Aspen City Council divided over German Christmas market idea
February 21, 2014
A German Christmas Market proposed to take place for six weeks in Wagner Park next winter remains alive.
The four council members present at Tuesday's Aspen City Council work session were divided on whether to further explore the Christkindlmarket, which would require an estimated $300,000 in city expenses for the first year of a five-year agreement with organizers from Chicago.
Mayor Steve Skadron and councilwoman Ann Mullins gave the market a thumbs down, while councilmen Adam Frisch and Art Daily said they need more information before making a decision. Skadron said that councilman Dwayne Romero, who was absent, more than likely will want the city to gather more information, as well, which would leave the door open for the market.
Christkindlmarket Chicago organizer Marin Biester, who participated in the meeting via Skype, said she will need an answer sooner rather than later in order to lineup the 20 vendors expected to occupy half of Wagner Park from Nov. 21 through Jan. 7, 2015.
Skadron said he was not persuaded it would be a successful event in Aspen, given the cost and storage issues raised by various city departments. Biester and German American Services Inc. have requested that the city put down $200,000 for the vendor booths. As proposed, the city would then lease the booths back to Biester for $1,000 per season while incurring $9,000 in annual storage costs. The Parks and Environmental Health departments estimate more than $100,000 in additional expenses associated with staffing, turf renovation, snowmaking, installment of a water line and utilities.
In response to Skadron, a visibly frustrated Bill Dinsmoor, who has spearheaded the market idea with the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, said, "Let's never do anything that's difficult. Let's only do the easy things."
Dinsmoor, who owns the Main Street Bakery & Cafe, called the German market an attempt to "hit a home run, not a base hit" with potential visitors during the quiet weeks leading up to Christmas.
"I know how fearful we are as a community about big changes," he said, later telling Skadron, "It comes with the job. If you don't want that, don't run for office."
Both Skadron and Mullins cited the push back the council received for allowing Wagner Park's most recent snow polo event — an event that could be axed next year if the park is occupied by the Christmas market.
"We already struggled with snow polo being in Wagner Park for three days, which actually turned into five days," Mullins said. "To put Wagner Park out of commission for (six weeks), I think would be mistake."
Terry Butler, a Commercial Core and Lodging Commission member who also attended the work session, noted that everyone was losing sight of the real issue: Many Aspen business owners struggle mightily between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
"No one is arriving from Thanksgiving until approximately the 17th or 18th of December," said Butler, who is the owner of the Residence Hotel. "My first clients arrived on the 21st of December. Last year, it was the 18th. The year before that it was the 17th, and it just gets worse and worse. We have been racking our brains at CCLC to come up with anything that could kick-start something like it used to be in Aspen 45 years ago when I came here."
Frisch said he understands where Butler is coming from and that he is all for having more visitors in town during that time period.
"I think it's more challenging than people realize," he said, adding that he's trying to weigh all the upsides and downsides of the market. "It's worth it for the community to explore."
Daily said that culturally, he finds it a very attractive idea for Aspen, but economically, he is not so sure it will work.
Mark Thompkins, the vice president of the German American Chamber of Commerce, who appeared via Skype with Biester, said organizers are taking a long-range view for the potential market in Aspen. He said it might take a few years to gain traction with visitors.