In the panoply of once-popular songs, there are some famously misunderstood lyrics. Creedence Clearwater Revival sang “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” which sounds a lot like, “There’s a bathroom on the right.” Jimi Hendrix sang, “Excuse me while I kiss the sky,” which sounds a lot like, “Excuse me while I kiss this guy.” And, Chicago sang, “No Tell Lover,” which sounds a lot like, “Hotel Lover.” Younger readers can search these songs on Spotify.
My point is not to reminisce about old song lyrics but rather to recognize the key role that hotels play in Summit County right now. I have written several columns with ideas to advance affordable and workforce housing in Summit County over the past year. One idea Summit County and cooperating towns have recently pursued that deserves kudos is the long-term leasing or conversion of older hotel properties to long-term or seasonal rentals for predominately younger workers looking for lower cost housing.
The conversion of underperforming hotel properties to seasonal/long-term workforce housing is a cost-effective and practical solution to the gap in housing supply for the early-20-to-early-30s demographic, who may be a member of our community anywhere from six months to three years. These workers are a critical component of our local economy, and most of our workforce housing efforts do not help these folks. I am a hotel lover.
There are other benefits to hotels. The foremost of which is, hotels have a single ownership group, unlike condominiums which have multiple owners that make it nearly impossible to redevelop the properties as they age and become obsolete. It is unfortunate that hotels have not historically been at the forefront of housing development in Summit County.
Take our local ski areas for example. The ski pioneers had a passion for skiing, but they were not wealthy, so they used other people’s money to construct a bed base. They built condominiums, which was okay at the time, but now the condominiums they built in the 1970s and early 1980s are 40-50 years old. They were the embodiment of mountain modern architecture at the time. Now they are just mountain monstrosities sitting on prime slope side property, with little chance of being redeveloped even with insane real estate values. They are anchors to our most important industry as they go further out of style. If the early founders had been able to build hotels, the first generation would be gone, and the base areas would be world class accommodations today.
The Bergmans and the Dercums and Chuck Lewis did what they had to do in order to get their fledgling ski areas established. Their vision has been rewarded. They at least have elements of their respective resorts named after them, to secure a place in our local history. That is not the case for most of our decision makers.
For most of our local leaders and decision makers, nobody will remember their names, but future generations will have to live with the consequences of their decisions. That is why it is so important for our officials to think about the future consequences of decisions made today.
There is no better current example than the Element Hotel by Westin that was just approved by the Silverthorne Planning Commission. Building a new hotel is a good idea, although the infrastructure surrounding the site of the proposed Element Hotel is woefully inadequate and is already a traffic hazard and safety problem. Regardless, hotels help fulfill the demand for short-term rentals, in a business model and in zoning specifically designed for that use. However, I beg the Silverthorne Town Council to seriously reconsider the architecture of the project. It is unfortunate that Silverthorne is developing in what is arguably the ugliest architectural period since the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The location of the Element Hotel is Silverthorne’s water tower. It is highly visible, and it will be one of the navigational landmarks that characterizes the town for the next 50-75 years. When this project goes out-of-style over the next decade, it will go drastically out-of-style like wall-to-wall bathroom carpeting and avocado appliances, to the detriment of the town. I strongly urge the town to work with the applicants to design a more aesthetically venerable hotel project.
Bruce Butler’s column “Common Sense Conversations” publishes biweekly on Tuesdays in the Summit Daily News. Butler is a former mayor and council member in Silverthorne, where he has lived for 20 years. Contact him at [email protected].