening.”
Jeffrey Server, who represents the Snowmass Village Limited Partnership, a collection of mall owners who own and operate about 55 percent of the property on the mall, echoed Francis’ concerns.
“It’s very difficult for tenants to make decisions when they’re uncertain about what’s going to happen,” Server said. “It makes it difficult to renew and lease space to tenants.”
But he said his clients are equally concerned about the impact the development will have on the roads. “Traffic is a huge issue that hasn’t been properly dealt with. It’s obviously going to be a very long, contracted, construction period,” Server said. “I think it’s going to be very difficult to handle the amount of traffic.
“I don’t care what kind of improvements they make, there will be bottle necks … in town itself and at major intersections that will have an impact on our businesses, as well as theirs.”
That traffic increase, Server said, will also pose a threat to the typically tranquil, visitor-friendly Snowmass atmosphere. “I think our concern is that it will detract from our visitors’ experience, and if that happens it won’t matter how great Base Village is,” he said.
People won’t return if their memories are shrouded with traffic headaches, he added.
The proposed phasing of the new commercial space poses another threat to the mall’s vitality, Server said. Intrawest plans to build 40,698 square feet of commercial space – or about two-thirds of all the proposed commercial – in the first of the project’s five phases. The remaining would be built in the second phase.
Meanwhile, only 138 of the 623 residential units would be built in the first phase and 226 more in the second. Three hundred and sixty four residential units – a little more than half – will have been built by the time all of the commercial construction is complete.
“If they build too much up front it detracts from the leasing at the mall and mall center,” Server said. “The tenets there will get a smaller piece of a larger pie.”
And that pie, Francis said, is already shrinking.
“We’re in a declining skier market,” he said, adding that he feels Base Village will increase supply while demand will stay the same.
“I don’t know that it brings more people, it just might move some of the same customers around,” he said. “It won’t be a ghost town, but this is an empty condo complex is what this is.
“I think the future is OK, but if we dilute what we’ve got, that future gets a little tougher.”