After 14 years of ups and downs, a stalled 79-unit hotel project at the southern entrance to Ketchum planned by developer Jack Bariteau was given new life Thursday by city leaders.

At the close of a lengthy special City Council meeting, Mayor Neil Bradshaw voted “aye” to break a 2-2 tie vote by council members and move forward with the construction of a new, luxury, culinary-focused hotel on the southeast corner of River and Main streets. The vote also sets in place a plan for the infamous “hole” at the site to be filled in, even if the revived project is not completed.

“While there is no absolute guarantee that the hotel will be built, we now have a resolution for this matter,” Bradshaw said.

The matter put before the City Council—and the vote Thursday—was whether the city should approve a settlement agreement with Bariteau that would renew voided development entitlements for the project and release the city from a $100 million legal threat the developer had put forth.

Bradshaw cited three reasons for his tie-breaking vote.

“With this, we eliminate all legal claims, however nebulous, against the city and eliminate public funds being used for legal defense,” he said. “Furthermore, we create an ironclad funding path to filling in the hole should the building not be completed. And third, I have much confidence in Andy Blank to complete this project.”

Blank, a businessman and member of a prominent family with local ties, is a new investor in the project. The city determined that he has the financial capability to complete the stalled project.

The city was the target last fall of a $100 million tort claim that alleged the city had caused financial harm to Bariteau by voiding his development entitlements. The city voided the permissions for the project after it determined Bariteau had breached a contract with the city by not proving proof of adequate financing by a set date. The city then pursued a $453,000 bond to fill in the massive hole created after construction started in 2016, but that initiative stalled.

As part of the settlement agreement, the Bariteau legal claim was dropped.

“I have been coming [to Ketchum] for 50 years,” Blank—a Park City, Utah, resident—told the City Council. “In the last few months, since I have gotten involved, I have come to appreciate greatly what this project can mean for the community.”

The planned Harriman Hotel started as the Hotel Ketchum in 2008. The project stalled and was given development extensions over the years, at one point linking with the Auberge hotel group, before finally being rebranded the Harriman Hotel. The project featured 65 hotel rooms and 14 residences. Construction started in 2016 but developed slowly, before finally stalling entirely in 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

appellation hotel.jpg

This rendering shows plans for the new hotel proposed for the southeast corner of Main and River streets in Ketchum. If approved, it would be linked to the new Appellation hotel group.

It was recently announced that the developers have partnered with the California-based Appellation hotel group, a luxury brand with an emphasis on fine dining.

Council members Michael David and Amanda Breen agreed with Bradshaw in supporting the settlement agreement, while Councilwoman Courtney Hamilton and Councilman Jim Slanetz voted against it. If the agreement was denied, Bariteau and his partners would have been left with no development rights for the site.

“I want to do what’s best for our community, and I think what’s best might be to move forward by avoiding using taxpayer funds for legal fees, and filling in the hole,” Breen said.

Much of the discussion revolved around the eyesore that the hole has become—either as a rationale for approving the agreement and getting it filled in, or as a reason not to trust Bariteau’s team again.

Numerous citizens spoke during the public hearing, offering a variety of viewpoints.

“I’m not against a hotel on this site. What I am concerned about is that this has gone on for 14 years,” said Carl Krekow, who lives on East River Street near the site. “Because, frankly, Jack [Bariteau] and his attorneys have ‘pantsed’ the city at every turn.”

Neil Morrow, chairman of the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission, said he thinks the approved structure would be as unsightly as the hole. He compared the project to an approved Marriott hotel planned for a site across Main Street.

“In 2008, this hotel might have fit. There was no Limelight [Hotel], no Marriott, no Onyx,” he said. “We spent years trying to get the Marriott at a size that is compatible with the neighborhood—at the [state Highway 75] bridge, it’s about 35 feet. This building is over 100 feet at the bridge. You come across the bridge and [it looks like you are driving] into a wall.”

Comments of support cited economic benefits, an increased tax base and additional vibrancy downtown, as well as Bariteau’s otherwise solid development record.

“I’m in favor of this project,” said Ketchum resident Pam Colesworthy. “To err is human, to forgive is divine.”

Developer Reid Sanborn said the site is appropriate for a hotel and is “ready to go.”

“I think [the project will] bring a lot of revenue dollars from tourism attraction and visitors for our local business owners,” he said. “I think Mr. Bariteau has done everything asked of him in the past.”

While several people spoke up against having multiple high rises next to each other at the southern entrance to town, more people took issue with a different design element—the rooftop bar.

“I was reading an article [about] the proposed hotel, and the article references that their Sun Valley hotel will have a rooftop bar,” wrote Kevin Livingston in a letter to the city. “Is this approval before process? A rooftop bar will create noise for all of the people within 10 blocks that bought their homes in good faith.”

After multiple similar comments, Bradshaw clarified that the existing approval for a rooftop element is for an observatory tower. If the Appellation team is interested in adding a rooftop bar, they will have to get approval from the P&Z, he noted.

Slanetz and Hamilton primarily cited the significant amount of time that has passed and subsequent changes in the community that have occurred as reasons for voting to send the developers back to square one.

“When this project started, I was 14 years old and in eighth grade,” Hamilton said. “It’s unfair to our community to reinstate something that was approved in such a different world.”

Ed Simon, a 40-year resident of Ketchum and former mayor, agreed with her.

“If you grant this proposal 14 years after it was initially approved by the City Council, how do you evaluate the Marriott project?” he said. “How do you tell them no? What do you say to the homeowner who wants a waiver for a one-foot setback? What this project has done for 14 years is undermine every ordinance regarding development.”

With the agreement approved, the developers have the right to build the Harriman Hotel as approved. Changes to the plan would have to go through the P&Z review process.

Even if construction is delayed, Blank emphasized the hole will be no more.

“If for some reason we stumble and fail,” he said. “The settlement agreement guarantees that either the hotel gets completed or the hole gets filled.”