Aspen City Council on Monday had a chilly response to the Hyatt Grand Aspen’s desire to no longer provide traditional ice skating at the Silver Circle rink.
Representatives of the timeshare and hotel development said it’s too expensive to continue refrigerating the rink, and the Environmental Protection Agency is phasing out the cooling agent, CFC-22, that has been used for more than a decade on the park-zoned land on Durant Street.
The Hyatt Grand Aspen is required to provide a public amenity space, specifically an ice skating rink, on that parcel per the approvals of the resort development in 1992.
The Hyatt Grand Aspen on Monday was seeking a temporary use permit to use “synthetic ice” for the 2019-20 season after the city revoked that approval this past spring when numerous complaints came in about how terrible the surface was to skate on.
Because the residence club and its homeowners association have to make a significant reinvestment on the property, they want council to consider other park-centric opportunities there and have synthetic ice be the temporary solution until bigger picture ideas come to fruition.
“Something that is experiential and interactive,” said Chris Bendon, the Hyatt Grand Aspen’s representative. “We are really trying to come up with a viable use for that space.”
Some council members balked at the suggestion of not having an ice rink there and pointed out that the Hyatt Grand got very valuable concessions and waivers as a result of getting that multimillion dollar parcel from the city to operate the only outdoor skating rink in town.
“It’s inconceivable to me that we are in this place,” Councilwoman Rachel Richards said. “I’m very disappointed … It seems like there should be a look back on the giveaways.
“It’s the classic, ‘we’ve got the approvals so we should shed our responsibilities.’”
Bendon said that is not the intent of his client, which wants the city to consider other uses as the resort property makes a significant investment into the parcel’s infrastructure.
“We are facing a significant reinvestment and want to make sure we do it right,” he said.
That didn’t convince Richards, who said Wagner Park and the pedestrian malls across the street provide for park-like activities.
“I’m very concerned about the concept of what would be better,” she said, adding it’s an attempt by the resort ownership to put a “bright and shiny object in front of us to get out of old obligations.”
Councilwoman Ann Mullins said while she is open to a conversation about future uses, she is frustrated because bringing back ice skating at that location has been talked about for over a year.
“I feel like we are getting backed into a corner,” she said, adding that considering other uses for the parcel is a years-long community conversation and it doesn’t address the upcoming season. “I don’t want to be forced into putting down a fake surface. … “I want to see ice there this winter.”
Richards said she wants information on how much the Hyatt Grand Aspen has put into maintaining the ice rink infrastructure and what it has reserved for capital replacements over the years.
Council agreed to continue the temporary-use request until September when staff can provide information on what the value is of the concessions and fee waivers granted to the Hyatt Grand Aspen in lieu of the ice rink stipulation, as well as an analysis of what the resort property has put into and has set aside for the rink, along with other options to refrigerate outdoor ice.
Samantha and Craig Cordts-Pearce, who own CP Burger, a restaurant that leases space from the Hyatt in front of the Silver Circle, said there are ways to refrigerate ice rinks.
They referenced Base Village in Snowmass Village, Vail and Rockefeller Center in New York.
They said their staff and themselves were the target of all of the complaints last winter when the synthetic surface didn’t live up to the expectations of locals and visitors.
“We are the face of this,” Craig said, noting that sales were down last year as a result of the synthetic surface debacle. “They think CP put the plastic down.”
The Cordts-Pearces said their lease with the Hyatt Grand Aspen says that they operate an ice rink.
Council members made it clear that they understand that the hotel and residence club’s ownership requirement includes the upkeep of the ice refrigeration system, which maintains the skating surface from November to March.
“My preference is to uphold the original approvals,” said Mayor Torre. “There is no ambition to have anything else there except frozen ice.”
The Grand Hyatt Aspen is in the process of appealing the city’s earlier revocation of the synthetic ice. Arguments will be made in front of a hearing officer in the future.
However, the applicant has requested that the appeal be placed on holdwhile council considers this temporary-use request.