Aspen Market

Snowmass Council OK With Tax Rate That is One of Highest in State

imagesSnowmass Village’s sales tax rate is generally proper, but what steps to take if it rises because of hikes at the county or state levels need to be ironed out, officials said Monday.

The town’s total sales collection on retail, restaurants and lodging is 12.8 percent, giving Snowmass Village the third-highest rate in Colorado behind Winter Park and Mount Crested Butte, Town Council was told.

Finance director Marianne Rakowski said she queried six economists in the state to discern what, if any, impact increasing or decreasing sales tax has on consumer spending.

The experts all said that no studies have been done in this area, but one said he believes “that most travelers … are very familiar with tax rates above 10 percent and are probably unlikely to be using tax rates as a determinant in vacation planning or decision making,” Rakowski’s memo says.

Snowmass Village by itself levies a 2.5 percent tax on retail, restaurant and lodging sales that funds marketing efforts, and a separate 2.4 percent tax added to rental bills that goes toward bringing in group business.

The two rates have resulted in “a very healthy budget for both marketing and group sales compared to” other communities, said Russ Forrest, town manager.

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Aspen Area Real Estate Numbers Continue 2013 Slide

imagesReal estate in Pitkin County took a hit in February in both dollars and transactions, according to the latest data compiled by Land Title Guarantee Company.

Total dollar volume for February was about $38.39 million, a decrease of 15 percent from the same month in 2012. There were 44 total transaction in February, or about 4 percent fewer sales than there were in February of last year, the report showed.

Among those sales, $27.7 million was in Aspen, $1.9 million in Snowmass Village, $1.6 million in Basalt, $3.3 million in Old Snowmass and $245,000 in Redstone, the report said, adding that there were also $3.6 million in interval unit (aka fractional) sales.

So far this year, there has been about $118.26 million in county real estate transactions, a decrease of 17 percent compared to the same period in 2012. Year to date, transactions totaled 103, an increase of 2 percent from the same period in 2012.

There were seven bank sales recorded in the county in February that totaled $2.2 million and accounted for 16 percent of the transactions and 6 percent of the dollars. Year to date, there have been 16 bank sales recorded in the county, totaling $9.1 million and accounting for 16 percent of the transactions and 8 percent of the dollars, Land Title Guarantee reported.

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February Retail Sales Post Gain

imagesFebruary retail sales in Aspen were up 2 percent over the same month last year, according to the last city consumption tax report.  The positive number brings year-to-date sales to 3 percent ahead of 2012. January was up 3 percent.   February typically accounts for between 10 and 12 percent of the year’s retail sales and tax collections, according to the city report

The industries posting the largest gains were construction, miscellaneous, general retail and accommodations, which posted 24 percent, 18 percent, 12 percent and 9 percent gains, respectively. Sporting equipment and luxury goods posted the largest industry loses, declining 17 percent and 12 percent.  February lodging tax collections were up 10 percent over collections from the same period in 2012. For the year, collections are up 8 percent. The discrepancy between year-to-date lodging tax collection increases and accommodations sales increases is primarily due to non-lodging, on-premises sales.

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Aspen’s Most Expensive Penthouse Ever at $17.6 Million

imagesSome Aspen developers are milking the result of their settlement with the town of Aspen that allowed them to build a penthouse 85% bigger than city zoning limits would otherwise permit, as evidenced by their outrageous pricing of this 4,638 square foot three-story penthouse with 4 bedrooms and 5 baths for $17,600,000. City zoning limits cap downtown residential units at 2,500 square feet, but developers won the right to build their oversize unit in exchange for deed restricting the building so that the commercial space can only be rented to an “affordable” restaurant.

The city denied the project at first due to a lack of affordable housing and were feeling the sting from the loss of long-time affordable eatery, Bad Billy’s. The developers countered that the denial was “arbitrary,” and won the deal that requires them to seek out an affordable eatery tenant “in good faith.”

The penthouse has hemlock fir flooring and hemlock paneling. An entrance hall/art gallery with concealed and heated ski storage. If you thought heated sidewalks were a bogus concession to wealthy wimps, then heated storage for skis might be the only feature to top it. The master bedroom is ensconced in its own floor with a master bathroom with Vals quartzite floors and wainscoting. A “generous” roof terrace is also replete with a gas fireplace and an eight-person hot tub.

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Aspen Food & Wine Classic Nearly Sold Out

imagesTickets to this year’s 31st annual Aspen Food & Wine Classic will likely sell out in early April for the first time since the Great Recession hit.   Only a handful of tickets are left for this year’s event, which runs June 14-16, according to Lori Lefevre, a spokesperson for Food & Wine. Tickets originally went on sale Dec. 12. The festival is a three-day event hosted by Food & Wine magazine and it offers over 80 individual seminars including cooking demonstrations, wine lectures, panel discussions and tastings, in addition to daily grand tastings.

Food & Wine issues about 5,000 tickets annually falling under categories including general admission, trade group passes or press passes, Lefevre said. Organizers do not release the breakdown of how many tickets are issued in each category, she said.

Historically, the success of Food & Wine ticket sales directly correlates with the state of the economy and whether the country is in a recession, Lefevre said. During the event’s early years, tickets sold out in May, but in the late 2000s they began to sell out earlier, Lefevre said. In 2007 and 2008 Food & Wine had record-breaking seasons when the event sold out in February.  After the recession hit, ticket sales slowed and the event didn’t sell out until the week it occurred. In response, Food & Wine sold day passes ranging in price from $250 to $395 each. Sales have slowly picked up again with the event selling out in the third week of April last year, according to Lefevre.  Food & Wine anticipates the sellout will happen earlier this year due to the economy turning around, she said.

March Occupancy in Snowmass Up from Last Year

imagesHotels in Snowmass Village saw slightly more business in March over last year, thanks largely to a flurry of last-minute bookings made after some significant snowstorms. Snowmass occupancy in March came in at 58.6 percent, a 4.2 percent increase from last year, according to a report by the Mountain Travel Research Program. It didn’t look that way before the month, though.

“We were coming in almost dead flat with last March,” said Bill Tomcich, president of reservations agency Stay Aspen Snowmass.  March had a long way to go, but a dramatic change in the ski conditions got the phones ringing. March bookings made that same month were up 20 percent over last year, helping the numbers to rise above.

Snowmass hotels saw a strong finish in April with close to 50 percent occupancy the first half of the month, double the rate that Snowmass saw in the same period last year.  Most of the visitors were in town for the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic the first week of April and the Mountain Travel Symposium the second.  “And last year we had Easter in April,” Tomcich said. “That really illustrates the power of those two groups.”

The properties almost sold out during the winter sports clinic and Mountain Travel Symposium, he said. All of the symposium business events were in the Westin Snowmass Conference Center.  “That quite honestly took us over the top,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping that momentum continues through the summer season.”

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Forest Service Ready to Sell Real Estate

imagesThe White River National Forest is ready to move forward with the sales process for a portion of its Aspen West End property, in order to finance a redevelopment of the aging visitor center at the S-curves.

Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams published a notice last week approving the conveyance of an acre at the northwest corner of the 3-acre property. The for-sale portion would be split into five lots of about 6,000 square feet, each suitable for single-family homes.  “I’m finally in the real estate business,” Fitzwilliams joked.

The notice, published April 11, kicks off a 45-day period during which the Forest Service’s decision to sell the property can be appealed to officials in Washington D.C. If no appeal is filed, Fitzwilliams said he hopes the marketing and sale of the property, conducted through the Government Services Administration, will go forward this summer. A Forest Service press release issued Thursday said the Aspen property is the  No. 1 priority for the White River National Forest’s conveyance program.

The Forest Service hasn’t settled on the method it will use to sell the property, Fitzwilliams said, although an online or live auction is being considered. He said  White River staff is looking to other instances where the Forest Service has sold property in high-end real estate markets, such as Sedona, Ariz., and the Lake Tahoe region in California and Nevada, for ideas.

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Aspen Rental Vacancy Rates Drop to Four-year Low

imagesTeton County’s apartment rental market constricted to a point last year that hasn’t been seen since 2008.  Last year, the vacancy rate fluctuated between 1 percent and 1.6 percent, according to a new report published by the state Community Development Authority. In 2011, that rate was hovering around 10 percent.

Managers at two large apartment complexes in Jackson said they’ve seen their vacancy rates drop gradually over the last year.  “It seems like everything is coming back,” said Aspen Meadows Apartments property manager Sean Ryan.

Aspen Meadows increased its rent for a one-bedroom apartment, albeit slightly, in response to growing demand. A one-bedroom, deluxe apartment is going for $880 per month. Last year, the complex charged $825. The occupancy rate at Blair Apartments increased to 83 percent. During the same time last year, it was at 70 percent.

The county’s vacancy rate was the lowest in the state at the end of 2012. The state average was 4.2 percent, although central Wyoming communities had an average rate of 1.9 percent. Landlords in the southeastern corner of the state reported a vacancy rate of 2.7 percent. The vacancy rate survey comes in a bundle of economic data that seems to show that the valley’s economy is slowly on the mend.

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Colorado Ski Visits Down 11%

colorado-ski-map-620x406According to The Colorado Springs Business Journal ski visits across the state of Colorado are down 11.5% so far this season, compared to the same period last year. The Journal sites the lack of snow and late openings for many Colorado resorts as major factors in the drop of skier traffic.

“First period is largely fueled by in-state visitors, and an unseasonably warm October and November kept many Coloradans from tallying lots of ski days” said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, a nonprofit industry group that represents several of the state’s largest ski resorts. “Snow did not arrive in earnest until mid-December.”

Despite the slow start, ski areas saw a strong holiday period with conditions more in line with an average year. The New Year started with storms, which bodes well for the rest of the season, she said.

“There is some real buoyancy in the indicators for the months ahead. February and March hotel bookings are pacing ahead of last year by 3.5 percent and 8.6 percent respectively,” Mills said. “Carnival and Easter are well-timed for ski visitation this year and Colorado’s traditional snowier months lie ahead.”.

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Vacant Land Sales Pick Up in Aspen Area

imagesVacant land for single-family homes in the Aspen area was the first segment of the real estate market to get smacked by the recession, and it’s been one of the slow areas to recovery, but it’s finally turning around, according to sales data.

Twenty-six vacant lots in Aspen and surrounding neighborhoods sold in 2012, far exceeding any of the prior four years, according to an analysis by Andrew Ernemann, of B.J. Adams and Co. Only 11 vacant lots sold in the same geographic area in 2011.  The level reached last year essentially matched the pre-recession level of 25 lots sold in 2007, Ernemann’s report showed.

He said his personal experience and chats with other real estate agents indicate that most of the sales are to end users — people who want to build and live in the homes. There are also signs of some interest from investors, he said. Investors are typically spec builders who invest the money in land and construction on the assumption the houses will sell. Spec building disappeared, for the most part, when the recession struck the Roaring Fork Valley in late 2008.

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