Buttermilk drive-in movies axed to make room for booming construction season
Despite a well-received slate of socially distanced drive-in movies at Buttermilk during last summer’s COVID-19 pandemic, the Aspen Skiing Co. abandoned plans Tuesday to repeat the program.
“We will withdraw our request for ongoing use of the (parking) lot,” Joey Woltemath, Skico’s senior operations manager in events marketing, told Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday during their regular weekly work session.
The main reason for deep-sixing the drive-in idea this summer is the booming local construction industry and the fact that a large section of the Buttermilk parking lot owned by the county is one of the only staging areas for Aspen-area construction projects. The other three sections of the county-owned lot owned are for free transit parking, paid, multi-day parking and day-use parking for mountain bikers using nearby Sky Mountain Park.
The Buttermilk lots were filled to the brim during the summer 2019, with the construction staging area especially packed with cranes and other large, heavy equipment, said Brian Pettet, the county’s public works director. The pandemic radically changed use of the lot in 2020, with much less traffic on Highway 82 and a muted construction season, he said.
“But 2021 is shaping up to be much different than 2020,” Pettet said.
Building permits in the county and city of Aspen are up about 40%, while construction and demolition debris at the county landfill is up 14% over this time in 2019 and 43% over this time in 2020, according to a memo from Pettet to commissioners. Most of the city of Aspen projects involve large commercial projects like the demolition and reconstruction of the Molly Gibson Hotel and the Hotel Aspen, the memo states.
“Everything points to a huge increase in construction (this summer),” said Mitch Osur, the city of Aspen’s parking director who supervises the Buttermilk lots under a contract with the county.
Osur said he will likely fill every space in the lot every day of the week between July and September considering the construction projects planned. He said he’s also received requests from hikers planning trips on the Four Pass Loop and wanting to park long term at the lot.
Deric Gunshor, Skico’s director of event development, said he felt it was “a little unfortunate that construction is the default” use of the Buttermilk during the summer. He called the lot a “super valuable space” that perhaps could be shared with the Skico for nighttime uses.
Pettet said county staff recommended reserving the lot for construction staging and other designated uses rather than the ongoing Skico entertainment options.
Skico still might plan one-off events at the lot, though an ongoing summer series is off the table, he said.
“I really regret this,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman. “What is our responsibility to the construction community? Is the Entrance to Aspen an industrial zone where we park big trucks? I don’t like driving by Buttermilk and seeing DIA (Denver International Airport) or the industrial parts of Denver.”
Commissioner Steve Child suggested that Skico bulldoze part of the Panda Peak area at Buttermilk into a flatter area more suitable for outdoor events like movies and concerts.
Child also asked why Skico couldn’t use the Two Creeks area of the Snowmass Ski Area as an outdoor event area. Woltemath said the company has considered the idea, but with Thursday concerts apparently back on at Snowmass Village coupled with the rodeo, they didn’t think they’d get much participation.
“We don’t think it’s a very viable option at Two Creeks,” Woltemath said.
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The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the county has 20 confirmed COVID-19 cases of the variant. “They all popped up in a similar timeframe, so that just tells you that there was probably a common exposure. It’s going to be much bigger. We’ll see more show up,” said Mesa County Public Health Director Jeff Kuhr.