Baby come back! |

Baby come back!

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Attention, USA Pro Cycling Challenge decision-makers: Aspen loves you and is yearning for your return.

With 95 percent of local businesses expressing support for the pro bicycle event in a recent city survey and Aspen council members saying they thought last month’s “Queen Stage” was positive for the community, Mayor Mick Ireland on Tuesday directed the city’s Special Events Department to apply to race organizers to become a host city in 2012.

“I think it’s clear that council really wants to reapply [to host one of the race stages],” Ireland said after a work session and a debriefing from city employees who organized local activities surrounding the inaugural event Aug. 24.

“The best part was the atmosphere that it generated. I’ve been here 30 years and never saw that many happy people in one day and so few grumpy people. It was just amazing.”

Race officials likely will make a decision on which cities will host each stage next year by mid-November, Parks and Recreation manager Jeff Woods said.

“This is not going to be drawn out like last year,” he said. “We have a good team to put together a proposal; I just want to let you know the time frame will be intense over the next month as we put this together.”

The second stage of the seven-day race began in Gunnison, then moved over Cottonwood and Independence passes before finishing in Aspen. The grueling 131.1-mile stretch, said to be the most difficult stage, featured an atmosphere akin to the Tour de France.

Thousands of fans lined the course, many of them dressed in a variety of costumes; one local waiter even wore a full chicken suit, squawking and flapping his wings as he ran alongside the 130-plus riders near the top of Independence Pass. Others spent the day in the city and saw the riders sprint to the finish in front of the Pitkin County Courthouse.

Aspen special events director Nancy Lesley said nearly 1 million spectators viewed the race over the course of seven days. Twenty-five million viewers watched the race on television in 161 countries and territories on Versus and NBC. Others had access to the event online.

Lesley said an industry report shows that hotel occupancy Aug. 23-24 in Aspen was 70 and 69 percent, respectively. On those same dates last year, rates were 43 and 45 percent, respectively. However, many Aspen hotels provided riders, teams and organizers with free rooms as a way for the lodging industry to invest in the event.

City organizers projected that it would cost $243,251 to put on the race, with the city supplying $60,000 directly from its Mining for Ideas fund, and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association picking up $50,000 of the tab. Other sources, such as sponsorships and patron fundraising, covered most of the remaining amount. In the end, the expenses to host the race were $258,952.

Assistant city manager R. Barry Crook spearheaded the survey to gauge the business community’s support for the event. He aimed the survey toward ACRA members, and 126 of them responded.

While 95 percent indicated that they want the event to return, questions about the impact on local businesses met with mixed results. Comparing Aug. 24 to the same Wednesday a year ago, 43.4 percent said business was about the same, 28.7 percent said sales were higher, and 27.9 reported that it had decreased.

“Comments [in the survey] and observations during the race indicated that location played a big role in what happened to you that day,” Crook wrote in a summary report. “If you were ‘off the beaten path’ or on the ‘wrong side’ of the race course, you were likely to be very negatively impacted. If you were between Galena and Wagner Park and south of Main Street, you had crowds of people.”

Ireland expressed hope that as a host city, Aspen will become not only a finishing spot but also the start for another stage. Crowd estimates have ranged from 10,000 to 20,000, considerably less than projected.

Many local businesses were disappointed with the actual size of the crowds in Aspen on race day as thousands preferred to view the action atop the pass. Here’s a sampling of comments through the city’s survey to ACRA members:

– “Do not close off Main Street; it is critical for residents and visitors to be able to get around during race day or any other day.”

– “A start, rather than an end in Aspen, would be better business. Right after the race, it was all packed up and it seemed as if everybody left town.”

– “Versus TV coverage sucked.”

– “Extend time for the booths and activities in Wagner Park, including the entertainment.”

– “Allow restaurants to vend in front. Please do not bring in any outside vendors and place them right in front of me.”

– “I feel that all of the notices that went out about driving and parking really had a negative impact on the amount of people from downvalley that could have been here and discouraged many from attending.”

– “The race was great and I think it was a great event for the town. I hope we can have it back next year and many years after that!”

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