ASPEN - The Aspen City Council gave city staff the go-ahead to bid for a return of the USA Pro Challenge cycling race during Tuesday's work session.
The city has played host to the event, a seven-stage bike race through Colorado, for two straight years. Aspen was the city race organizers allowed to host a stage finish and a start Aug. 22 and 23.
Nancy Lesley, the city's special-events director, described the event as a success and noted that on the night of Aug. 22, all of Aspen's hotel and lodge rooms were booked.
"Our entire week was much, much stronger than it was last year," she said. "The Wednesday night of the race was 100 percent (filled)."
Council members asked for financial information related to the cost of hosting the bike race for two days. Lesley said she would return at a later time with details on revenues and expenses. She said in the race's inaugural year, her budget was around $170,000, and this year it was $300,000. Those numbers don't reflect the city's actual cost of hosting the race as VIP ticket sales and sponsorships cover much of the budget.
"Our VIP tent was the largest on the entire tour," she said. "We had the most expensive ticket, and we were the largest tent of the entire week."
As for sponsorships, she said the local race committee hit its goal of $60,000.
Councilman Steve Skadron, a marketing specialist, said he had issues with the race's name. He said the event should include Colorado in its name, which would give TV spectators and others following the race around the world a clear sense of where the race occurs.
"It's a concern to me that the overall event is branded as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge," Skadron said, referring to the former name. "I'd like the organizers to consider changing the name of the event to the Colorado Pro Cycling Challenge or the Rocky Mountain West Pro Cycling Challenge or the U.S. Ski Town-to-Town Cycling Challenge, or something that identifies it with our communities in Colorado. And I think that conversation should flow up to Denver, and perhaps the Governor's Office."
The issue of the U.S. Forest Service's ban on overnight and roadside camping near the top of Independence Pass this year came up during the meeting. Last year, camping was allowed between mile markers 56 and 66.
Lesley said that the city's race committee and others involved in the planning effort such as the Forest Service and local law enforcement, could do a better job next year of pointing out alternatives to camping near the top of the pass and letting race fans know what's allowed in a more positive way.
Moving the finish line to the Main Street area in front of Paepcke Park, and concentrating most of the festivities in the park, was "a home run for us," she said. Last year, festivities were primarily confined to Wagner Park, far from the finish line on Main Street in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse.
Asked if the city will lobby the race officials for another stage finish and a start, Lesley said, "We're going to say there's nothing we won't host."
In other business, council members offered a few general comments on the proposed reconstruction of the city's Galena Plaza, the grassy, circular open space adjacent to the Pitkin County Library.
Improvements to Galena Plaza, a project that also includes repairs to the leaky Rio Grande Parking Garage roof below it, are estimated to cost between $4 million and $4.3 million. City planners want to make the plaza more user-friendly, giving it more of a park-style atmosphere while also improving its potential as a pedestrian link between the Main Street-downtown area and Rio Grande Park.
Mayor Mick Ireland pointed out that future meetings would focus on specific details of the plaza, including plants and other amenities, such as an amphitheater on the northern side of the plaza, a children's play area and a staircase that takes users down to Rio Grande Place and the park.
"That meeting will come, but it won't come tonight," the mayor told the audience. "I see people from the library, and it's natural for you to be concerned, ... and obviously we're not going to do anything until we see what voters do with what you've proposed. "
His remark was a reference to the Nov. 6 election, which will include a referendum on a property tax increase to pay for half of the cost of the library's $10.3 million expansion. That expansion plan calls for the library to take up more of the plaza's space, an influence on the area's reconfiguration.
However, council members generally agreed Tuesday that they want to see a simple plan for the space and that it should improve connectivity between the Main Street-downtown area and Rio Grande Park to the north.
Councilman Torre said he's seeking economic savings and efficiency in the project.
"I'm not looking for too many bells and whistles," he said. "The pictures we were given do have a lot going on in it. I'm not so in favor of meandering, colored walkways and grand staircases with water features and such. I'm looking for something a little simpler than the renderings we've seen."
Councilman Adam Frisch asked city staff if the Aspen Police Department and Pitkin County Sheriff's Office had been consulted about concepts that call for not allowing law enforcement personnel to use the area at the foot of Galena Street to park so many of their vehicles - anywhere from 10 to 15 patrol cars per day. The police and sheriff's offices are in the basement of the Pitkin County Courthouse and a stone's throw from the plaza. It's believed that one reason locals and visitors aren't using the plaza now - or accessing the Rio Grande Park area by walking through the Galena Plaza area - is because they feel that the numerous patrol vehicles parked nearby block their access.
Discussions about revised parking plans for law enforcement are under way, said John Laatch, project manager for the city's Capital Assets Department and a member of the plaza's planning team.
The Police Department believes that it can adjust to a loss of spaces, while the Sheriff's Office would like to park all of its vehicles in that area, Laatch said.
"The Sheriff's (Office) ... would like to park all 18 cars there. They might be happy with a parking lot," he said.
"We won't be happy with a parking lot, and we won't be happy with 18 cars there," Mayor Mick Ireland interjected.
"So is there a compromise? I'm sure there's a compromise. We have to work through that process," Latch replied. "That's probably one of the more difficult challenges. Cars versus pedestrians is a challenge, and we have that challenge here."
Members of the project team promised to return to the council for more discussions in late November.