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RFTA excavator hits Comcast cables, service to be back online late this afternoon

Accidental damage to fiber optic cables caused a region-wide outage of most cellular and internet services on Monday morning, though crews are working to repair the damage. Some services are expected to be back online by 1 p.m. with full service back by 3:30-4:30 p.m.

At 7:47 a.m., a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority excavator severed two fiber optic cables (which included 24 and 72 smaller strands of fiber) at 27th Street and Grand Avenue in Glenwood Springs, according to Comcast director of external affairs Leslie Oliver. Comcast and its subsidiary Xfinity provide most telecommunications services in the region.

Work on an underpass project resulted in the mistakenly cut fiber.

“As part of the 27th Street Pedestrian Underpass Project, the fiber was cut by our project contractor,” said RFTA communications manager Jamie Tatsuno in an email to The Times. “A utility locate was performed at the site by (U.S. Infrastructure Company), they did not correctly locate the fiber line, so the contracted team was unaware of the line’s existence. Crews are onsite and working to repair the line.”

“At this point – our crews are on site and they are beginning to splice the fiber.  Estimated time of repair is about 3-4 hours.  Customers were recently notified by text message about the outage if they are subscribed to receive the notifications.  They can also check their Xfinity account for updates and to sign up for outage notifications,” Oliver said in an email at 12:23 p.m.

Residential and commercial services from Glenwood Springs to Aspen are affected.

All cellular companies are affected because cell towers connect to the broader network backbone by fiber or copper wiring, which they own or lease from local providers. The local network provider is responsible for the restoration of damaged infrastructure, Oliver said.

The process to fix the damaged fiber involves digging it up and assessing the damage to the cables, then splicers will cut back the cable to good glass to prepare for splicing. A new section of fiber optic cable will be spliced into the existing fiber.

Tuesday Foods celebrates four years of healthy food service Friday at new location in Carbondale

Tuesday Foods co-owners Lisa Cohen and Kelly Hollins have much to celebrate four years after launching their all-natural, vegan, and gluten-free food preparation service in Willits.

There’s the announcement two weeks ago about the Tory Burch Foundation fellowship — their company one of 50 out of thousands of applicants to win one. It’s an honor, sure, but the value comes from the foundation providing women entrepreneurs access to capital, education, and digital resources to keep growing their business.

Co-founders Lisa Cohen and Kelly Hollins.
Michele Cardamone/Courtesy photo

Oh, that. Growth. They’ll celebrate their newest location at 1150 Highway 133 in Carbondale with public celebration from 4:30-6 p.m. on Friday. You’re invited.

Cohen, a nutritionist and health coach, already was profitable with a seasonally-offered, home-delivery, meal-preparation service before partnering with Hollins, a trained vegan cook and health coach who dove deep into food origins and preparation practices after a healing journey.

Turns out they made a formidable team, which was what would be required.

Delivered started in the Willits Design Center in April 2019. Then came COVID, which wound up boosting their service.

“We focused on authentic, vegan, clean food and sustainability,” said Hollins.

These core values resonated with many in the Roaring Fork Valley. When the pandemic closed restaurants and people grew tired of their own home cooking, Tuesday Foods was prepared and prepped.

The service offers a set weekly menu, and customers can purchase a week package, a month package, 12-week package …. They have all sorts of combinations.

Tuesday Foods co-owner Kelly Hollins at their new Carbondale location.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

Keeping sustainability as a goal, Cohen and Hollins have employed reusable glass jars for their food, compostable containers for additional packaging, as well as paper-made, reusable, insulated totes for delivery, and they are partnering with with EverGreen ZeroWaste for composting.

Their menus are free of refined sugar, eggs, milk, gluten, or meat — greatly reducing their carbon footprint versus a traditional food-delivery service. Their organic produce is sourced as locally and as fresh as possible, they said.

COVID was so intense and the community’s desperation was palatable, the company expanded to Boulder, and the Front Range expansion proved lucrative, the said.

“We added a chef in Boulder in May 2020 to create our menus at a commissary and deliver in the same format,” said Hollins.

The Boulder location hasn’t trended nearly as fast as the Roaring Fork location, though. Blame that on numerous other vegan and gluten offerings and perhaps competing food-delivery services. 

Currently, Tuesday Foods delivers to Denver, Boulder, Niwot, Golden, Aurora, and surrounding areas.

“We offer seasonal cleanses and soup cleanse, and we have always sold out of the 24 to 30 slots. We’re really proud of those offerings and hope to expand this even more,” said Hollins.

As the company navigates post-COVID, they’ve realized that customers are looking for grab-and-go, as well. So they’ve added lunch, a smaller delivered offering for those who enjoy dining out on occasion or just want more flexibility.

“We started this business with the mission to help our clients transform their lives through healthy eating,” Cohen said. “Ultimately, we want to give you the tools to be healthiest, most vibrant an energetic version of yourself. Whether that’s by delivering our signature ready-to-eat three meals a day, lunches and snacks, super-fueled smoothies and treats to share with your family, or stocking your freezer with healthy and hearty soups. We have something for everyone.”

Kale salad being prepped at Tuesday Foods in Carbondale.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

This summer, Tuesday Foods will be at the Basalt Farmers Market for four weeks and for two weeks of the Carbondale Market and Mountain Fair for their first time with their juices, raw balls, matchas and lattes, granolas, veggies and dip, and chia puddings.

Some of the items included in Tuesday Foods’ weekly delivery.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

Tuesday Foods has also recently partnered with True Nature Healing Arts in Carbondale, where their fresh creations will be sold from the True Nature Cafe. 

Cohen also offers clients health coaching.

“We have numerous clients with individual health issues, and we cater and prepare to these dietary restrictions to the best of our ability,” added Hollins.

So, a question: Where did the name Tuesday Foods come from? It replaced Good, Clean, Food, Delivered.

Basically, everyone had good, clean food to deliver when they looked toward expansion during the pandemic, Cohen remembered. Suddenly the name seemed, well, not so striking.

“We cook on Sunday and Monday, and deliver every Tuesday,” Hollins said. “It’s a throwback to vintage delivery days, an homage to our roots.”

Amen Wardy in downtown Aspen to close when lease not renewed; lease issues a trend of late

Another closure, another blow to local retail legacy in downtown Aspen.

Amen Wardy, at 625 E. Main St., must close by August. There is an immediate sale of up to 50% off numerous items in the sprawling boutique.

“We’ve been trying to negotiate our lease since December, when this retail space was sold to Ian de Waal,” said Soffia Wardy, Amen Wardy’s daughter. 

Amen Wardy employee Shirin Houchin, right, helps customer Ann Miller with the store’s selection of gloves in 2016. Houchin said Aspen clientele prefer quality, one-of-a-kind products over mega deals and crowds.
Karl Herchenroeder/The Aspen Times |

“We tried initially, and he decided not to renew our lease, so we have no choice but to close the store. There is nowhere else to go,” she said.

De Wall did not respond to requests for comment.

Wardy, a broker with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty, said it’s challenging to find a space this big in Aspen (3,000 square feet), not to mention the cost of moving.

The gift shop had 31 years of Aspen legacy, but the wonderland of high-end hospitality gifts, home accessories, and gourmet will come to an end in August.

Home goods and hospitality mecca Amen Wardy will close at end of this summer.
Soffia Wardy/Courtesy Photo

Amen Wardy started his boutiques business almost 70 years ago in Texas, along with Beverly Hills and Newport Beach in California, dressing royalty, socialite, and celebrities. In the ’90s, he expanded his affinity for luxury retailing into home furnishings, gourmet and gift boutiques in Aspen, Dallas, Las Vegas, Boston, Scottsdale, Palm Beach and Santa Fe. 

Eventually, Amen decided to keep only the Aspen location, as it drew the same clients from all over the country. He died in February 2021.

Soffia Wardy said she believes Aspen is losing its charm, and landlords who put community second contribute to that feeling.

“As a resort community, people come here not only for the beauty of our town but to be delighted by shops and restaurants exclusive to Aspen, which make us unique and different,” she said.

“We want to thank our customers for decades of support and our staff, who have become part of our family,” she added. “It’s bittersweet. We’ve had a long, long run here, and we’re grateful.”

For more information, contact Soffia Wardy at soffia@soffiawardy.com or 970-710-6556. For information about lighting fixtures and other store-related sales, contact Bob Hightower, owner and operator, at the 970-920-7700 or email bob@amenwardyaspen.com

Aspen Police Officer Chip Seamans, left, talks with the paparazzi after an incident in 2007 involving waiting for supermodel Heidi Klum as she was shopping at Amen Wardy.
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Taking the Aspen/Pitkin County airport tour before it opens again Wednesday

Days before the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport was set to re-open, after the May 10-24 closure for now-annual airfield pavement maintenance, a small tour group was driven around the tarmac and surrounding airport area for an update on the current improvements, hopes, and needs for the future. 

The airport is perhaps antiquated in terms of the Roaring Fork Valley’s modernday desires and updated technology, at least according to some. The airport opened in 1946 with a gravel runway and a log cabin for a terminal. Since the beginning, the airport has catered to a jet-set clientele and, of course, numerous locals with their private planes. 

Today, 83% of the planes that land and take off at the airport are private, and 17% of the traffic is commercial service.

Private planes parked at Aspen’s airport.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

The FAA regulates the airport, including everything from the control tower to management of fire response. 

The tour included Pitkin Country and airport officials’ aspirations of what would make the airport better: a brand-new expanded terminal, more space for general aviation (i.e., private) jet craft, and additional hangers.

The need for a new taxi way is causing “cannibalism” among other operations of the airport explained Dan Bartholomew, the airport director. 

“Right now, it’s like a Tetris game trying to get private planes parked and in out and out of our big festivals like Food & Wine, Snowmass Aspen Jazz, the Fourth of July and more,” he said.

“We have wingtips overlaying one another,” he said, “and we have other people sign very expensive disclosures stating they will not move their private plane during extremely busy times because we park them a few rows deep, and it would be a huge effort on behalf of many people to move the planes around.”

In the aging control tower, the employees can’t even see the entire runway with a direct line of site. It’s still on a septic system, although there are plans to convert this to city sewage.

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport’s control tower built in the 1970s.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

There’s the overcrowded single hanger. Many general aviation planes will drop off their passengers and then, since in need of a hanger, might fly to Rifle, Eagle, or Centennial to park the planes. 

Charles Cunniffe, a long-time architect in Aspen and pilot himself, said, “Additional hangers might also mitigate airport noise.”

Expanded aircraft parking is needed for locals, officials said.  

Bartholomew said there are currently 60 spots, which have electricity to heat planes and help from fuel freezing, and the waitlist is that many, as well. 

Runway woes aren’t going away.

The tour showcased the repaved runway. It’s reaching its lifespan, and Bartholomew said, “At this point in time, we are going to have to close every year for two weeks to repair the asphalt.”

There is also the issue with Owl Creek, which runs through the airport property.

He said, “We are getting cracks in the pavement and don’t know why this is happening. The road base was laid over boulders, and we know boulders like to migrate to the surface.” 

And other problems — the need for more terminals, more concessions, more space for everything — needs to be negotiated between the FAA and the county, according to airport officials.  

Snow removal equipment at the Aspen airport.
Julie Bielenberg/The Aspen Times

A local on the tour said she heard rumors that there were people who would just saunter over to the general aviation hangar in the late ’70s and hitchhike a flight. While everyone on the tour chuckled, Cunniffe mentioned he had done this himself.

Bartholomew said it wouldn’t be as easy to do nowadays with new security measures — but it’s not entirely out of the question, either.

Basalt aims to streamline town contracts

Eggs, rent and now procurement policy. Inflation came after many pockets of life in the region, requiring nearly everyone to adjust their budgets. And now the town of Basalt has raised its threshold for contracts that require council approval as costs in sectors like construction climb ever higher. 

Town Council members voted last week to amend the procurement policy in terms of request solicitation, raise the threshold price of purchasing authority for town staff, and raise the threshold for approval of modifications to a contract, updating the process with the times technologically and financially. 

The cap on contracts for goods, services or construction that will only require approval from the town manager, and not Town Council, went up from $49,999 to $74,999. And the total sum of change orders, or modifications, on a contract cannot exceed more than 10% of the contract price or $250,000, whichever is less, without approval from the Town Council.

And the town approved an update to the policy allowing the publication of requests for bids to an online platform like BidNet Direct, which is used by many governmental entities nationwide to expand reach to potential contractors. 

Contracts less than $5,000 will still only require town manager or department head approval.

Some council members expressed hesitancy at letting go of the dollar amount tied to the change order limit in favor of contract percentage, which Town Attorney Jeff Conklin noted is easily triggered on large, multi-million dollar projects.

“I think if we’ve already approved the project in scope and in whole, if there’s a giant change $300,000 I think in today’s world when you’re constructing something like Midland Avenue isn’t that much,” council member Dieter Schindler said.

After some back-and-forth, Conklin suggested adding the $250,000 amendment.

“If it’s a big number, one that’s going to exceed the budget, we’d need to be back here to get an ordinance to amend the budget and do a supplemental appropriation anyway,” said Conklin.

Basalt’s planning director, Michelle Thibeault, said one of the most likely examples of an instance in which town staff would make use of the amended policy is to commission a study. When staff encounters an engineering issue on a project, a study lays out alternative, potentially more affordable paths forward. That process would require a change order, likely one less than 10% of the contract budget.

“If we’re going to be over budget, we’re going to have to come back and ask you anyway,” she assured the council. That would apply to line items in a contract, not just the overall contract budget. 

The town would save time bypassing council approval for such a request, Thibeault said. Staff also echoed the appeal of being nimble and moving efficiently, as the Town Council only meets every other week.

“I’m all for being nimble. I just don’t want to have a bunch of public comments in here about how we’re doing things behind the back of the community,” council member Elyse Hottel said.  

The change comes as Basalt is early in the Midland Avenue Streetscape Project, a multi-million dollar project to update infrastructure and aesthetics in downtown Basalt. 

Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said the desire for the amendments sparked from an outdated policy, adopted in 2018 well before pandemic pricing, and the desire to keep delays on efforts like the streetscape project to a minimum.

“We just want to make sure that, because time is of the essence for so many of these projects, particularly those that end up in the right of way, that we can move and make decisions pretty quickly,” he said. “And 2018 compared to today, the world has shifted in the sense of the cost of our projects. We just wanted to have the procurement policy reflect better on costs.”

He could not quote specific numbers, but Mahoney said change orders that hit the $250,000 threshold are not common.

To maintain transparency, Mahoney said, the town will “do some kind of reporting out on a semi-regular basis like we do with our general financials,” much of which is available in regular meeting agendas. And other backstops will keep Town Council involved, he said.

He also said the town staff and council have worked hard in recent years to earn public trust to make changes to the procurement policy like this, and that living documents are always subject to further amendment. 

The updated policy went into effect upon council’s approval. The policy maintains its preference for local businesses, which directs the town to grant preference to a local business if its bid is within 5% of the lowest responsible bidder on procurements up to $100,000 or within 2% of the lowest responsible bidder on procurements over $100,000.

Art or sandwiches in Wheeler tenant’s future?

On Tuesday evening, the Aspen City Council decided that Valley Fine Art’s current space in the historic Wheeler Opera House will go to a request for proposal (RFP) process for future tenants once its 10-year lease expires in November.

The council also specified what they imagine its future tenants to be — either an enterprise in the arts or an affordable, fast casual food model, or a mixture of both. 

Mia Valley, raised in the Aspen since she was 5, has operated her art gallery for over 24 years. In 2006, she moved Valley Fine Art into its current space at the city-owned opera house.

Current view of Valley Fine Art at the Wheeler Opera House.
Mia Valley/Courtesy photo

The Wheeler Opera House, built in the 1890s, is a landmark on East Hyman and South Mill Street. In 1972, it became the first property in the city to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places and only the second in Pitkin County.

The building has had numerous reiterations throughout the decades. There was an arson fire in 1912 causing much interior damage, and the theater eventually went dark. In 1947, the Aspen Company leased the old opera house from the city of Aspen for 20 years.

The city then became the property owner due to default taxes decades later.

Valley signed a ten-year lease extension with the city, now set to expire in November. 

“Ten years ago, when we created this lease, there was no way I could have predicted the current retail landscape and economic situation in Aspen,” she said. “What was semi-affordable then is no longer even existent in today’s market. We are getting priced right out.”

Current view of Valley Fine Art at the Wheeler Opera House.
Mia Valley/Courtesy photo

Instead of renewing her lease, the City Council recommended in the work session that a RFP is created to attract more opportunities for different types of business in the space. 

“I think it’s part of our due diligence to put this space up for an RFP,” said Councilman Sam Rose.

Councilman Bill Guth wanted an affordable grab-and-go food option for the space and was very adamant that type of service and “community-need” be in Valley’s current 497-square-foot space.

“I do not think we should maintain gallery space. I’d rather see grab-and-go, a sandwich counter, to-go sushi — some kind of quick food service,” he said. “Maybe it’s some combination of the two that we haven’t even thought of with art and a food and/or beverage component.”

“I have been so grateful and appreciative to be in this historic building with this opportunity,” said Valley. “It was such a fete to be selling these historic Americana paintings in such a significant and iconic building.”

Valley Fine Art is a bit of a rarity in a town that represents itself as an arts-focused community. The gallery is one of the longer-running, individually-owned galleries with continuous operations in Aspen.

Valley testified in front of City Council’s work session on her commitment to the lease and opportunity.

“I’ve never been late on one month’s rental payment. Even through the building’s restoration and COVID, we didn’t shutter with lack of foot traffic or default on any payments,” she said.

“I just want to applaud Mia. She is a wonderful tenant for the city,” said Councilman John Doyle. “I appreciate her business very much.”

Mayor Torre said, “We need more discussion. I’m not positive a grab-and-go will work. I still feel a gallery co-op or arts for the community would be the best use of this space.”

He personally addressed Valley as both a neighbor and mayor: “These are the hard decisions I have to make.”

The petite space is causing a large fuss among what the city thinks, desires, and demands.

“I don’t want anyone to think we are subsidizing business with this RFP,” said Guth. “However, we need to advertise this very well and get a good response. We need to get people in the space and tour it.” 

In one of the most historic buildings in the entire county that already houses an eatery next door, a question is what does Aspen need more: affordable food options, especially during evening hours, as Rose pointed out, or a business such as Valley Fine Art that established the arts and culture-center mountain hamlet?

This November, Valley is looking forward to submitting her RFP.

“I know this space,” she said. “I know how to make 500 sqaure feet in Aspen profitable and still be community-minded. This building was intended for the arts and culture, and I truly hope the city council is able recognize my long-standing reputation to this commitment.” 

They RFP will be created and available on the city’s website in the future. Salty snacks, sandwiches, or sublime art, the council will decide. 

The Hub of Aspen cycling shop is moving next to Clark’s Market as season arrives

The spokes are in motion. One of the longest-operating bicycle sales and repair shops in the city, The Hub of Aspen, will be moving locations this month.

Tim Emling purchased the business from Charlie Tarver in 2017 in hopes of keeping it a community-based business with services for tourists and the core resources needed for locals.

Throughout The Hub’s lifetime, the business has spun about town. But when Emling moved the operation from its other location above Eric’s Bar to 616 E Hyman Ave., he hadn’t projected another move.

But now it’s time for another spin through town. This time it’s in the same development as Clark’s Market, to the old Verizon space, an opportunity Emling said he couldn’t pass up.

“We are very disappointed that we are making this move during one of our busiest times of the year,” he said. 

Snowbirds are returning to the valley, and bicycles are being pulled out of storage throughout town. Furthermore, biking season is at full cycle in Moab, a popular destination for Aspen’s bike-loving adrenaline-junky aficionados, and those bicycles needing tuning. 

“It’s just frustrating that during a time when the community needs us most, we can’t provide the full-service operations that our customers are accustomed to. Right now, we are having to turn people away for service with the impending move,” Emling said.

However, he said he knows this next journey is going to be a winner and worth hassles he hadn’t predicted in his current location.

“A new spot opened in town giving us a better opportunity. We secured a 10-year lease at the former Verizon store,” said Emling.

The Hub of Aspen’s new headquarters offers more for Emling’s customers.

“Now, we have free parking which is always a premium in Aspen. And we are right off the Rio Grande Trail, such an ideal spot and next to a bicycle rental shop, Aspen Velo, of whom we have always enjoyed a great working relationship,” he said.

He said he also is excited about applying for a tavern license to host après bike events onsite.

Folsom skis will continue to operate from Emling’s new space, a long-running partnership that has benefited both businesses. 

“I’m enthusiastic about working with Tony Mazza of M & W properties. I just feel like he really wanted us there. He wanted to work with us to arrive at the best possible situation for our business. I am humbled by their welcoming of our venture. It’s a change, and a very good way to do operations,” said Emling. “We’re lucky things really fell into place in such a timely manner.”

Before The Hub of Aspen can relocate to new digs, there are a lot of moving parts, and bicycles. Emling will be posting to their Instragram account (@hubofaspen) within the next couple of weeks about a community-wide moving event in which loyal customers, friends and family can assist in the mass transition.

And there’s a sale involved. All in stock bicycles and accessories will be on sale from now until the move date at the current location.

“We must be out by May 31 and already have the keys to our new location. We are currently in the middle of a build-out to better accommodate the business,” said Emling.

He and his wife, Greta, are excited to contintue to serve the community as a family-run business, he said. He can be reached at tim@hubofaspen.com

Basalt nears first domestic violence shelter

The Roaring Fork Valley is another hurdle closer to its first domestic violence shelter. 

The Basalt Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend the approval of a 6,770-square-foot, open-facing building with office space, client rooms, a deed-restricted two-bedroom housing unit, and a 17-space parking lot at 325 E Cody Lane.

“It’s really a first-come, first-serve basis,” said Response Executive Director Shannon Meyer, “as long as they meet the threshold criteria of becoming clients of Response and are threatened with homelessness or actually experiencing homelessness as a result of their victimization.”

Some rooms have the capability to open up between units to accommodate a survivor with children. The duration of stay will be up to three months. 

Response is an Aspen-based non-profit that has served survivors of domestic and sexual abuse in the Roaring Fork Valley for 40 years. 

In 2022, Response assisted 171 survivors, housed 76 survivors and 62 children, and received 93 referrals from local law enforcement. They are also involved in local middle and high schools, teaching students about healthy relationships, teen dating violence, and sexual consent.  

Meyer said that Response saw a 20% jump in demand for services following the pandemic, and that their emergency and temporary housing offerings were not sufficient to meet client needs. 

Eventually, that conversation evolved into planning for the Basalt public-facing co-location of a shelter and offices, which is succeeding in Gypsum with Bright Future Foundation, Meyer said. 

With a lead campaign gift from the Arizona-based Diane and Bruce Halle Foundation — which resulted in the shelter name The Diane and Bruce Halle Center for Hope and Healing — Response is in its capital fundraising phase. 

Their overall budget is estimated to be $7.7 million, and they currently have about $3 million raised. At this point, Response has a few grant proposals out with the Colorado Division of Housing and the Department of Local Affairs, among others. 

Once they hit 80% of their capital goal, Meyer said, they will turn the campaign fully public. 

She also said they plan to approach local municipalities in Response’s service area. The town of Snowmass already committed $30,000, she said. 

“It was really impressive for the smallest municipality in our service area to be the first in on the campaign from the municipal side,” she noted. 

The goal timeline is for the capital campaign to be wrapped up in the fall in order to break ground on the shelter before winter hits. Then with an approximate 12-month construction schedule, Meyer hopes to open the doors to clients by fall 2024. 

The Basalt Town Council approved a PUD amendment in November for a special-use permit to allow the shelter on the lot. Response closed on the lot not long after that first approval from the town.

The shelter plans will face the Basalt Town Council for first reading on May 23.

Labor likely to run short for the long term as housing costs dampen ability to hire

The confluence of a dwindling labor force and high demand for goods and services are “overheating” the economy, a burn felt at the national, state, and local level.

“Where I’m talking about overheating, we have more demand in the economy than the economy is able to meet the consequence of rising prices,” said Greg Sobetski, chief economist with the Colorado Legislative Council. “We still have high levels of household savings and the ability to consume, particularly among folks who are disproportionately likely to spend money in resort communities like Aspen.”

But as any local business owner or employer will attest, the struggle to house, hire, and retain workers in the resort communities makes it challenging for businesses to meet that demand. 

At a Business Outlook Forum hosted by the Aspen Chamber Resort Association on Wednesday, local business leaders and local policymakers gathered to hear the latest on labor and real estate from state, regional, and local leaders.

As of February, the Pitkin County unemployment rate clocked in at 2.9% with about two available jobs for each unemployed person, according to Carolyn Tucker, a regional business coordinator with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. 

Across the state, the greatest gains in jobs added back were in accommodation and food services as well as leisure and hospitality, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Sobetski said this is likely due to how many jobs in those sectors were lost in the pandemic – when unemployment topped 23% – and the nature of rural resort economies. 

Aspen Tech Labs also tracked job postings in the Roaring Fork Valley and in Aspen. In the past few weeks, available jobs are trending back upward after a dip in February. 

Job posting trends tracked by Aspen Tech Labs tell a story of employers still seeking to fill out their payrolls.
Aspen Tech Labs/Courtesy Image

Health-care and nursing jobs accounted for the greatest number of job postings, followed by food service; but job postings are not always equal to an actual number of open positions or job vacancies. 

“For example, we have a number of PRN, or as-needed, positions posted where we are looking for someone to help during vacations or employee medical leaves and are not filling a ‘vacated’ position,” Stacey Gavrell of Valley View Hospital said in an email to The Times. 

She also noted that Valley View Hospital has been fortunate enough to keep patient care uninterrupted because of staffing concerns due to a dedicated staff. The largest challenge the hospital sees in recruiting and retaining talent is housing, she said. 

The rising price of housing is what is excluding so many workers — particularly young workers — out of the job market in rural resort areas like Aspen, Pitkin County, and the region. 

To match inflation, workers would have needed to see at least an 8% increase to match the rising price of commodities, according to Sobetski. 

“What’s driving costs is overwhelmingly the shelter component of inflation, which is tied to rent,” he said. “And so this is an environment where landlords, others who are purveyors of rental property, are choosing to increase rents in order to cover their rising costs elsewhere in the economy and resulting in higher shelter pressure.”

The Federal Reserve relies on raising interest rates to cool an “overheating” economy, but that mitigation method does not as easily target the shelter component of inflation.

Who’s going to take the shifts?

Tucker noted that complaints lobbed against a younger workforce go back generations. 

But this time around, the critique that “no one wants to work” does not hold water because there are fewer workers to be had. 

“The workforce is just so different now that (older workers) can retire, decreased birth rates, aging population in Colorado; we are not attracting that young ski bum as I (was) anymore,” she said. “There’s much more competition across the nation for other places to live that are cheaper and have different types of things to do.”

Younger people, and therefore future workers, are in scarce supply in Pitkin County.
Colorado Department of Local Affairs/Colorado Workforce Center/Courtesy Image

In Pitkin County, the Baby Boomers and Generation X outnumber the youngest generations of working age people, signaling that a labor market without a sufficient number of laborers is bound to continue.

“I think this is the new normal. I don’t think that there’s some glut of workers sitting out there waiting to come back into the labor force. I think we’ve stabilized now,” Sobetski said. “And honestly, I think the biggest change in the economy over the next 10 to 20 years is that the story of the U.S. economy will be one of labor shortages.”

This relationship between high demand and low labor force supply, he and Tucker asserted, is directly tied to high cost of living — with Pitkin County at 127% cost of living index. 

Lex Tarumianz is a broker associate with Aspen Snowmass Sotheby’s International Realty. While discussing the climbing price and scarce availability of commercial real estate in the Aspen core, he noted the regional moves of businesses in the valley.

“What we’re really seeing is the trend that employers are starting to move downvalley to accommodate their staff, with most of the workforce coming from Carbondale, Glenwood, and that general vicinity,” he said. 

More affordable real estate and a shorter commute for employees appeals to business owners. 

Diane Foster, assistant Aspen city manager, connected the effort to attract and retain workers to transportation with the city’s decades-long effort on the Entrance to Aspen project and the Castle Creek Bridge. 

“There are so many barriers to employees coming to Aspen,” she said. “There are wonderful jobs now in Willits, Carbondale, and Glenwood, and they are wage competitive. And so making (transportation) possible is an economic issue, as you all know.”


If employers can address the primary reasons why workers leave jobs, they might be able to increase retainment, Tucker said. (Pew Research Center)
Pew Research Center/Courtesy image

Still, Tucker is optimistic local businesses can attract quality talent by being flexible with qualifications, offering more training, and expanding benefit packages.

Shortening recruitment timelines can factor into hiring new staff quickly, too, she said.

“As you work up the (graph), your motivators, you can actually affect that when you’re developing your recruitment and retention strategies and your training programs,” she said.

Aspen/Pitkin County Airport FBO decision on the horizon: A look at applicants and the selection process

With the contract set to expire later this year, Pitkin County is nearing the final stretch of its process to award a bid to a fixed base operator at the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport. 

The county expects to announce its first choice this week, narrowed from a list of seven to a shortlist of three providers. Those three are current FBO provider Atlantic Aviation, Signature Flight Support, and Modern Aviation.

Atlantic Aviation is headquartered in Houston and operates 106 FBOs nationwide. Signature Flight Support is headquartered in Orlando and operates more than 200 FBOs internationally. And Modern Aviation is headquartered in New York City and funded by private equity firm Tiger Infrastructure Partners. They declined to be interviewed for this article. 

Once the selection committee names its top choice, the county will enter into negotiations with that firm. The county attorney’s office and procurement office would be a part of that process, followed by review by the Board of County Commissioners and the public comment that comes with that. 

The county first signed the current FBO contract in 1993 with the FBO Aspen Base Operations. In October 2005, ABO assigned its interest in the current FBO agreement to Trajen Flight Support LP. 

Then in June 2006, Atlantic acquired Trajen and assumed the rights and responsibilities of the current FBO Agreement. The contract will expire on Sept. 30.

What does an FBO do?

The Aspen Airport is a unique location for FBO operators due to qualities like altitude, mountain landscape and climate — and a highly involved community in airport happenings. 

Perhaps most consequential to a potential FBO, however, is the approximate 80/20 breakdown of general aviation, or private planes, versus commercial flight traffic at the airport. Still, because the airport receives FAA funding, flying to Aspen’s airport is a first-come, first-served basis. Private planes do not receive priority over commercial planes. 

FBOs run fueling infrastructure, operate the general aviation terminal for their customers, and manage patio shelters and tie-downs for private aircraft.

The term itself comes from the early days of airplanes when pilots would look for fuel and maintenance stops from the sky, and providers — usually farmers — would service the planes in barns on their land, eventually evolving into permanent, “fixed” businesses. 

The name “fixed base operator” stuck long after the FBOs moved out of barns and into slick terminals, and now signify those at an airport whose primary responsibility is general aviation.

What the county’s looking for

The last time Pitkin County evaluated a firm to operate the FBO at the airport was in the early 1990s. This time, the county is looking for greater involvement in operations through the contract.

“We’re looking for more ownership of their operations. We’re wanting them to do more, not only at the airport, but within the community,” said Chris Davis, Pitkin County procurement manager and a non-voting member of the selection committee.

The request for proposals, put out in 2022, lists that the FBO will be responsible for the operation and management of 32 tie-downs, 48 bay patio shelters, rental car services and other parking, plus other services in addition to the terminal, hangar and fuel farm already operated by the FBO.

The airport is in the midst of a major renovation of both the land and air-operations side of the airport. Davis said that without an approved airport layout plan from the Federal Aviation Administration, respondents to the request for proposals, or RFP, needed to demonstrate creative and financial flexibility to accommodate changes. 

“There’s also a large financial component of their investment into the redevelopment of the east side, the new development on the west side or proposed development over there,” he said. 

But one of the most significant changes to the RFP language from that of 30 years ago is the community input and involvement. 

In 2020, an airport vision committee published the Common Ground Recommendations to guide the county on the community’s goals for the airport. The county commissioners later adopted those recommendations.

Some of the greatest areas of concern laid out in the recommendations were safety, sustainability, and community values. Language prioritizing those goals guided the RFP process, Davis said. It explicitly mentions a 30% noise reduction, straight from the recommendations. 

“The top three, especially in their interviews, really displayed their understanding of our community,” he said. “That was really that was a pretty large focus of, of all of the proposers is showing their understanding of our vision and process of the Common Ground Recommendations of the Airport Advisory Board.”

The selection process

After a series of meetings and site visits, respondents submitted their applications through the solicitation platform BidnetDirect.com by the Feb. 16 deadline. The selection committee, led by the county procurement office, announced the shortlist March 22.

The selection committee:

  • Dan Bartholomew, Aspen Pitkin County Airport Director
  • Rich Englehart, Pitkin County Deputy County Manager
  • Gerald Fielding, Pitkin County Engineering and Construction Director
  • Diane Jackson, Aspen Pitkin County Airport Deputy Director
  • Brad Jacobson, Jacobsen Daniels, Airport Layout Plan Consultant
  • Clint Kinney, Ex-Officio Airport Advisory Board Member
  • Evan Marks, Pitkin County Financial Advisory Board Member
  • Liz Woods, Pitkin County Deputy Finance Director

Non-voting members:

  • Chris Davis, Pitkin County Procurement Manager
  • John Ely, Pitkin County Attorney

The committee scored each bidder on a variety of topics, including environmental goals, ability to finance and construct the new FBO facilities, and past industry performance. 

The scoresheet used by the selection committee to rank the FBO bidders. (Pitkin County)
Courtesy photo

Then on April 3, the committee interviewed the top three firms. Each interview consisted of a 20-minute presentation from the bidder, plus another hour or so of open dialogue, not exceeding one hour and 30 minutes as a whole.

The committee now has the task of reviewing and finalizing their scores, which will be aggregated and weighed by RFP criteria. They will announce the top choice, and the county will enter lease/contract negotiations. 

The new contract will be for a 30-year term. Any losing firm may request a “debrief” conversation with Davis and the county procurement office. 

FBO priorities

The first priority listed in the Common Ground Recommendations is “Maximize the Safety of Our Airport.”

The Airport Advisory Board noted that the airport experienced over 40 accidents — all involving private, non-airline aircraft — that caused substantial damage or the complete loss of the aircraft in the vicinity of the Aspen airport in the past four decades. 

As recently as April 2, a private jet slid off the runway and got stuck in the mud and snow, resulting in airport closure for the rest of the day, though no injuries or serious damage were reported. 

Both Atlantic and Signature espoused the importance of pilot training and safety, though the FAA is responsible for pilot accreditation. 

“We have some very serious safety standards. But also we are coming up with ways that we feel are going to help train pilots,” said Signature’s senior vice president of airport relations, Jim Hopkins.

Whether they win the bid or not, Hopkins said, Signature will host seminars at the Eagle County Regional Airport in April and May, with registration already exceeding 247 participants before offering incentives. 

At Atlantic, which has been operating the FBO for the past 16 years, pilot safety looks like keeping training material available to pilots who come through the general aviation terminal and supporting the local flight school to train future aviation workers.

“We’ve taken on the task as the FBO to educate the pilot base, not only just the local tenants who are already well versed in mountain flying, but to everyone else,” said Jonathan Jones, general manager of the Aspen FBO for Atlantic. 

They provide free fuel, offices and patio shelters for the flight school. Plus, Atlantic recently awarded $100,000 in scholarships to local high school students interested in pursuing aviation-related careers. 

Again, Modern Aviation declined an interview.

Language in the RFP did not emphasize incentivizing pilot training outside of FAA regulations as strongly as other community goals. 

For sustainability, both Atlantic and Signature touted accomplishments in carbon neutrality, electrification of equipment, and sustainable aviation fuel as markers of their commitment to the environment. 

One of the most common criticisms lobbed against Atlantic is their use of auxiliary power units — loud, gas-fueled machines that power electricity on planes and help start the main engine. 

Critics say that APUs will get turned on hours before a general aviation customer arrives to leave on their plane, pumping fumes and noise into the atmosphere unnecessarily. 

Jones said that Atlantic requests that APUs only run 15 minutes before a plane arrives or after it lands, part of their “Park Quiet” program. 

And the FBO plans to expand its fleet of electric ground power units from five to 10, which are much quieter than APUs.

“Our biggest complaint is that it’s not on. And the reason is because they can’t hear it,” Jones said of the electric ground power units. 

And while Atlantic currently maintains about 44 pieces of electric equipment right now, they said that they laid out plans for greater electrification in their application.

“Our response to the RFP details exactly how we will maintain net neutrality, including photovoltaic solar installations for charging infrastructure, and there’s even the potential for other other sources of electricity,” said Brian Corbett, chief commercial and sustainability officer for Atlantic. “And we’re closely aligned with Holy Cross Electric and their sustainable electricity sourcing that we can purchase here, as well.”

Atlantic also uses SAF, which is about 30:70 sustainable aviation fuel to traditional jet fuel, and trucks it in from California using vehicles running on biofuel, Corbett said. They hope to increase the SAF to jet fuel ratio as high as 50:50, the maximum allowed by the FAA.

Hopkins noted that Signature owns an SAF supply company, which he said allows them to control access and delivery. 

And Hopkins touted Signature’s recent carbon-neutral label that they are looking to expand beyond their own operations and to their customers, specifically through “book and claim.”

“Basically, you buy a regular gallon of gas or jet fuel. But what you do is you buy it, and you pay the (SAF) premium and you get credit — it’s like buying carbon credits,” he said. The system allows environmentally-conscious customers to foot the bill, he explained, and provide them a way to chip away at their carbon footprint. 

Balancing the desires of usually wealthy clientele with a community’s demands, especially sustainability-oriented demands, is a tricky business. 

“People who own airplanes buy airplanes because they’re time machines. And they like their time machines, because they do two things. They’re ready when they are. And they move fast, and they get you there very quickly,” Hopkins said. “There are lots of things that you have to think about when you’re an aircraft owner. You have to think about the environment, and sustainability. And it’s great that aircraft owners are starting to really think about that. The other thing that you really have to think about is how your aircraft’s operation is affecting others.”

Both firms say their operations achieved carbon-neutrality through electrification, SAF and the purchasing of carbon offsets. 

Documents related to the applicants and the selection committee, plus financial stakes, will not be available at least until after a contract is negotiated, according to Davis, which he said is standard procedure for a formal procurement process to avoid public influence on the committee.

“Rather than wait for CORA requests and respond to that, I think we’re going to publish all of it as public record and links to the airport’s website, as we did the RFP documents,” he said.

The FAA and the county will hold a special meeting regarding the airport renovations on Tuesday at 9 a.m. The public is welcome to attend in-person or virtually.