KAJX

Hotel Construction A Sign Of Progress In Willits Town Center

Oct 14, 2014

A construction crew works on the site of a new hotel in Willits. The hotel, called "Element by Westin" is expected to open in late 2015.
Credit Marci Krivonen

Construction has started on a new 112-bed hotel in Willits that’s scheduled to open next year. At a groundbreaking event on Tuesday, developers said the hotel is another indicator of a turnaround at Willits, where work stalled during the recession. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

Workers in fluorescent yellow vests dig dirt at a construction site alongside Highway 82. This is the latest sign of development and recovery at Willits.

"This whole project and Whole Foods under Mariner (Real Estate) has gone at light speed record to get approved. I think it’s really apparent that the community approves and welcomes the hotel," says Jacqui Whitsitt, mayor of Basalt.

She was speaking Tuesday near the construction site where developers, government staff and others involved for the project were gathered.

(left to right) Tim Belinski, Ryan Anderson, Ed Mace and Charles Peck make up the development team for the new Westin hotel in Willits.
Credit Marci Krivonen

The new hotel is called “Element by Westin.” It’s designed to be environmentally friendly and will feature large rooms, so families can stay multiple days. It could attract 45,000 guests annually and eventually bring more than $100,000 dollars in tax revenue to local government coffers.

Besides the hotel, other buildings are planned in the Willits Town Center. It covers 15 acres in the Mid-Valley. After the hotel’s complete, developer Ryan Anderson says build-out will reach its halfway mark.

"While it looks like we’ve done a lot, there’s still a lot more to build," he says.

His group is Kansas City-based Mariner Real Estate. It purchased Willits in 2010 after the recession stopped development here. He credits Whole Foods for helping the area thrive. Still, it’s difficult to attract retailers because it’s rural.

"It’s a lot tougher sale than in cities like Chicago and Denver. We knew that going in, but I would say it’s been as hard as we thought as it was going to be to sell retailers on it."

The next construction project is three-story structure with retail spaces and affordable housing units. A performing arts center and a second hotel could also eventually be built here. The Westin’s Element Hotel is scheduled to open in time for ski season next year.