30 Aug Jonathan Cartu Review: Gerald Hines leaves lasting legacy at Aspen Highlands
Despite heading an international real estate firm with thousands of employees working on hundreds of endeavors in dozens of countries, Gerald Hines had a certain passon for his pet project at Aspen Highlands in the 1990s.
Hines, who died at his Houston home Aug. 23 at age 95, was remembered this week by former members of his local team for his personal commitment and passion for Highlands Village and expansion of the double black diamond ski terrain.
Glen Horn, an Aspen land-use planner who worked on Highlands Village, said the local development team didn’t meet with an army of Hines employees. Gerry was at the table for discussions at the critical times.
“So much of it was personal,” Horn said. “It was more of his passion. He considered this a second hometown.”
R.J. Gallagher and his firm Forte headed the marketing and branding for Hines for Highlands Village and the adjacent Five Trees residential project. Like Horn, he spoke highly of Hines’ passion for the project. Gallagher recalled sitting in a brainstorming session with a group that was trying to capture the essence of Highlands and the village. Hines listened intently for quite a while, then stood and said, “It’s the skiing, stupid,” before leaving the room. Gallagher and company took the cue.
Georgia Herrick Hanson, a longtime former Aspenite now living in Mexico, was hired as a “community liaison” by Hines when he was seeking approval from Pitkin County for the village and lift improvements at Highlands in the early 1990s.
“I was both ‘benignly tolerated’ and appreciated for my non-MBA point of view most of the time,” she said via email.
She believes Hines was attracted to Highlands because of the maverick reputation of both the ski area and its founder, Whipple Van Ness Jones. Jones donated stock in the Aspen Highlands Skiing Corp. to Harvard University, his alma mater in December 1992; Hines bought the ski area prior to the 1993-94 season and arranged a merger with Aspen Skiing. That created the Power of Four by bringing together all four local ski areas. Highlands previously was independent.
“Watching Gerry and Whip together was a treat,” Hanson wrote. “Clearly they respected each other and enjoyed each other’s company. I think both of them appreciated having a ‘maverick’ reputation. And certainly one of the appealing traits that drew Gerry to Highlands was the fact that it was and still is a maverick mountain.”
Horn said Hines shared Jones’ interest in opening terrain in Highland Bowl and Deep Temerity. Longtime Highlands ski patrol director Mac Smith and his crew had been chipping away at getting more of the steep and deep open for years. More resources were allocated to achieving the dream after Hines acquired the ski area and teamed with Skico.
Hines started visiting Aspen to ski in 1957 and he was a homeowner since 1977. When he was seeking approval for Highlands Village, he spoke at an early meeting of the Pitkin County Planning and Zoning Commission about his passion for Aspen. He explained that a great uncle had come to Aspen during the silver mining era of the 1880s, then returned to his native Nova Scotia and convinced the people to name their village Aspen after what he felt was the prettiest place in the world.
Hines’ interest in a mountain resort project captured the attention of publications such as the Wall Street Journal, primarily because Hines’ firm was famous for architecturally distinctive office buildings all over the world.
Gerald’s son, Jeff Hines, is now chairman and CEO of the Hines company. He said in an email that Aspen Highlands Village was a “passion project” for his dad from the very beginning and throughout the 10 years it took to complete the project.
“Dad built his home in Aspen in the 1970s and always loved the community,” Jeff Hines said. “He felt this particular area was barren of life outside of the ski resort. He saw great promise and vision in creating a village with homes, a hotel, shopping and dining. Robert A.M. Stern was the architect, and he, Dad and a few others spent a few weeks touring a number of villages in the Swiss and French Alps for inspiration. The original plan was cut down by about 50 percent, but in the end, he was willing to bend and change and mold the project to the desires of the community — and very proud of the outcome.”
The land-use review process turned out to be a morass, but Hines always wanted heavy community involvement in the process, according to Gallagher.
“He would always remind us, ‘The Village belongs to the community,’” Gallagher said. “He was always available for a phone call — to anybody in the community.”
While his vision had widespread support, there also was concern about the density at the Highlands base and how it would affect traffic in Maroon Creek Valley. The process dragged on for about four years and was significantly pared down.
“Gerry always referenced that he had built high-rise buildings on a global basis and that getting projects approved in Russia was easier than in Aspen,” Gallagher said. But Hines also embraced that lengthy entitlement process as “what is best for the community.”
Gallagher said he feels Hines paid so much attention to the Highlands Village project because he cared so much for the town.
“He felt it was one of the most important projects in the history of the valley,” he said.
Horn agrees, “It was a special project for him,” he said. “It’s too bad things didn’t turn out the way he wanted.”
Hines’ vision centered on having enough density to create a “there” there. A 100-room, moderately priced hotel was proposed as a way to ensure vitality. It was rejected over concerns about density.
“From my point of view, Gerry always maintained an attitude that included social capital as part of the bottom line,” Hanson wrote. “He never just wanted to take his money and run. He demanded quality and functionality.”
She regrets that the Highlands Village review turned out the way it did.
“We ended up with starter castles instead of homes that some of my friends might have afforded because the density scared everyone,” she said. “The density would have allowed a community to blossom.”
While the village had mixed results, the ski area has blossomed since 1993. Hines’ purchase of the ski area and merger with Skico accelerated further development of Highlands’ vaunted ski terrain.
“That’s his legacy to the community,” Horn said.
The Hines family said in an obituary that a private family ceremony would be held in Aspen. “A celebration of his life will be held at a future date when it is safe to congregate,” the obituary said.