City split on need for downtown catalyst | AspenTimes.com

City split on need for downtown catalyst

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A push to hire a “downtown catalyst” stalled again Tuesday before a divided Aspen City Council.

Members ultimately accepted a proposal from the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, which offered to spend the next month working with the business community to better define the catalyst’s mission.

The worst thing the city can do is hire someone to work on the behalf of merchants who don’t understand why the individual was hired in the first place, argued CCLC member Andrew Kole.

“We can analyze some of those questions, come back and tell you what this job should be,” agreed Bill Dinsmoor, CCLC chairman.

“It sounds like we’re going out and plowing already-plowed ground,” sighed Mayor Helen Klanderud. “This is beginning to sound like we’re starting from scratch again.”

The hiring of the catalyst was a key recommendation from a team of retail consultants who reported their findings to the council earlier this year. The report suggested a number of physical improvements Aspen could make to its core, along with efforts to organize merchants and improve the retail environment ” all spearheaded by the catalyst.

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An Aspen Chamber Resort Association survey of 314 lodge, store and restaurant operators indicated support for the catalyst. Among the 14 percent of those surveyed who responded, 60 percent favored creating the post.

The catalyst’s salary, $65,000 to $75,000, could be funded by a $60 surcharge on business licenses, city staffers have suggested.

Councilman Torre flatly opposed creating the new position, calling on the city to move forward with the consultants’ recommendations on its own.

“I think we can just get them done,” he said. “I feel like it is part of my duty.”

“You’re right,” responded Councilman Tim Semrau. “There is no reason we can’t do all of this, except we won’t.

“The city needs all the help it can get to get off the dime.”

Semrau said he’d back the position after hearing from the CCLC.

“Come up with some sort of plan for this guy,” Councilman Terry Paulson agreed, though he stopped short of promising support for the post.

Klanderud urged the council to move forward with the hiring, and getting some of the consultants’ recommendations accomplished this year. Councilwoman Rachel Richards, voicing some misgivings about the proposal, indicated her willingness to try it for a year.

Council members expect to meet with the CCLC on March 2 to review its ideas for the catalyst. City staffers and the ACRA have already drafted a proposed job description, which the commission will use as a starting point.

In the meantime, the city is at work on some of the consultant’s proposals.

Work is under way, for example, to design fire pits on the malls to replace the portable prototypes in use this winter.

The council also wants to review the laws regarding open containers of alcohol on public rights of way in conjunction with a suggestion to place tables on the center aisles of the pedestrian malls.

Richards, however, balked at packing the aisles with tables.

“This is, of all the changes we’re talking about, the most radical change to the Aspen character,” she said.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]

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