If you spend even a little time in any given small town in the country, you will likely see that the lifeblood of the community comprises its workers—the waitresses, bartenders, retailers, bus drivers, maintenance workers and emergency responders.
But in exclusive ski resort towns like Jackson, Vail, and Sun Valley, skyrocketing costs of living coupled with increasingly scarce opportunities for housing are making it harder for local worker bees to stay around to perform their jobs that are vital for the town’s longevity.
It’s for some of those reasons that Sun Valley Co., which operates Sun Valley Resort, is undertaking a large construction project to replace its current dorms with newer facilities that can house more workers.
“The Sun Valley Employee Housing Project takes a significant step in the quality of housing for employees committed to working and living in Sun Valley,” said resort spokeswoman Kelli Lusk.
Lusk said that finding affordable places to live in most mountain and resort towns is an increasing challenge, as long-term rentals are taken off the market, making it increasingly more difficult for employees to live and work in resort and mountain communities. “For this reason, Sun Valley Resort is constructing two new employee residences, with completion slated for winter 2018-2019 for building one and the spring of 2019 for building two,” Lusk said.
The new buildings will be constructed on the corner of a 16-acre parcel adjacent to the Sun Valley Horseman’s Center. Lusk said there is a paved walkway from the edge of the Sun Valley Village, beginning at Dollar Road, across the street from the parking lot for the Sun Valley indoor ice rink.
The first building will feature a dormitory-style design with 116 rooms that can fit three to four beds per room, accommodating anywhere from 348-464 employees. The first building’s amenities and features include a fitness room and gym, a multipurpose room that will most often be a lounge area, lockers and storage, and a laundry facility. There also will be high-speed Internet service in the common areas and some individual rooms.
The second building will feature an apartment-style layout with 62 rooms, two beds to a room, accommodating up to 164 employees.
“Upon completion, all employee housing, once located in the Sun Valley Village, will be here. The existing, older dorms will be phased-out and removed,” Lusk said.
Once the new employee-housing buildings are finished, the company intends to raze the older dormitories next to the Sun Valley Inn, including the Moritz building.
The construction and use of the new buildings won’t interfere with the resort’s operations, including the use of the Horseman’s Center or the Pavilion parking lot, Sun Valley Co. General Manager Tim Silva said at a Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last year.
The new buildings together will allow the resort to accommodate up to 468 employees. Its current employee housing—comprising 200 housing units—can house roughly 425 employees.
The resort has yet to formally announce its plan for the land on which the current dorms reside, though Michael Bulls, an architect with the Ketchum firm Ruscitto Latham Blanton—which is overseeing the project—told the Sun Valley Planning and Zoning Commission last year that the land could be used for multifamily residential development.
Sun Valley Resort isn’t the only business in town concerned with finding a place for its employees to live. Warfield Distillery and Brewery, at the corner of Sun Valley Road and Main Street in Ketchum, is considering including employee housing in a large-scale expansion project.
The Warfield’s planned expansion—which will extend along Main Street where KB’s had been and where the Warfield’s tasting room currently exists—will include two upper-floor residential units. The Warfield is currently working through the permitting process with city government because the project exceeds its maximum allowable floor area ratio (FAR, usable floor area relative to the area of the lot). The restaurant plans for employees to live in the new spaces for 10 years.
While Ketchum city government is still hashing out the plans with the restaurant, Mayor Neil Bradshaw has expressed support for the plan, as well as for more affordable housing in general. “The shortage of middle-income rental housing is a huge problem for local businesses that need employees, and for young people who want to stay in the community and build a future,” he told the Idaho Mountain Express in a June 2017 article while he was running for mayor.
Others in town, particularly current and former Sun Valley Resort employees, are happy about the steps the resort is taking. Current resort employee Karola Jazmin, who used to live in the dorms but has since found housing in Ketchum, said it will be a good change for employees who need a place to stay but can’t work with the tight market in town.“I met a lot of friends who tried finding a place in town, but it’s way overpriced, or there was nothing out there,” Jazmin said.