Affordable housing developer admits Gorsuch vandalism was protest against sale of Aspen Mountain hotel
A prominent Colorado family tricked Aspen voters three years ago into endorsing a hotel at the base of Aspen Mountain’s 1A lift, according to the person responsible for vandalism over the weekend, then broke flipped and made tens of millions of dollars last week selling the endorsement of a Russian-born billionaire.
That was the justification an Aspen affordable housing developer used Monday to vandalize the Gorsuch Ski Cafe at the base of the Aspen Mountain Gondola late Saturday night to protest the $76.25 million sale..
“They got a lot of votes, including mine, in an effort to convince the city that they were going to be the hotel operators,” Peter Fornell told the Aspen Times on Monday afternoon. “For them to turn him into another property developer upset me so much I had to say something. I saw red right away.
Jeff Gorsuch, business owner in Aspen and Vail and the public face of the 2019 campaign to build the Gorsuch Haus hotel at the bottom of elevator 1A, on Monday called Fornell’s actions “threatening, dangerous and unwarranted.” . Furthermore, he said that during the hard-fought approval process for Gorsuch Haus three years ago, he never promised to build the hotel.
Instead, the promise was to revitalize the community on the west side of Aspen Mountain through the creation of an 81-room hotel, build a ski history museum, and hopefully “build a bridge” that led to the return of the Ski World Cup to Aspen. And that’s what will eventually happen with the recent sale, he said.
“I never said I had $200 million to build a hotel,” Gorsuch said Monday. “There is, for me, a responsibility (to build the project), and I think we have done well.”
The vandalism – Fornell said he intentionally used easy-to-remove water-based red paint – appeared between 9:30 p.m. and midnight Saturday and read “Liars Go Back to Vail” on three windows and “Liars” on another, according to photos obtained by The Aspen Times and Aspen police. The paint was removed on Sunday.
Aspen voters approved the 81-room hotel, 320,000 square feet of retail space, and separate condominium pavilion by a 26-vote margin in March 2019. Gorsuch and two partners later acquired the land from the Gorsuch Haus of the Aspen Skiing Co. in July for $10 million.
However, a company identified in property records as Aspen City Holdings LLC paid $76.25 million for the property last week, according to public records. Aspen City Holdings shares a mailing address with a Miami-based development company called OKO Group, which is run by Russian-born billionaire Vladislav Doronin.
Fornell said he read the Aspen Times on a Saturday article detailing the sale and immediately got angry.
But after spray-painting the windows of the Gorsuch cafe, he said he regretted his choice to protest. On Sunday, he said he called Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, confessed to the crime and asked what DiSalvo thought was the right course of action.
“He said the best way to do it was to take responsibility for it,” Fornell said, adding that he told an Aspen Police Department sergeant Monday morning that he had committed the vandalism. . “I’m a little disappointed in myself for my actions. I am a bigger man than that.
DiSalvo confirmed the Sunday call on Monday.
Fornell was cited for defacing public property, which is a municipal offense that will be dealt with in Aspen City Court, APD Sgt. Ritchie Zah.
Fornell said Gorsuch’s campaign in 2018 and 2019 to convince local voters to endorse the Lift 1A hotel included sending out advertisements for it with Gorsuch family photos on it. Fornell said he personally lobbied friends to support the controversial project – some of whom reacted angrily to his stance – because locals were going to run it, which he said would be better than the developers of the project. out of town.
“They sent mailers to every address in town saying this would be their legacy to the community,” Fornell said. “It was about how the community could be so proud that this is their legacy to the community.”
The $76 million sale — about seven months after Gorsuch and his partners bought the property from Skico — to a Russian billionaire proved the campaign to be an outright lie, Fornell said.
“I would like to make sure everyone in Aspen realizes that after claiming they were leaving a legacy for the city, they sold themselves to a developer, like every other developer,” he said. declared. “They sold to the highest bidder.”
Fornell is also a developer, although his only developments for 40 years in Aspen have been limited to affordable and restricted-deed housing projects only.
Gorsuch on Monday denied Fornell’s allegations that he lied to Aspen voters during the campaign to endorse the Gorsuch Haus.
“I was the voice and the face of the project,” he said. “We have not betrayed the public trust.”
He said he was “enormously proud” of the project that was approved, and that it didn’t matter that the approval only passed by 26 votes.. He said he was “a small partner in the process” and that he and his partners, Jim DeFrancia of Lowe’s Development and Bryan Peterson, sold the parcel and development rights because they wanted to see it built.
The project remains the same as it was when it was approved by voters, Gorsuch said, although he said he did not know the details of the new developer’s hotel plans. Gorsuch also said he doesn’t know if the hotel will be an Aman hotel similar to the one Doronin is about to build in Manhattan.
In fact, the three developers of Gorsuch Haus emphasized local ties during the approval process and said the public can trust them to serve the interests of the Aspen community. Last week, DeFrancia told The Times that the $76 million sale should disappoint or worry no one and that the original voter-approved plan was the project that would be built.
As for his urging the Gorsuch family to leave Aspen and return to Vail, Fornell said that’s where he thinks the Gorsuch family legacy was born.
“Gorsuch is a Vail name,” he said. “Gorsuch started there.”
Gorsuch, however, said that was not true and that Fornell’s accusations of vandalism were libelous and tinged with “irony”.
“The first Gorsuch arrived in Aspen in 1887,” he said in a press release later emailed to The Aspen Times. “We have strived to be good stewards of this valley, this city and these mountains for 135 years. It doesn’t make us special, but it does reveal how special Aspen is to us.
His family has had a business in Aspen for 50 years, and his parents moved to Vail in 1966 “to help build a great ski town and mountain,” he said.
“We are not greed-driven intruders,” Gorsuch said. “We are mountain people. We respect the land. We respect the community. We love the history (of Aspen), its heart and its values, its character and its people.