After more than two hours of deliberation Monday night, it became clear that the proposed Marriott-brand Ketchum Tribute Hotel has gained traction in the community since undergoing a series of architectural revisions resulting in a more compact design.
Though the City Council ultimately decided to resume hearings concerning PEG Cos.’ hotel applications on Jan. 21, a noticeable shift in public opinion was evident at the meeting.
Of the attendees who lined up at the lectern in the Limelight’s Silver Creek Room, several extended thanks to representatives from Provo, Utah,-based PEG Cos. for their part in reducing the building’s massing on the south wing and lowering two terrace levels, among other improvements.
That same gratitude was expressed by the City Council.
“You’ve taken comments from the public to heart and shown a willingness to not only understand our community and our values, but also be a long-term partner,” Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton said.
Other audience members who spoke during the public comment session focused on hashing out details: How would wastewater be dealt with? Would the 20 beds at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center be enough to accommodate the expanded influx of tourists? How would pedestrian safety be addressed?
Those kinds of questions signaled a digression from comments stated during a previous City Council meeting in October, also held at the Limelight, when the vast majority of attendees voiced dismay over the prospect of a new hotel. This time, rather than actively trying to obstruct hotel development, many who spoke offered insights on what Ketchum can do to incorporate it into its cultural fabric.
If developed, the Tribute—slated for a one-acre plot starting at the intersection of River and Main streets and terracing down along the highway—would sit across from the Limelight Hotel and diagonally from the Kentwood Lodge. Upon approval of PEG’s conditional-use permit and planned-use development and development agreement applications, the Marriott would be the fourth hotel to crop up on the Main and River intersection by 2021. (That assumes that Jack Bariteau’s proposed luxury hotel obtains necessary financing, a condition that the City Council will re-evaluate at a special meeting on Dec. 9.)
AJC Principal Architect Justin Heppler kicked off the meeting by outlining the latest design tweaks the firm has made since October.
As proposed, the Marriott stands four stories at River Street with its central portion now reaching 63 feet instead of 72 feet. Updated PEG blueprints presented by Heppler also showed that a terrace and rooftop bar have been moved down a level, room count has dropped from 100 to 92 and employee housing has been cut from 30 rooms to 23. The amended design would also provide a new entry plaza, a “s’more corner” fire pit for congregation and additional conference rooms.
According to Heppler, environmental sustainability is a central focus in the new renderings: The hotel will implement a geothermal heat pump, automatic light shutoff when rooms are unoccupied and low-flow plumbing fixtures, among other energy-saving features.
Most notable among the blueprint adjustments was a reduction in the building’s floor-area ratio from 1.9 to 1.74, and a 10-foot increase in setback along River Street.
“We are now code-compliant [with setback] along River Street and the west portion of the building, and we anticipate the reduction in massing will help open up some view corridors,” Heppler said.
In perhaps the biggest nod of approval for the Marriott on Monday night, Sun Valley Economic Development Executive Director Harry Griffith cited projections of the hotel’s economic impact on Blaine County.
“From a 10-year standpoint, this is worth $1.6 billion to our community, and the direct impacts per year are around $5.5 million,” Griffith said. “These are big numbers. Based on a study of Jackson Hole we did, we’re looking at 7,000 additional visitors every year.”
Ketchum resident Grace Summers echoed Griffith’s endorsement and offered a young person’s perspective.
“Marriott is the standard brand in the corporate world for people that have to do a lot of business travel,” she said. “This is an opportunity to get some new blood in town, and we don’t want to pass this by.”
Griffith’s praise was not well received by all, however, as a handful of Ketchum residents pushed back against increased tourism and questioned the need for another hotel.
“I hear a lot about Jackson Hole and Park City,” Ketchum property owner John Sahlberg said. “But if I wanted to live in those places, I’d live there. I want to be in Ketchum. The moment [PEG] started talking about waivers, I thought, why aren’t we talking about values?”
Aside from a remaining height exceedance waiver (63 feet vs. the 35 feet allowed in the Tourist zone), other exceptions that PEG is still requesting from the city are for density, lot size and setbacks. Right now, the Tribute’s diversions from city code include building on a site two acres too small, placing the structure between 4 and 8 feet too close to state Highway 75 and building with a total floor-area ratio above the allotted 1.6.
Councilman Michael David said that while the building setback along state Highway 75 could be increased—lessening the code infringement necessitating a waiver—it would be better that the hotel sit closer to the road than up against Trail Creek residences on the west side.
Councilwoman Amanda Breen agreed.
“Our zoning specifically provides a method for granting waivers. We’re not just saying, ‘Let’s ignore zoning code here,’” she said. “We’re seeing if these waivers provide a real benefit to the community, and that seems to be the case here.”
The City Council also circled back to the topic of employee housing, and whether some of it should be off-site.
“Eliminating employee housing would cut the main benefit of this project, which in my mind is employees living in town,” Breen said.
Hamilton said that if any building cutback were to occur, on-site employee housing should stay.
“Something to consider is that if employee housing were pushed off-site, there would be 23 more cars on the street downtown, which could contribute to parking issues,” she said.
As deliberations came to a close, Mayor Neil Bradshaw had one main request for PEG: Cut the floor-area ratio down to the permitted 1.6 to avoid the waiver.
“It seems we’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, pardon the pun,” he said. “We need to reexamine the FAR—maybe that involves off-site employee housing. We are close to target, but we need to avoid setting a precedent for future developers [in granting waivers].”
PEG Senior Development Manager Nick Blayden said continuing to reduce the hotel mass would be possible, though tricky, in the next few weeks. Change one aspect of the building, he said, and new issues crop up.
“It’s a lot of give and take, lots of moving parts here,” he said.