Sunday, September 2, 2007
Included in the plan:
Seven new buildings
Unspecified amount of public parking
Public plaza where special events and small concerts could be held
A "beachfront" restaurant space along the Headwall ski trail where the Thunderhead now stands
Twin buildings arrayed perpendicularly to the ski trail, allowing a view corridor, would replace Thunderhead's L-shaped building
Building heights would step back from one or two stories at the pedestrian streetscape all the way to 10 stories at the rear (north side) backing up into the steep hillside in front of Burgess Creek Road
Preliminary development schedule for Thunderhead Lodge site and Ski Time Square site
Winter 2007-08 - Plane refinement, development application submittal
Summer/fall 2008 - Demolition of existing buildings
Spring 2009 - Construction begins
Summer 2011 - Phase I construction complete
Steamboat Springs The development team hoping to transform Ski Time Square at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area has entered the city approval process with plans for seven new buildings with a combined 1 million square feet of space.
The Atira Group, acting in partnership with Cafritz Interests of Washington, D.C., has submitted broad site plans to the city of Steamboat Springs' Planning Department to begin the pre-application process.
The plans show how the seven new buildings would replace the '60s-era Thunderhead Lodge and Ski Time Square buildings. However, the plans intentionally lack much of the detail that will come out when the twin projects go through the development permit phase of the process. The purpose of the pre-application process is to allow developers to bounce tentative plans and concepts off city personnel, and then incorporate the feedback into more formal plans.
"We want to provide enough information so people can ask questions," Atira Group Vice President of Development Mark Mathews said. "But we don't want it to be too rigid. The community input is very important to us."
The city, the community and market conditions will influence the evolution of the project, he said.
Mathews comes to Atira Group from Intrawest, where he worked on new base villages at Snowmass and Winter Park as vice president for commercial development. At the same time it works on Thunderhead Lodge and Ski Time Square, Atira is taking a separate project, Edgemont, through the city process.
Mathews spoke from a downtown office in the remodeled Rainbow Cottages
at Seventh and Oak streets. A road bike was leaned against the wall of his office.
If it seems unusual that such a large development at the base of the ski area has its headquarters several miles away in Old Town, Mathews said the decision about where to locate Atira Group's offices was deliberate. In addition to being three blocks from the Planning Department, he said the downtown location is better suited to interacting with Steamboat residents.
"It's very important that we're engaged in the community on a day-to-day basis," Mathews said. "This morning I had several people come up to me and ask questions while I was working out" at Old Town Hot Springs.
Mathews emphasized that Atira already has held extensive meetings with neighboring property owners to compare plans. Those neighbors include existing developments like Torian Plum. Atira has talked to commercial condominium owners and others about plans to energize the ski slope frontage they share, and how best to make the narrow corridor along Burgess Creek between their buildings attractive to guests.
Atira has gone as far as laying out its plans for competing developers in a mutual effort to ensure the inventory occupies different niches - at least as much as is possible, Mathews added.
One million square feet of buildings sounds imposing, Mathews acknowledged, but he said the size of the project is better understood when it's broken down into its components.
The 1 million gross square feet proposed in the pre-application documents is driven in part by a desire of the developers to retain the option of including a branded hotel in the project. The considerable amount of "back shop" space required by a full service hotel accounts for a significant part of the 1 million, Mathews said. The number also includes more than 207,000 square feet that would be built below grade - most of it underground parking. Another 624,000 square feet represents net sellable space.
Technically, the Thunderhead Lodge and Ski Time Square sites are two different projects, Mathews said. Two different limited liability companies were formed to take the projects forward, and the equity participants vary somewhat between the two. However, from Atira's standpoint, he said, it would be ideal to take both projects forward simultaneously.
"I don't think it benefits anyone as a construction project that lasts for seven years," he said.
Mathews willingly addressed the uncertain credit situation on the national scene, the lack of confidence in the debt markets on the part of institutional investors, and how it might affect his company's plans in Steamboat.
"This partnership is well-funded," he said. "We have the equity in it to do it. At the same time, we plan to bring in other construction lenders."
Already, Mathews said, the developers are being confronted with more "stringent" pre-sale requirements than they originally encountered at the inception of the project.
The changing markets, both in terms of the financial markets and the sales climate, will have much to say about the mix of partnership equity and debt used to take the project forward, he said.
"Our partnership has many years of experience," Mathews said. "We know this is a very good time. We also know that development goes through cycles. Cafritz and Atira we've gone through different market cycles.
"We're not going to get into a project that's half-funded or half-finished. We're cautiously optimistic. We're very aggressive about our entitlements (planning approvals), but we're very conservative in our approach."