Fairfield, Hampton hotel-to-housing conversion projects move forward

The Hampton Inn & Suites in Steamboat Springs is planned to be converted into accommodation for the workforce.
John F Russell / Steamboat Pilot Today

The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Thursday gave local developer Ski Town Commercial LLC the green light to begin relocating its long-term workforce tenants to the Hampton Inn & Suites and Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott early next month.

Ski Town’s commercial owner John Sanders, whose company owns several developments throughout Steamboat, said the project comes at a time of great need, when Root County faces a historic housing crisis and businesses struggle to hire winter-bound staff.

“We’re putting these deals together to help our community with short-term and long-term solutions,” Sanders said. “We have a short-term solution to release the pressure valve on our community to support the city’s employers.”

Although he said city employees understand the urgent need for workforce housing, Steamboat master planner Bob Keenan added a clause to Sanders’ request requiring Ski Town to provide each tenant with a lease to the city on an annual basis. This was to ensure tenants meet the qualifying definition of workforce housing, which the city’s Community Development Act sets as having no more than 120% of median income in the area and working at least 40 hours a week in Root County, Keenan noted.

Sanders said he did not have time to consider the entire application before it was submitted to the committee, and did not agree to the clause, because he believed it might violate the tenant’s privacy.

“The private sector is trying to solve the problem, and it seems to me what we’re doing is forcing us to go out and report back,” Sanders told the commissioners. “It sounds like a cop version of the police, no crime, but it was kind of shocking.”

Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Buck said that when the city typically requests reported leases, it does not seek personally identifiable information. Instead, the city will ask for a public report, which Sanders later approved.

“You guys could go crazy after us if you find a billionaire using one of our units and taking in all of their California buddies,” Sanders told the commissioners. “I think there has to be some trust and faith in the people in the community trying to solve this problem without having to go and report further.”

Mark Walker, president of Resort Group LLC, urged commissioners during the meeting to act quickly, as workforce housing is an immediate need ahead of the winter season.

“We all know we have a huge housing problem, and I’m just arguing that anything we can do to speed it up, and achieve it, is critical,” Walker said. “I have a huge waiting list of employees, and they are willing to come here as soon as they know they have somewhere to go.”

Although Walker spoke specifically on behalf of the service industry, Sanders said he envisioned the units being more than just service industry workers.

“These units in particular are proposing to be a different mix of tenants,” Sanders said, adding that the larger one-bedroom units he is planning are likely to be beneficial to more community employees in the long run.

Because the project is for conditional use only, Sanders doesn’t have to take the matter to city council, and the planning committee’s stamp of approval means he can start welcoming tenants on December 1.

For the winter season, units will remain at Fairfield, located at 3200 S. Lincoln Ave. , basically as is, and already equipped with microwaves and mini-fridges with a common common area. Sanders explained that there are actually units with kitchenettes at the Hampton Inn, located at 725 S. Lincoln Ave. , which will be filled immediately.

Keenan, who oversaw the city project, said Sanders is proposing to convert 80 units at Hampton Inn within six months, then send a construction team to Fairfield in April to install full kitchens.

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