A Southern California developer has agreed to buy Warm Springs Ranch, a 78-acre former golf course and restaurant property—currently used as a dog park—below the north slopes of Bald Mountain and subject to a long-stalled development agreement quashed by the Great Recession.
Will Gustafson, of Santa Barbara, has a 90-day due-diligence period from Monday’s announcement to flesh out a workable plan for the site, once slated to become a resort on the scale of Sun Valley itself before the economic downturn pulled the rug on Utah-based Helios Development’s ambitious project more than a decade ago.
Since then, it’s been open space, frequented by dogwalkers and frisbee golfers—but not interested buyers. The bustling restaurant was removed, the tennis courts lost, and a once-popular Ketchum tourist attraction seemed abandoned.
Gustafson’s plan would look far different than the 728,000-square-foot project that never broke ground, according to project manager and owner representative Jim Garrison. His team expects to spend the three-month window working with the city to “find the right mix” of uses for the enormous chunk of land, which is actually an amalgamation of nine lots slotted between Warm Springs Road and Warm Springs Creek.
It’s too soon to tell what could pencil economically while still remaining palatable to neighbors, said Garrison, who previously spearheaded the Limelight Hotel project in Ketchum. In an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express, he spoke of restoring the quainter aspects of the old resort—the restaurant, ponds, tennis courts, etc. And, he hammered the developer’s intention to keep an open area for dogs to roam. (Jake Moe, who Gustafson brought in to consult on the project, said in a separate interview last week that he expected roughly two-thirds of it to remain open.)
Right now, Garrison said, remnants of the original Warm Springs Ranch are “blighted” by time and disuse.
“That’s part all part of our due diligence,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the spot for a 200-room hotel, I’ll say that. We’re going to try to resurrect what people loved about the property, and make it a viable asset for this community, and that neighborhood.”
Any owner will need to work with Ketchum to get there. It’s currently under a planned-unit-development deal and a development agreement struck for the abandoned project. Dating back to 2009, those allow for a mix of uses, including 122-room high-end hotel, 32 condos, a golf course and other homes.
The city approvals expire next year. Helios has until 2020 to break ground on the first phase—the hotel. Or, it can also submit new studies on traffic, stream health, water and sewer capacity to trigger an extension until 2022.
Not that it wants to. The property has been on the market for years, with reported prices in the mid-to-high eight figures. Garrison would not disclose the price Gustafson agreed to pay for the acreage.
“We’re in the starting throes of due diligence,” he said. “We don’t have a lot yet—we’re just trying to make sense of what’s there. This is a challenging piece of property—a legacy piece of property. Whatever we do, there has to be a lot of community buy in.”