Block party’s fate rests on aid gathered |

Block party’s fate rests on aid gathered

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council and the chief organizer of the Big Aspen Barbecue Block Party have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday that could decide the fate of the event.

John Speers, general manager of The Little Nell and coordinator of the barbecue block party, said Friday he’s hopeful that negotiations over a city subsidy and the location of the proposed late August event will go well.

The two-day block party has taken place only once, in August 2010. Organizers canceled it in 2011 because of a controversy over the location and scheduling conflicts with a city-sponsored event, MountainSummit: MountainFilm in Aspen.

Speers spoke about the unusual degree of difficulty involved in trying to bring barbecue, live music and a social atmosphere to downtown Aspen during a weekend when summer tourism usually begins to wane.

“I’ve certainly been surprised at some of the roadblocks we’ve come across,” he said. “There is a lot of enthusiasm for the event, but there are a few in the community who struggle to see the benefits, and that’s unfortunate.”

With musicians serving up live blues and pit masters from around the country dishing out barbecue and sides, the event drew some 7,000 people in 2010. Organizers and public officials saw the inaugural block party as a hit with local residents despite the fact that it experienced a $30,000-plus loss.

However, during a council work session in March, shopkeepers adjacent to the festival’s location on the Gondola Plaza and an area of Hunter Street near The Little Nell roundly criticized the festival. Restaurateurs said it detracted from their regular dinner business, and retailers complained that the smoke from the barbecue pits hindered their operations. Some alleged that it didn’t seek to involve local barbecue purveyors.

A compromise plan to reduce the festival’s hours and move the event to Monarch Street outside the Limelight Lodge, with music in nearby Wagner Park, failed amid objections from Gram Slaton, the Wheeler Opera House’s executive director. He worried that the noise and smoke would be detrimental to MountainSummit, scheduled for the same weekend at the Wheeler.

Speers was offered Rio Grande Park as an alternative, but he dismissed the location as being too far off the beaten path and lacking nearby hotel and kitchen support. Aspen Skiing Co. owns both The Little Nell and the Limelight Lodge.

Assistant City Manager Randy Ready said city administration views the event as a positive community offering. He said the council faces two questions: whether to grant money to the block party as a way of offsetting potential losses while also providing a community benefit, and finding the most suitable location.

Speers said the location near the Limelight, along Monarch Street, appears to be the most workable alternative given the continued opposition to the site of the first event. Though the city’s film festival at the Wheeler would take place on the same weekend as the block party, which is set for Aug. 25-26, Ready and Speers say the conflict might be resolved by putting the party’s outdoor music stage in a strategic location on Monarch Street where the performances wouldn’t affect the Wheeler.

The block party and the film festival would follow two separate stages of the USA ProCycling Challenge scheduled to stop in Aspen earlier in the week.

Speers said one issue with the city involves the need for a subsidy. He said he’s seeking $40,000 from the pool of money the city uses annually to subsidize special events. However, Speers said he spoke with a few council members who are of the understanding that no money can be made available for the block party this year. The city provided $15,000 in seed money for the event two years ago.

“I think it’s an event that we, as (city) staff, would like to see happen,” Ready said. “There’s a lot of community excitement about it and the sponsors are dedicated to seeing if they can get some local participants (to provide barbecue) the next time around.

“It was a fun thing and a nice addition to the calendar. Whether we can pull it off in terms of the funding request remains to be seen.”

Councilman Derek Johnson said that while he believes the barbecue block party’s hurdles can be jumped, all the parties involved must work toward a common agreement.

“I think in that first year, we were in a down period, and it was a great event,” Johnson said.

He said he sees no problem with the proposed location near the Limelight Lodge.

“I have a hard time completely understanding how an outdoor event over on Monarch a block and a half away can affect an indoor event at the Wheeler,” he said.

On Friday afternoon, Speers said he was planning to speak with the organizers of the New York version of the Big Barbecue Block Party to see if they are interested in co-producing the Aspen event this year, as they did in 2010.

Their response, and the city’s level of support, will determine whether Aspen residents and visitors will enjoy street-level blues and barbecue on the fringes of downtown come late August.

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