Aspen chamber reps defend BBQ block party
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
ASPEN – Aspen needs to consider the broader benefits of special events, a couple of Aspen Chamber Resort Association board members said Tuesday in the wake of objections voiced by the business community regarding the return of the Big Aspen BBQ Block Party.
About a dozen retailers and restaurateurs appeared before the City Council on Monday, urging the council to deny financial support and permit approval for the barbecue event, slated for Aug. 27-28.
The push took council members by surprise, as the event permit wasn’t on the council’s agenda, said Mayor Mick Ireland, also an ACRA board member. In fact, the permit application hasn’t even been filed yet, he said.
The Aspen Skiing Co. has pulled its request for a $15,000 grant for the event, Ireland told detractors on Monday.
Restaurateurs and retailers said the block party pulled business away from their enterprises, costing them revenue and causing the city to take a hit in sales tax proceeds.
But Mining for Ideas grants, used as seed money for special events that help draw people to town, isn’t about an immediate return on investment, Ireland said Tuesday. It’s a long-term investment that may introduce new visitors to Aspen and spur repeat visits, he said.
“I think we need a bigger perspective than it cost X dollars and put Y number of people in the lodges, so it just doesn’t balance,” he said.
The city can look at the event’s actual impact on retail and restaurant sales, Ireland added.
“I do think we have to look at the bigger benefit here,” said John Speers, general manager of the Skico’s Little Nell hotel and architect of the barbecue event. He is also an ACRA board member.
Some of Monday night’s criticisms were unfair, as organizers of the event are still working on details, such as hours of operation for the party, to address the concerns of the business community, Speers said.
Alternate locations are also being considered, the council was told. Last year’s party took place in Gondola Plaza and down Hunter Street. It featured pit-masters from across the country as well as live blues bands.
“The goal is to make this a destination event,” Speers said. “I think getting rid of it or not having it is not the right approach.”
Local restaurant owner Rob Ittner, a Pitkin County commissioner who sat in on the ACRA board meeting, said he supports continuation of the barbecue event. But, he said, to make it a win-win for the community, more of the community needs to be involved in the planning.
“The action isn’t denying a permit. The action is having a better process,” he said.
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