Editor’s note: Five candidates are running for three open seats on the Basalt Town Council in the April 1 election. Coverage by The Aspen Times this week will focus on major issues in the town.
Today’s question: There has been extensive discussion about Willits Town Center thriving while downtown is struggling. What role, if any, should the town government play in boosting the downtown core’s economy?
Mark Kittle: The east side of town is struggling economically similarly to the effects that downtown Glenwood Springs experienced when the mall was built in the early ’80s and then again when Glenwood Meadows opened its doors. People like new things; that’s just human nature, and Old town is experiencing this effect, but cycles come and go, and eventually balance is achieved. Last time I checked, downtown Glenwood is still there, and so are the various businesses, some new ones and some that have been there for many years. East and west Basalt are geographically unique to each other, but that doesn’t mean they have to be separate and distinct — we are one town. Through proper marketing, close collaboration with business owners, implementation of an economically viable internal transit mechanism (other than RFTA) to help join us together and ongoing discussions involving the various entities regarding the economic and sustainable viability of all areas — east and west — are just a few of the key components that will ensure the success of Basalt in the years to come.
Jeff Orsulak: A town is like the human body made of many organs, each one integral to a happy, healthy person. These organs are our neighborhoods. Downtown, Southside and Willits are our heart, our lungs, our brain. Not only is (each) necessary for all to be healthy for our community to thrive, they all depend on each other to function successful. The brain fails without the life-giving blood from the heart and oxygen from the lungs. So too does the heart and the lungs need the brain’s direction to beat and breathe life to the body. For our town to thrive, it is our role to assure that all our neighborhoods are thriving. We have the unique benefit of having multiple strong neighborhoods, which each bring something important and distinct to our town. Each neighborhood’s health and success is important to town, and each neighborhood depends on the other not only to function but to flourish.
Gary Tennenbaum: We need to ensure that both ends of Basalt are successful. Right now Willits is generating a great buzz, and I am excited that this area is thriving. Town government can and is working to help the downtown core. With the downtown planning effort, the town is working to provide a vision for this area. Creating attractions that make the downtown unique, like opening access to the rivers, will help bring more people into town. More open spaces and parks will allow more opportunities for events and recreation. Implementing the Two Rivers Road Trails Plan will open access for fishing and create river-access trails. Working with partners on trails, bike and potential kayak parks will bring tons of people to the downtown core. Working with our developers and businesses to create a vision for the area around Clark’s that is feasible and has public input will be critical to the success of any redevelopment.
Richard Duddy: We are fighting the now-textbook syndrome of the malls outside of town killing off downtown merchants — that’s a proven trend over the past 50 years and with a force as potent as Whole Foods anchoring the exodus from downtown. However, Basalt is smaller, and the desire of the voters is very strong to deal with this issue. It’s my opinion that to make things happen downtown, we need to build trust with and acknowledge the risk that business and developers will face in downtown. The town may need to reach out and partner with private enterprise in a businesslike fashion and perhaps use town monies to facilitate these partnerships. The sales taxes that Willits helps generate should be seen as a way to bridge the Willits downtown gap.
Bernie Grauer: I believe that the town should actively promote selected growth, improve pedestrian connections and fund public art, events and summer music. It can act quickly by selling the Lions Park land for hotel or residential development. The proceeds could be used to buy the two developable acres on the Pan and Fork. As the owner, it can incentivize small-scale lodges, restaurants and nonprofits on the riverfront. It should also fund a public plaza on it, with a water feature (dancing waters) and public art. Events and music should be promoted every summer weekend. In fairness, the town also needs to provide events, music and art to Willits. The pedestrian experience needs to be reinforced by keeping sidewalks clear of significant intrusions and providing slightly raised pedestrian crosswalks. The entrances to town from Highway 82 should be upgraded and simplified. All of these will add greatly to downtown vitality.