ACRA looks for a voice
ASPEN Officials from Aspen’s chamber of commerce are frustrated that they don’t have more influence on governmental decisions.The issue came up Tuesday at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association meeting when board members discussed the appropriateness of their position on the controversial Lodge at Aspen Mountain, a 150,000-square-foot hotel proposed for the base of Ajax.While board members believe it’s the chamber’s role to support the project because it will increase hotel rooms and fuel the resort economy, they question how influential their endorsement is.Several ACRA representatives have spoken in support of the project during recent public hearings, but it appears their comments have fallen on deaf ears. The City Council shot down the proposal, 3-2, on Aug. 13.”Sometimes I wonder if we are even being heard,” said Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, who has spoken in support of the project numerous times.David Perry, senior vice president of the Aspen Skiing Co., which also supports the hotel proposal, said it’s frustrating that ACRA, with hundreds of members, doesn’t pull more weight in the community.”We have almost no clout,” he said, adding that ACRA should since it represents millions of dollars in economic activity. “We need to have more respect and not be marginalized.”Lisa Johnson, ACRA’s managing director of marketing, said the chamber faces difficulty because some council members have taken the position that town is at capacity and can’t handle more people – yet it is the chamber’s job to bring more visitors to the resort.ACRA board member Warren Klug, general manager of the Aspen Square Hotel condominiums, said it’s still worthwhile to continue advocating for what the organization believes in.”I think it’s appropriate to [show our support]. … Our role is to encourage and strengthen the economy,” he said. “But the current regime on the council sees it very differently.”A new iteration of the Lodge at Aspen Mountain a plan that reduces the hotel by 24,000 square feet has recently come forward. The ACRA board agreed Tuesday to send another letter in support of the project, but members don’t anticipate it doing much good.”Let’s try again, but I don’t hold high hopes for a different outcome,” Klug said.The City Council is scheduled to review the Lodge at Aspen Mountain on Sept. 24. That gives ACRA officials two weeks to rally members from every sector of the local economy to let the council know it supports a new hotel in town.”Having the same old faces there are important, but individual business owners in numbers showing up at these meetings has far more impact,” said former Mayor Helen Klanderud, who also is an ACRA board member.Klanderud said that historically there’s been tension in the relationship of the government, Skico and ACRA. “It never made much sense to me,” she said. “We have an opportunity to educate our elected officials and they us.”Public relations specialist Jeanette Darnauer, a member of ACRA’s public affairs committee, said the organization must forge a relationship with the City Council and Pitkin County commissioners.”We don’t want them to see us as adversarial but as resources,” she said. “We need to fill that credibility gap by asking them, ‘How can we help you?'”Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owsley, who represents the county on the ACRA board, said it’s helpful to find underlying values the organization shares with government and work toward commonalties.But that can be a difficult proposition when the city’s liaison to the ACRA board isn’t as involved as business representatives would like. Mayor Mick Ireland has attended one meeting since he was elected in June. The alternate would be J.E. DeVilbiss, although his position as mayor pro tem is not a formal one.”I think representation one way or another would be positive,” Perry said. “What can we do to encourage the mayor to attend our meetings?”The board agreed to reach out to the City Council to get more involved in ACRA’s affairs.Carolyn Sackariason’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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