Aspen City Council to address shrinking bed base |

Aspen City Council to address shrinking bed base

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times

The room has been readied, so to speak, for a comprehensive discussion about the demand for more visitor beds in Aspen and ways in which city government can help the accommodations industry refurbish existing lodges and aging condominiums on the short-term rental market — or even assist with the creation of new hotels.

A work session on numerous topics surrounding the City Council’s stated goal of defining “areas for improvement” for Aspen’s lodging base will begin at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the basement of City Hall, 130 S. Galena St.

“Staff requests council direction for the next steps related to council’s lodging goal, including what area of lodging should be addressed first and what potential policy measures council is interested in further exploring,” a memorandum from the city’s community development director, Chris Bendon, and long-range planner, Jessica Garrow, to the council states.

Earlier this month, the city released a new report on the lodging sector that provides a big-picture overview of the types of products that are in demand by Aspen visitors. It also updates occupancy and rate information and is available for public view via the city’s joint website with Pitkin County,

The June report follows a similar report in August 2012 that found that condominiums make up more than 40 percent of Aspen’s short-term bed base. Another report the city commissioned late last year showed that many condo units, once refurbished, are taken off the short-term rental market and sold on the free market. Government incentives to condo owners could make the units less expensive to refurbish, thereby allowing them to remain in the rental pool.

One key finding from the research, according to the memo, is that while Aspen consistently rates well with visitors in terms of available activities, family appeal, scenic beauty and outdoor recreational experiences, “the quality and diversity of lodging is rated fairly low.”

“Combined with increased competition from other resorts, this could make Aspen a less-desirable destination for future generations,” the memo states.

But during outreach to local hotel and lodge operators, city planners have identified development limitations and mitigation requirements as barriers to refurbishing existing properties or creating new ones.

Over the past two years, Mayor Mick Ireland and other council members often pointed to the city’s shrinking “hot-bed base” and brought up the potential need for more affordably priced hotel rooms as a way of luring less-affluent visitors to the area.

Ireland was term-limited from seeking re-election during the spring, and two council members who were part of those lodging discussions, Torre and Derek Johnson, were eliminated from the council because they unsuccessfully bid for the mayor’s job. Aspen’s mayor also is a voting member of the City Council.

Thus, Tuesday’s discussion not only will speak to the findings of the most recent study but also will serve to check in with the new council configuration to see how far it wants to go in providing incentives for new and refurbished lodge rooms.

Mayor Steve Skadron, who served on the council for six years before he was sworn in June 10, and Councilman Adam Frisch, who has two years left on his four-year term, have been privy to the lodging talks over the past two years. They are joined by the body’s newcomers, Art Daily and Ann Mullins, elected in the spring. Because Skadron vacated his council seat when he won the mayor’s job, a fourth council member must be appointed by the others in early July.

Bendon and Garrow’s memo outlines a host of questions for the city’s new leadership, including:

• Does the council continue to support the general lodging-improvement goals?

• Does the council support incentives to enable upgrades and/or expansions to short-term condo units?

• Does the council agree that any program enabling upgrades of condo units should include some requirements for maintaining these units in the short-term rental pool?

• Does the council support exploring incentives for upgrading and refurbishing existing lodges? Would the council support lower permitting fees and (scaled-back) review-process requirements as part of incentives for existing lodge refurbishment?

• Does the council support exploring incentives for new lodges? Would council support policies that lower mitigation requirements or increase allowed heights and density as part of incentives for new lodges?

Because more families are traveling to Aspen, there is higher demand for units with multiple bedrooms, common areas, flexible unit configurations and bigger bathrooms, the memo adds. Another question from Bendon and Garrow to council members asks whether they would support incentives to enable existing lodges and condominiums to create larger units.

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