Brick & Wonder Profile – Taylor Baker
Taylor Baker is the Creative Director at Cortina Valley, a family-owned hospitality development in the Catskills, close to the popular ski destination, Hunter Mountain. Hailing from a fine arts background, Taylor leads the creative vision for the development, set to open its doors in late 2020. We caught up with Taylor to learn more.
Tell us what you do.
The Cortina Valley property has been in our family for 20 years. It’s in the Catskills, two hours north of Manhattan – the little sister to Hunter mountain. Traditionally, Cortina has been a popular ski hill among local residents, where a lot of people have also come from the city to learn to ski, one of whom was my father. He was raised on Staten Island.
The New York resort had basically copied the Italian Cortina Valley’s branding!
There is a family story to this project – can you tell us more about that?
My father was always a real ski nut, but when he was in college, he took a trip to Cortina Valley in the Italian Dolomites. There he befriended a group of locals who showed him around. He had the best ski experience of his life. They took him on a 5-peak challenge, descending 5 peaks in one day, stopping at local spots to eat and drink along the way. He really thought of staying and not coming back!
When he returned to school, a friend noticed his Cortina Valley cap. The New York resort had basically copied the Italian Cortina Valley’s branding! His friend took him up to ski at Cortina Valley, NY, and he fell in love with it. He skied there whenever he could.
My father worked in our family business, which is in dismantling and demolition. Four generations ago, my great grandfather started out in demolition, and now we do specialized rigging for conservation dismantling.
In the late 90s, Cortina Valley went bankrupt and fell out of use. When my father heard that the property was up for auction, he took a leap of faith and bought it – that was in 2001. The property includes a 1200 sq ft base lodge, ski patrol offices, restaurant, snow tubing park and the wooded hillside with the ski trails. The property is surrounded by state park on 3 sides.
How has the local reception been to plans to develop and reopen the resort?
A lot of locals have fond memories of the resort, and people are excited about the fact that it’s being reopened. For a lot of local residents, they remember it as being the first place they skied.
Beyond the property, there are 7,000 acres of Kaaterskill Wild Preserve, so we want the property to feel like it’s being absorbed into that.
And at what stage is the development?
We’re in predevelopment right now, identifying design and investment partners, and operating partners to run the hotel and restaurant. We’re currently renovating the base lodge into a multi-use event space where we can host weddings and retreats. This will be combined with the hotel, which has 20 rooms now and will have 40 rooms when the development is complete.
Part of the vision is adding standalone cabins tucked into the treeline – some by the lake, some by the stream, treehouse style, so people can come back and have different experiences each time they visit.
We will also add a number of residences, some of which will be for local residents and some vacation homes for New Yorkers. The homes would be built within design guidelines which specify consistency in terms of building shapes, finishes, conservation approaches, distrurance. We want to conserve as much as possible – there is a big conservation drive behind the project.
Tell us more about the vision and design for this project.
Although historically it’s a ski resort, we likely won’t open up all the existing trails – we’ll let nature take some of it back over. We plan to build on 20% and open 80% to nature. Beyond the property, there are 7,000 acres of Kaaterskill Wild Preserve, so we want the property to feel like it’s being absorbed into that. Trail heads from our property will lead directly into the wild preserve.
We’re cutting a bike trail at the moment, giving the state an easement to link the state property and Kaaterskill falls.
How do you run the project as a family?
Our father’s background is in construction management, so he brings that advantage. Around the time my brother graduated from college, the planning was approved, so he got involved too.
I try to bring a creative and design-focused approach. I deal with tying together all the elements of the project in a meaningful, considerate way. It’s like creating a sculpture – selecting the sculptural elements you want to use and making them beautiful and presentable.
We want to create a natural, fresh experience for people to reconnect with nature. The branding will focus on a minimal introduction of design. We are taking a lot of cues from Scandinavia, where great design can co-exist seamlessly with nature – and we can avoid the copyright issues of using the Italian namesake resort’s branding!
What do you think will differentiate the experience you are creating?
I think the main distinction is that this was an operating resort that we personally got to enjoy. A lot of the development and hotels upstate have a kind of transplanted energy from New York City. This project is unique because, as kids, we grew up here and we’re basically just recreating an experience we loved so much for new visitors and residents.