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Aspen business district garners mixed reaction

Janet Urquhart

Downtown property owners have mixed feelings about the potential for a business improvement district that would levy an assessment on commercial properties in Aspen’s core, according to a consultant hired to gauge support for such a district.Lee Clancey, a consultant based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recently finished interviewing about 20 people, including downtown landlords, a few business owners and others about the potential for a business improvement district in Aspen. Among her interviews were talks with Hana Pevny, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, and David Perry, senior vice president of the Aspen Skiing Co., she said.Clancey will prepare a report for the City Council that outlines her findings and recommendations.Some commercial property owners were enthusiastic about the idea, while others were more qualified in their support for such a move, according to Clancey.”There were two pretty dominant, overriding themes I heard from people,” she said. “All of them had a real passion for the community, and that’s a wonderful place to start.”But secondly, there was a feeling that there is a real lack of communication and lack of partnership with the other entities in the community, especially the city, but also with the chamber.”Right now, from what I gathered from people, it feels more like people are working at odds rather than working in partnership,” she said. “That’s the impression I came away with.”The formation of a business improvement district (BID), in which commercial properties pay an annual assessment that can fund various efforts – from marketing to capital improvements – was among the recommendations from a team of retail consultants hired by the city last year.Those consultants also recommended the hiring of a downtown catalyst, which the city has done on a temporary basis, to forward the business community’s interests and act as a liaison with the city. The long-term funding of the catalyst could be borne by a BID.The city’s current contract with Lisa Baker, hired to fill the catalyst’s role, expires in mid-November.The retail consultants also recommended physical improvements to Aspen’s downtown core and a loosening of regulations. The city is currently exploring both; the regulations received mention as Clancey made her rounds, she said.Under Colorado statutes, in order to form a BID, at least 50 percent of the property owners, owning 50 percent or more of the acreage within the proposed district boundaries, must sign a petition seeking formation of the BID and present it to the City Council.The petition has to offer a name for the proposed district, describe its boundaries, offer a general description of the services and improvements it intends to provide, and identify three individuals who are the point people for the district, according to Clancey.A potential business improvement district in Aspen, as identified by the city, would be roughly bounded by Spring and Monarch streets, and go from Main Street to Durant Avenue or, in some areas, Dean Street.In interviewing potential petitioners for the BID, Clancey said she heard from two people who indicated they’d sign the petition if the BID’s creation would positively impact the entire downtown core in terms of capital improvements. Another individual said he wouldn’t sign on if the funds produced by the district were leveraged to borrow money for improvements.”He wanted it to be a pay as you go proposition,” she said.Clancey is the former mayor of Cedar Rapids and formerly served as executive director of a business improvement district there. The district was initially created to raise money for streetscape improvements in partnership with the city, she said. It has also been involved in business recruitment and retention, holding special events and marketing efforts.The BID assessment in Cedar Rapids is $3 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.Within the potential BID boundaries in Aspen, commercial properties are worth $204 million in assessed valuation. Only commercial property would be assessed, not residential or other property within the district, she said.A $3 assessment per $1,000 of assessed value in Aspen’s core would raise $612,000 annually.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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