Aspen Skiing Co. execs call for action from chamber
September 22, 2014
Aspen Skiing Co.'s top two executives delivered a one-two punch Thursday aimed at Aspenites who are opposed to lodging redevelopment over fears it will result in too big of buildings.
Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan and Senior Vice President David Perry told an audience of about 220 members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association at a gathering at the Sundeck on Aspen Mountain that the town is "at a crossroads" regarding key infrastructure improvements. If lodge owners aren't allowed to redevelop, Aspen will fall further behind competing resorts, Kaplan said. Domestic and international tour operators that Skico works with already say that Aspen's lodging inventory is "inconsistent" and some of it overpriced for the quality, he said.
Kaplan, who has rarely waded into Aspen's growth-control battlefields during his tenure, was emphatic at the gathering. He said some growth-control proponents want to send the town back to "The Quiet Years" between the silver bust and the ski-industry boom.
"There are people in this valley who think it should get smaller, it should be less busy, that we should reduce traffic, reduce construction, that we should protect every single view corridor that's existing, that we should disincentivize current lodge owners, condo owners," Kaplan said.
“There are people in this valley who think it should get smaller, it should be less busy, that we should reduce traffic, reduce construction, that we should protect every single view corridor that’s existing, that we should disincentivize current lodge owners, condo owners.”
Skico President and CEO Mike Kaplan
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That will result in development of more luxury estates and private residences, he predicted.
"That is definitely an option, but I don't think it's one that actually any of us really want to go to," he said.
Kaplan contended that people moved to Aspen to embrace the Aspen Idea of nurturing mind, body and spirit, but they also enjoy the "urban-like energy that's uplifting."
He said it is a "false choice" that development must be stymied to preserve the Aspen Idea promoted by Walter Paepcke during the rebirth of Aspen. He stressed that he isn't promoting unfettered development. There is development that can "reinvigorate" the Aspen Idea, Kaplan claimed.
"It requires some short-term trade-offs and inconveniences to realize this long-term success and viability," Kaplan said.
He closed his presentation by urging the chamber members to get involved in discussions about Aspen's lodge- incentive package, which was approved by the City Council and then rescinded in the face of community opposition.
Perry built off of Kaplan's points by adding details. Aspen has lost 20 small lodges and 2,700 total tourist accommodation "pillows" in the past 20 years, he said.
He credited the city government with doing a "phenomenal job" on the lodge-incentive ordinance and lamented that it was withdrawn for further work. He asked the audience if they were "accosted" outside City Market in Aspen last month by foes collecting signatures for a referendum on the lodging rules. He accused the foes of fearmongering by portraying that it would result in four-story monster buildings that were 65 feet tall.
Meanwhile, Perry said, Aspen is further constraining its lodging supply with each passing year of not putting redevelopment incentives in place.
"We are inadvertently going down the pass of more exclusive, more expensive and fewer people," Perry said.
He contended it is possible to encourage redevelopment of lodges without building monsters. He displayed a slide of the four-story Limelight Hotel and had audience members guess at the height. It is 42 feet. He went through the same exercise with the Little Nell, which is 45 feet. Both hotels are owned and operated by Skico. Neither is out of scale, he contended.
Perry noted that the chamber has 778 member businesses that represent 60 to 70 percent of the Aspen area's workforce. He urged the audience to get those employees involved in the political process and lobby for actions that will improve the vibrancy and health of the economy.
"I would ask you to stand up; let your voices be heard in this dialogue and these lodging debates. Don't let the noise, the hyperbole and the untruths drown out the truth, so that we can truly can have a civil dialogue," he concluded.
The audience gave a loud ovation to the call for action.