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January 30, 2013
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Aspen chamber to reassess resort's economic sustainability

ASPEN - Aspen's economic realities have changed in the past decade. Or have they?

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association wants to find out.

The chamber's board of directors voted Tuesday to spend $30,000 to $35,000 on a re-examination of the findings produced by a 2002 Economic Sustainability Report, which was a joint project of the chamber, the city of Aspen and the Aspen Institute Community Forum.

This time, the chamber will produce the report but is hoping for financial support for the undertaking from other local partners. And, instead of the nine-month effort that went into the 2002 report, the chamber is hoping to unveil the update when it hosts its annual April luncheon.

It intends to hire Ford Frick of BBC Research and Consulting in Denver, who worked on the original report, to assist with the update. An oversight committee will be assembled to brainstorm on resort trends, issues and concerns.

The 2002 report noted 10 key socioeconomic and market trends and made five core recommendations for maintaining Aspen's economic health. It was done at a time when the resort was trying to rebound from an economic downturn in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and figure out how to position itself for the future, recalled Helen Klanderud, a chamber board member. She is also chairwoman of the chamber's public-affairs committee, which recommended pursuing the update, and she was mayor of Aspen in 2002.

The new report will update economic and demographic trends - housing statistics, real estate activity, employment data, tax revenue, population, lodging occupancy and other indicators - and presumably make recommendations.

And, while Aspen has changed in the decade that has elapsed since the old report was issued in September 2002 - some of its recommendations are, for example, now a reality - concerns about the resort's continued economic viability have not disappeared, according to Klanderud.

"The preface to that (report) could have been written today," Klanderud told the chamber board. "If I had read it to you, you'd think I just wrote it."

The five recommendations in the 2002 report were: support redevelopment of existing lodges and development of new lodges, upgrade and expand the capability of the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, develop a broader-based economy by supporting commercial space and worker housing in the downtown core and at places such as the Aspen Business Center, develop new regulations for the downtown core that require retail operations in ground-floor spaces, and reinforce Aspen's "uniqueness" and better market its amenities. The latter recommendation also advocated development of a performing arts/convention center.

The resort responded to the 2002 ideas with varying levels of success, but the airport runway was lengthened with the goal of attracting more commercial carriers, new hotels have been constructed and other lodges upgraded, and a ban on first-floor offices in the commercial core was enacted.

Unchanged from 2002, Klanderud contends, is the concern in the business community about the resort's economic health. A robust economy doesn't have to conflict with quality-of-life and environmental goals, she said.

"You've got to have a healthy economy to have a healthy workforce, to have a healthy citizenry," she said.

Klanderud said she hopes the new effort triggers community discussion about what needs to occur to sustain the local economy.

The 2002 report is available to download from the chamber's website. Go to www.aspenchamber.org and click on the "Membership" tab. Then click on "Your Chamber Info," go to "Reports/Surveys" and then "Archived Reports."

janet@aspentimes.com


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The Aspen Times Updated Jan 30, 2013 06:18AM Published Jan 30, 2013 12:03AM Copyright 2013 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.