New Ketchum hotel could open by 2016

Brad Iverson-Long//December 31, 2014

New Ketchum hotel could open by 2016

Brad Iverson-Long//December 31, 2014

The new Limelight Hotel could be the first brand-new hotel in Blaine County in years. Rendering courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.
The new Limelight Hotel would be the first brand-new hotel in Blaine County in years. Rendering courtesy of Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen Skiing Co. will build a new 119-room hotel called the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum thanks in part to local and state tax incentives. The new hotel, close to Bald Mountain, has a targeted opening date of December 2016.

The hotel will bring millions of new construction, payroll and tourism dollars into the Sun Valley area, said Harry Griffith, executive director of Sun Valley Economic Development.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity and expression of faith in our economic future,” he said. From a tourism standpoint, he said the new hotel would help the area crack a new market of people in search of high-end lodging. The Ketchum area is underserved in high-quality hotel rooms because there hasn’t been new construction for 20 years.

“It’s about attracting a new clientele,” he said.

Visit Sun Valley President Arlene Schieven said the new hotel and renovations at the Sun Valley Lodge are supported by the community.

“Everybody’s been waiting for an announcement like this. I think the community will welcome this,” Schieven said.

Griffith helped the hotel developers receive a Tax Reimbursement Incentive grant, the state’s new tax credit for companies that create jobs. The Idaho Department of Commerce, which runs the TRI program, wouldn’t confirm that the Limelight received a grant, but a pseudonymous company called “Project Baldy” has received a grant for up to $132,000. The project would create 57 new jobs paying an average of $41,000 a year, as well as a capital investment of $60 million.

Griffith said he talked with Idaho Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer when he was putting together the TRI proposal to see if a hotel project could qualify. Any company in a rural area that creates at least 20 new jobs with wages higher than the county average wage can apply.

“We paved the way with Commerce to think a bit more broadly than manufacturing and business relocation,” Griffith said.

Getting the incentive was key to going forward with the project, according to Don Schuster, Aspen Skiing’s vice president of hospitality. He said the $60 million investment by the company is primarily in construction as well as fixtures and furniture for the new hotel.

In addition to the state TRI grant, the new hotel received waivers from the city of Ketchum worth slightly more than $5 million, allowing the hotel to bypass community housing and employee housing requirements. Rebecca Bundy, senior planner with the city of Ketchum, said those waivers have been attached to the property since 2010. Three other proposed hotels that were never built received similar waivers.

“These were all incentives for them to get in the ground and under construction,” Bundy said. The economic downturn slowed all the projects, but Bundy said the city still supports hotel construction.

“We definitely need what they call more ‘hot beds’ in town,” she said.

The Limelight is based on Aspen Skiing’s existing Limelight Hotel in Aspen, Colo. The company owns three hotels in the Colorado resort town, with the new Ketchum hotel its first out-of-state project. Aspen Skiing bought the land from Bald Mountain LLC, which had proposed building a hotel on the site.

Jeff Hanle, a spokesman for Aspen Skiing, said the company was looking for another place with outdoor activities and a culture that fit with its brand, which is adventurous with some luxury. The hotel will have a restaurant, bar, 3,000 square feet of meeting space and a pool and hot tub. The existing Limelight also has complimentary cruiser bikes and snow shoes.

“The Limelight is very nice, but not ostentatious in any way,” Hanle said.

Callison, a Seattle architecture firm, has designed the building and a general contractor hasn’t been selected. Permits should be submitted to the city by March, with construction starting next summer.

The Project Baldy tax reimbursement of up to 16 percent on payroll, income and sales tax, lasts for three years. It is the shortest length of any of the eight incentives approved so far as well as the lowest percentage tax rebate and estimated state incentive. Idaho lawmakers approved the Tax Reimbursement Incentive grant in early 2014 and it became available July 1.