Aspen City Council supportive of Food & Wine postponement until September |

Aspen City Council supportive of Food & Wine postponement until September

Optimistic that the coronavirus pandemic will ease up, elected officials, event organizers hope for fall imbibing

Food & Wine Classic at Aspen's Wagner Park in June 2017.

Aspen City Council on Monday gave direction to authorize use of Wagner Park for a postponed 2021 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen from June until September, as event organizers hope the coronavirus pandemic will no longer be a major public health threat nine months from now.

Anticipating that a vaccine will tame the spread of COVID-19 and public health orders limiting gathering sizes will be lifted, organizers of some of Aspen’s marquee events are looking to the fall as the time to get the party going again.

“We are working under the super optimistic premise that things are going to get better and the Calvary is coming and there is light into the tunnel,” said Devin Padgett, producer of special projects for Food & Wine, on Monday during council’s work session.

Following national trends, large format productions are looking to postpone and push, and many events are jockeying for position in the fall, Padgett added.

“We are just trying to get out in front of everybody else,” he said.

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which hosts and supports the event, along with the city, has requested the use of Wagner Park from Sept. 1 to 15, with Food & Wine from Sept. 9 to 11.

The annual Ruggerfest is scheduled to be held Sept. 16 to 19, which poses a problem for the city’s parks department to maintain a safe and adequate turf for both events.

City Manager Sara Ott told council Monday that it can have a more rigorous discussion around the details of moving Food & Wine and accommodating Ruggerfest, as well as the Mother Lode Volleyball tournament held over Labor Day, at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Considered the kick-off to summer season and one of the resort community’s largest economic contributing events of the year, Food & Wine was canceled altogether this past June due to public health orders limiting gathering sizes to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“That’s the crown jewel, Food & Wine,” Padgett said. “To bring the classic back to the 38th year to do something great to kind of end the summer, as opposed to kick off the summer looks like our best possibility.”

All five council members expressed support for postponing the event, with the caveats of protecting Wagner Park and abiding by COVID-19 safety protocols.

“I would really love to see it happen in 2021, I feel like it would be a small bit of normalcy which I love,” said council member Skippy Mesirow. “Candidly, in any COVID world it’s like the worst possible setup for a super spreader event, so if the option is to do it in September or not do it, I’d rather do it in September.”

Councilman Ward Hauenstein said he wants all three events — the Mother Lode, Ruggerfest and Food & Wine.

“I would like to sandwich or get all of these,” he said, arguing that Ruggerfest and Mother Lode are longstanding traditions in town, as is Food & Wine. “I want to find a way to make this work … if we can massage the dates so we can have all three of these signature and long standing events happen that’s what I want.”

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said she expects to see a quieter beginning to summer, and Food & Wine could be the cork to pop at the end of the season.

“Food & Wine is terribly important, we need to have it here so fall seems like a safer choice,” she said.

John Staub, representing Ruggerfest, told council Monday that 13 teams have already signed up to play in Aspen in 2021 and he is fielding a lot of inquiries from interested players.

“This next year we feel like it’s going to be a pretty big year because everybody wants to cut loose and get out of their houses and hopefully by that time we’ll be past this and we can all be positive,” he said.

He asked council to consider having the tournament in Wagner Sept. 9 to 12 and then let Food & Wine have the park the remainder of the month.

Ott said that conversation can be hashed out between Ruggerfest, ACRA and the city, with a proposal to come before elected officials to make a decision on timing and other considerations.

Council will discuss the matter again Tuesday during its regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m., and can be viewed through the city’s website or Facebook page. The public can participate in the meeting through Webex Meetings.


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