© 2023 KSUT Public Radio
NPR News and Music Discovery for the Four Corners
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Ouray Business Owners to Buy Hotel for Workforce Housing

(L-R) Ouray Grocery co-owner Tom Fedel; Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs General Manager Ryan Hein; San Juan Mountain Guides co-owner Mark Iuppenlatz; Ridgway Mountain Market co-owner Valerie Hill; and Twin Peaks owner Craig Hinkson. They're partnering to buy the Ouray Chalet Inn to convert it to workforce housing.
Ouray County Plaindealer
(L-R) Ouray Grocery co-owner Tom Fedel; Twin Peaks Lodge & Hot Springs General Manager Ryan Hein; San Juan Mountain Guides co-owner Mark Iuppenlatz; Ridgway Mountain Market co-owner Valerie Hill; and Twin Peaks owner Craig Hinkson. They're partnering to buy the Ouray Chalet Inn to convert it to workforce housing.

Four local businesses are purchasing the Ouray Chalet Inn to use it for workforce housing, with plans to rent long-term to their own employees and other businesses.

San Juan Mountain Guides, Ouray Grocery, Ridgway Mountain Market and Twin Peaks Lodge and Hot Springs formed Chalet Partners, LLC, in July to purchase the Main Street property, they announced last week. They’re working with Citizens State Bank on financing the purchase, and are anticipating closing the sale in September.

The group started meeting this spring to brainstorm housing solutions, including potentially building a dormitory, but were concerned about the high costs of land and construction, San Juan Mountain Guides co-owner Mark Iuppenlatz said.

At one point, they discussed building a new extended-stay hotel, when the option of buying an existing hotel was suggested.

“Based on the price, when you work into a per-unit cost, it was more affordable, by far, than anything you could build,” he said. “And the location is a 10,” he said, especially for employees who work in Ouray and don’t have a car.

Ouray Chalet owner Lora Slawitschka said milestones for the family business this spring spurred her thoughts of selling. Her parents bought the inn 50 years ago in March, and in May, she marked two decades of owning the motel.

“There was a moment in March that it was like, I think it’s time to do something else, to work on other adventures, new chapters,” she said. “I still love what I do, enjoy what I do, but I just think it’s time to do something different.”

“We hit that landmark of 50 years and it’s kind of a good year to end on,” she said.

Slawitschka put the hotel up for sale and received more than one offer, she said, but selling to Chalet Partners and keeping it in local hands was “the right fit.”

Chalet Partners will own the building and lease rooms to the businesses involved, who will then sublet to their employees, Iuppenlatz said. A third-party manager will oversee the property.

Other businesses interested in providing housing can contact Ryan Hein at Twin Peaks. The rooms will not be rented directly to tenants, he said, and must be leased by the employers for their employees. He is anticipating a Nov. 1 move-in date for the first residents.

Some rooms may be combined to create larger suites, and they’re talking about adding Murphy beds and kitchenettes to create studio apartments in others, with a total of about 29 residential units on the property. Outdoor grills and storage lockers are in the plans, and Iuppenlatz said a community kitchen “is a goal, as long as we can make it work from a code standpoint.”

Five first-floor rooms will be converted to rental office space, which he said will meet local demand and “hopefully provide some income to offset the utilities and the taxes.”

Hein, who said he anticipates using 13 rooms for Twin Peaks employees, said “mid-level” employees including restaurant and front-desk staff will likely be interested, as well as the international workers he typically hires on J-1 visas. He’ll continue running his daily employee shuttle to Montrose and Olathe, he said.

Some may use the hotel as transitional housing, while they find a more permanent option. Others, such as seasonal employees, may sign six-month leases.

“If a guide is saying, ‘I’d love to come work for you but what’s the housing situation?’ we can say we can cover you, we’ve got a place for you,” Iuppenlatz said. “If they like it and want to make a life here, a career here, then they look for maybe long-term housing down the road.”

The specifics of renting the rooms will vary by employer. “It can work either way, we can make it part of the benefits package or they could pay us on a monthly basis,” Hein said.

He said rent prices haven’t been set yet, but the goal is to make them “as affordable as possible.”

“I would say our target is kind of in the $800 range,” Iuppenlatz said.

Some of his employees are “living the van life,” he said, which is doable but not ideal. “People are willing to do that, to make sacrifices to live here,” he said, but the goal is “to the extent that we can, make it a little easier.”

Ouray Grocery owner Tom Fedel, who bought the store with his wife Alyssa last summer, said the biggest benefit will be in recruiting new employees.

“We can say it’s taken care of, when we’re trying to attract people to our business,” he said. “Our goal with this is to find an affordable place where our employees can live without the worry of getting sold out from under them next week or without the worry of the rent getting jacked up on them.”

Finding affordable housing for employees has been a challenge for years, but it’s gotten worse, Ridgway Mountain Market owner Darin Hill said.

“There’s not the options people had a year or two ago,” he said. “We could pay a zillion dollars, but if there’s no place to rent, it doesn’t do you any good.”

Montrose, which had been a more affordable option, isn’t as accessible anymore, he said.

“This will help a lot of folks at least get their foot in the door,” he said.

And while the rooms are small, he and Iuppenlatz both compared them to tiny homes, which are typically the same size or even smaller.

All four buyers said they see the housing shortage as a challenge for businesses, not for the city government to tackle.

“A worker shortage in Ouray is not Ouray’s problem,” Fedel said. “It is a business owners’ problem to solve. We should not be relying on the city and citizens of Ouray to solve that problem for us, which was the impetus for this project in general. It’s us solving our own problem and making it work.”

With a tentative plan to close the deal on or before Sept. 15, the hotel’s closing date is still up in the air, depending on the process and the bank’s timeline, Slawitschka said. She has suggested the end of September, which would accommodate the tours and groups she has booked to stay through the month.

For now, “you just keep your head down and keep going, status quo, still do the job that I’m supposed to do,” she said.

She and manager Christina Lujan sat in glider chairs outside the hotel office on Friday afternoon, greeting employees who came to pick up checks, joking with them and their children. Slawitschka coaxed a high-five out of one shy toddler, and a fist-bump from another when he handed over a set of brass keys.

She made conversation with guests as they returned from excursions, hugging one as they chatted about Jeep trails.

Slawitschka won’t be leaving Ouray, and she’ll remain on the Ouray Ice Park’s board of directors.

“I won’t be taking on any new projects for at least a year,” she said, and after two decades of always being on-call, she’s looking forward to leaving for a day without worrying about what might be happening at the hotel.

One group of guests has been coming every year since the 1980s, when her parents owned the hotel.

“That crew has evolved into essentially a block party, the neighborhood comes,” she said. After so many years, “they’re like family,” Slawitschka said. “Now I can go Jeeping with them, I can participate with some of those folks and go out and not have it be stressful or always worried about trying to get back.”

In the meantime, “I’ve got to go through 50 years worth of stuff” to clean out of the inn. “My parents had it easy, they handed me the keys and left,” she joked. “I get to go through all of their stuff plus my stuff.”

“It’s my childhood home and all of those things, I’ve been here a long time,” she said. “But I’m also ready.”

- - -

Liz Teitz is a journalist with Report for America, a nonprofit program focused on supporting journalism in underserved areas.

This story was written in partnership with the Ouray County Plaindealer, through a collaboration powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative — a nonprofit formed to strengthen local public-service journalism in Colorado. KSUT joined this historic collaboration with more than 40 news organizations to share in-depth local reporting to better serve Coloradans.

Mark Duggan provided online production of this story for KSUT.

Related Stories