“This hotel is a big part of this town,” said Eamonn O’Hara, the hotel’s manager and chef, on Wednesday. “It fits the town and the town fits the hotel. When it all comes to be that there will be no hotel operating here, it will be a huge loss, no doubt about it.”
The hotel, in both summer and winter months, gave visitors a different lodging option for their stays in the San Juans. The small, rustic hotel operation combined with fine dining of the Argentine Grille provided an experience that was unlike any other in the area. But the trip over Lizard Head Pass to Rico isn’t for every weary traveler.
“It takes an adventurous spirit to want to drive over the pass in a blizzard,” O’Hara said. “There just weren’t enough people who were willing to do that.” And while summer business – the hotel’s main source of income – has remained relatively steady, closing the operation was a painful decision made by owners Jean and Peter Kinnick, he said.
“This summer has been good,” O’Hara said. “In relation, it hasn’t been any worse than last year. In the end, it has been a series of things. Ten years is a long time to have a place and not see your dreams come true. It has been tough.”
The Rico Hotel’s building was originally constructed as a boarding house for the International Smelting Company in 1926. During the 1940s mining boom, it was transformed into a hotel. More recently, the hotel had been remodeled with reclaimed mining materials to keep the hotel in touch with its mining past.
“The feel of this place is what makes it special,” O’Hara said. “Everyone was always happy with the restaurant. We offered something that people feel comfortable with and, in a sense, I think it reminds them of home. It is definitely what you would expect from a lodge in the mountains. I love Telluride, but there isn’t anything like it over on that side and that is what I hear from a lot from our guests.”
The hotel’s closing comes at an interesting time in Rico, when major development seems to be looming on the horizon. Last July, a development group told the Rico Town Council that it intends to come up with a development plan for a commercial hot springs, spa and a molybdenum mine over the next 20 years.
Before that, Rico was in the spotlight when the Canadian mining company, Bolero Resources, Inc., intended to purchase Rico Renaissance Properties to reportedly open a mine. That deal fell through last February. Regardless of development that may or may not happen, however, the citizens and businesses of Rico are left questioning what mightbe in store for the small town’s future.
“It’s kind of ironic that we are closing now with the latest development proposal and the one that fell apart before that,” O’Hara said. “The feeling of this [new] development is that it might actually be real. In conjunction with the closing there is a certain irony.”
For now, those who have been charmed by the Rico Hotel or have not yet experienced it have almost six weeks to visit the lodge a final time.
“It has been a good run,” O’Hara said. “For me, I have been here seven years and it has become a special place for me. The hotel has its charm. What more can I say, I have really enjoyed it.”