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Vail Resorts offshoot to manage Aspen landmark

John Colson
Vail, CO Colorado
With the Hotel Jerome as a backdrop, a time exposure captures the lights of cars and trucks streaking through the intersection of Mill and Main Tuesday night, Feb 15, 2005 as a light snow falls. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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In what local observers may see as highly ironic, an offshoot of Vail Resorts is in line to manage one of Aspen’s most iconic businesses, the historic Hotel Jerome.

A statement issued by Vail Resorts on Monday announced that one of the company’s subsidiaries, RockResorts, has been “selected” to manage the property by Elysian Worldwide LLC and Lodging Capital Partners LLC, which are buying the Jerome from the Oklahoma Publishing Co. for a reported price of about $50 million.

The management agreement, which one spokesman said is long-term ” “as long as 15 years with extensions” ” is contingent on the closing of the sale. David Pisor, head of Elysian Worldwide, said Monday that the closing should come within 45 days.



Pisor, 42, and his partner, Steve Kisielica, 37, of Lodging Capital Parnters, were in Aspen this week looking over the Hotel Jerome, meeting with staff and staying at the St. Regis Hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain.

“We’ve been here every other week over the past six months,” Pisor said, conducting what Kisielica termed “due diligence” on the deal.

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During an interview at the St. Regis, the pair said they still do not know exactly what they will be doing with the Jerome since, as Kisielica said, “We don’t own it yet.” He said their only goal so far is to provide guests with “a high quality resort experience.”

Pisor said the deal to buy the hotel came up after “we found out they (Oklahoma Publishing Co. was) less interested in moving forward (with renovation and other plans), and we stepped in.” He said he approached the owners, and Kisielica said it was after the deal was struck that “we decided to partner up in the deal together.”

Pisor said he had been “looking at Aspen for a long time, and this looked like it’d be perfect. It’s a spectacular building, … a spectacular landmark.” But he declined to name the price tag for the property, which has been rumored at more than $50 million, because of a “strict confidentiality agreemenent” written into the sales contract.



The two said the hope that once the hotel reopens in late May it will “become an integral part of the city again.” But they said they are not sure whether the hotel will be converted to timeshares, condos or other types of accomodations.

RockResorts operates 11 hotel-resort facilities around the U.S. with more under way, some of which offer condos and other nontraditional lodging uses in a variety of mixes.

The Jerome’s general manager, Tony DeLucia, said he first heard of RockResorts’ selection “about two weeks ago.”

Reached by cell phone while he was traveling, DeLucia called RockResorts “a very reputable management company. They’re into hotels. They’re familiar with resorts, have a great reputation. … these hotels are all over.”

Asked if he felt it was ironic that the hotel would be run by a subsidiary of Vail Resorts, which is considered to be a business rival of the Aspen Skiing Co. and of Aspen in general, DeLucia said, “I don’t think that’s a big concern of ours at all.”

He said that as far as he could tell the company is planning to keep much of the hotel’s work force in place.

“They’re been talking to all of us,” he said. “It’s been very positive for myself and the other management at the hotel.”

Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, first heard about RockResorts’ selection April 22. When asked her feelings about having Vail in charge of the Jerome, she replied half-jokingly, “It’s horrible.” But she quickly added, more moderately, “There’s big picture and there’s small picture” when contemplating the news.

“Vail Resorts doesn’t own us,” she said, “and that’s how I’m looking at it.” She said the new owner, who is not a hotel operator, chose a firm he feels will do the job well. “It’s amazing to think that with all the people who a have owned it and tried to do something with it, … where we are now is disappointing.”

Jeff Hanle, public relations director of the Aspen Skiing Co. reacted similarly, saying, “They are just managing it. They didn’t buy it.”

He said that Vail Resorts also is a majority owner of the Aspen Sports retail chain, “So it’s only natural that they’d want to be associated with us again, right? Hopefully, the partners will respect the history and tradition it represents and do a good job.”

It is odd, he said, to have a rival ski resort in charge of a local lodging icon, terming it a “cats-and-dogs-sleeping-together type of thing.”

But, he added, “It’s in their best interests to promote Aspen now. We’ll all move together in a sort of odd little partnership.”

According to information from its Web site, RockResorts was founded in 1956 by the late Laurance Rockefeller, a grandson of Standard Oil Co. (now Chevron) founder and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller.

At its founding, RockResorts reportedly embarked on development projects in numerous resort areas in the Caribbean, Hawaii and around the Western United States. The Rockefeller family sold the company and its holdings, and the brand ultimately was purchased by Olympus Hospitality in 1999, and Vail Resorts bought a majority interest in Olympus in 2001, according to the Web site. The company now operates 11 resorts around the U.S. and is developing three more in Vail; Miami, Fla.; and the Bahamas.

James O’Donnell, RockResorts’ regional director of operations, said the company has signed “a long-term hotel-management agreement, … as long as 15 years with extensions.” And both Pisor and Kisielica said the agreement might be extended farther than that.

O’Donnell said RockResorts plans to begin managing the property “right around when the hotel reopens, around May 23” and said “our intention is to keep the majority of the personnel” that has been working there.


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