‘It’s all talk’: Dillon Town Council looks to ‘save’ Arapahoe Cafe as development proposal spooks businesses

Developer Jake Porritt has proposed a major redevelopment of the Dillon Reservoir waterfront but the town council has not approved any project

Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
Arapahoe Cafe & Pub is pictured in Dillon on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. The owners announced the restaurant and bar, a popular hang out space for local residents and longtime visitors, will close in October due to uncertainty surrounding proposed plans to redevelop Dillon's town core.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct a typo in a quote from Dillon resident and business owner Sandy Engelman.

Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson and Mayor Carolyn Skowyra met with representatives of Arapahoe Cafe & Pub on Tuesday, Sept. 19, days after the longtime small business announced it would be closing its doors next month.

Skowyra, responding to concerns from Dillon residents who spoke during public comment, said the town is aware of the “ripple effects” businesses are feeling as developer Jake Porritt has pitched a luxury hotel where the Best Western Ptarmigan Lodge now stands.

“We can’t do anything about (Porritt) talking to this hotel owner, preventing the hotel from renewing a lease with the Arapahoe Cafe,” Skowyra said, adding that she and Johnson met with the business. “We’re doing everything we can. We understand their importance in town.”

The same company, RSS Mountain View LLC, owns the properties where Arapahoe Cafe and the Best Western are located, according to Summit County property records. Multiple attempts to reach a representative of RSS Mountain View by phone Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Summit Daily News reporters called, emailed and stopped by Arapahoe Cafe on Wednesday but the owners could not be reached for comment. Management for Best Western Ptarmigan Lodge also could not be reached by phone and did not return an email inquiry.

Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News
The Best Western Ptarmigan Lodge on Lake Dillon Drive in Dillon is pictured on Aug. 14, 2023.
Ryan Spencer/Summit Daily News

Porritt in a June town council meeting pitched a major redevelopment, including a 4- or 5-star hotel on the Dillon Reservoir waterfront, an indoor amphitheater, 300 units of workforce housing, a public conference center and a high-tech parking structure are also proposed as part of it.

Uncertainty around these massive redevelopment proposals prompted Arapahoe Cafe to announce in a Facebook post last week that it will be closing Oct. 15.

“During this very troubled development process, we have asked numerous questions and received no answers,” Arapahoe Cafe wrote in the Sept. 15 post. “This has been a very unfortunate time for our employees and us. The future looks pretty uncertain for us all, as all we know is what we read in the newspaper and what we heard on the street.”

After more than 20 years in business, the Arapahoe Cafe owners wrote in the Facebook post that “this has been a very, very hard decision.” But it is the “fair thing to do” as it allows the cafe’s current employees time to secure future employment and for the business not to be “blindsided” by the development process, the post states.

Built around 1945 in the old town of Dillon by Faye and Lenore Bryant, Arapahoe Cafe was moved up the hill to the site of the new town in 1960 to avoid being flooded with the formation of the Lake Dillon reservoir, according to the history chronicled on the restaurant’s menu.

Sandy Engelman, a Dillon resident and owner of the business Summit Embroidery in the town core, said the announcement by Arapahoe Cafe sent “shockwaves” through the local community. Engelman also raised concerns that her business is located where Porritt has proposed development.

“Being a small business owner in Dillon town center, the plan shows my business would be the indoor theater,” Engelman said. “So I have concerns about my landlord, my lease, because once one place falls, so goes the rest.”

Engelman also asked if there was criteria that developers have to follow when coming up with development plans. 

Porritt Group/Courtesy illustration
A master plan for the Triveni Square proposal pitched by developer Jake Porritt at the Dillon Town Council meeting on Tuesday, June 20, 2023.
Porritt Group/Courtesy illlustration

Skowyra noted that there are dozens of pages of town code that any developers must abide by. She also added that the town has no development agreement for the redevelopment proposed by Porritt and has not received an application from him.

“It’s all talk,” Skowyra said. “There is nothing submitted. He hasn’t put his money where his mouth is, yet. Yes, his talk is having ripple effects through the town, and it’s regrettable.”

Other town residents also raised concerns about Porritt’s proposed luxury development during public comment.

“I just want to state my opposition to the monstrosity that was posted in the paper,” Dillon resident Alison Rybak said. “We all looked at that and were like, ‘What is that? What is that?’ We don’t want that in our town.”

Porritt Group/Courtesy illustration
Developer Jake Porritt displayed this rendering of what a luxury hotel in Dillon could look like under his proposal at a Dillon Town Council meeting in June. Porritt has not yet submitted a development application for the project.
Porritt Group/Courtesy illustration

Summit County resident Linda Oliver echoed those concerns and responded to a comment by Skowyra, who had told residents to “stay tuned” because the town has the “wheels rolling already and there is more to come.”

“The monstrosity to me is just not what the town is about,” Oliver said. “And, I guess my worry is that there is something going on. It’s already brewing, and you can’t fight city hall kind of thing.”

But Skowyra said that she wasn’t referencing anything about Porritt’s development with her comment to “stay tuned.”

“I just meant trying to save A-Cafe,” Skowyra said, “trying to keep a landmark in town.”

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