El Cosmico relocation, expansion gathers steam as land deal nears

Amenities on the new El Cosmico site will include a swimming pool, which will be open to locals as well as hotel guests. Image courtesy of ICON.

MARFA — Hotelier Liz Lambert’s plan to expand and relocate the El Cosmico campground and resort is gaining momentum, as the majority of prospective homes on the property have been reserved and a deal to purchase the new site in Antelope Hills is expected to close next week.

Earlier this year, Lambert announced her plan to relocate El Cosmico to a 61-acre plot of land in the Antelope Hills neighborhood — a footprint nearly triple the size of the current grounds south of city limits — where all-new accommodations would be 3D printed by construction firm ICON. At the time, Lambert said her team had yet to close the deal on the land, and was still in the process of securing funding for the project.

On Wednesday, Lambert told The Big Bend Sentinel that she anticipates the land will soon be locked in so the plan can move forward.

“The deal on the land is not yet closed, but we anticipate that it will close next week,” said Lambert.  

The project is slated to include 120 hotel units for guests, roughly doubling the size of its current capacity — a figure that includes existing yurts and teepees that will be moved from the existing property. The new resort will also include a restaurant, a pool and a bathhouse, which will be available for local use, and will host hospitality training and “art and skills-building workshops.”

The property will also be the site of 30 to 40 homes to be managed by El Cosmico. Since opening for reservation in late April, roughly 75% of the “Sunday Homes” have been reserved by interested buyers, said Lambert. The houses range in size and price but begin at a base rate of $900,000. 

The new hotel units, amenities and homes are being designed and constructed in partnership with architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group and 3D-printing start-up ICON.

Since the project’s announcement, reactions from Antelope Hills landowners have been mixed, with some raising concerns about how the presence of the hotel — which hosts the annual Trans-Pecos Festival of Music + Love — will impact their quality of life in the relatively quiet, secluded subdivision. Residents have expressed concerns related to noise, traffic, crowds, and the potential impact on water supplies.

The site is outside city limits and is not connected to city services. In Antelope Hills, residents rely on their own wells for water, and are worried how the presence of such a large development would impact those wells. 

In April, Lambert told The Big Bend Sentinel her team was exploring all possible options regarding water and wastewater treatment, “including using existing and new wells onsite, septic systems and the possibility of a standalone wastewater treatment system.” While her initial project announcement and subsequent conversations with city employees and local experts indicated she was not considering a city services extension — an expensive prospect, per City Manager Mandy Roane — it has since become clear that such an extension has not been ruled out.

Public Utilities Supervisor Chuck Salgado said Lambert’s team had approached the city several weeks ago to see if the extension of city services would be feasible. Making that determination, he said, will be a “long process.”

“It’s pretty large, so it’s high-cost,” said Salgado. “Our main thing is determining whether our system will enable us to provide an adequate amount of pressure for the water and to see if our wastewater plant can handle the added capacity they’re going to be putting back into our system.”

Antelope Hills resident Deirdre Hisler, currently the president of the subdivision’s fledgling neighborhood association, said she has been in touch with Lambert’s team and had relayed landowners’ concerns about impacts to their wells — she was then told El Cosmico was in talks with the City of Marfa about a potential utilities extension, which Hisler favored.

“I can’t see why anyone would not embrace that,” she said. “El Cosmico would be paying the City of Marfa for water and sewage, which helps their tax base.”

Lambert said that her team remains in the exploratory phase.

“We’re exploring all available options at this stage and are not certain which route we will take,” she said.