Candidates share ways to spice up Basalt
BASALT – Town Council and mayoral candidates didn’t trot out the same old drivel Tuesday night when they were quizzed about how they would spur economic vitality in the town.
The youngest candidate in the race for three council seats raised what is an inconvenient truth for many Basaltines – that the town is somewhat of a bore for many young people. Lemuel Bolanos, 31, said people want to go to Aspen, and they want to go to Carbondale. Basalt, he said, is “the lost city in between.”
As a marketing entrepreneur, Bolanos claimed he could help fix that.
“Vote me in, and you’ll have millions of ideas. I’m the last born of five, and as the youngest, you’re always trying to get attention,” he said. “So I’m very well-versed at being a marketer, and you can tell because if you meet my wife, you’ll ask yourself, ‘How did he get that girl?'”
Bolanos is married to a dancer in the Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet.
He said businesses face an uphill battle in Basalt because the people who live there aren’t necessarily motivated to shop, dine and hang out there. As a marketer, he helps businesses come up with messages that make them stick out. That’s a model for the entire town to follow.
“I think looking at our town in that way will really help us really push us and the economy in a whole different direction,” Bolanos said.
Council candidate Herschel Ross said Basalt is emerging from a slow economic time with several major developments opening or proposed, so priming the economic pump might not be necessary.
“Honestly, I have to say, there is so much that is coming in right now that we’re going to have to deal with and prioritize,” Ross said, referring to development. Whole Foods Market and surrounding commercial space will open this summer. An application has been submitted for the redevelopment of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park, with possibilities that include a hotel, an office campus for nonprofit organizations and a Colorado Mountain College facility. The Aspen Valley Medical Foundation is working on a plan for a continuous care facility in the Southside neighborhood.
“I think looking around for new economic engines in the next four years is going to be the least of our problems,” Ross said. “We’re going to be hanging on like trying to guide a runaway stage coach.”
Ross said it will be a “full-time job” for the council to make sure the projects blend well with Basalt and don’t overwhelm the town with problems such as traffic it cannot handle.
Council candidate Robert Leavitt wants to recruit businesses to relocate to Basalt.
“My proposal is to appeal to businesses that are in Aspen that don’t need to be there – show them what a great town Basalt is, show them the advantages of doing business here and see if we can’t get them to move here,” Leavitt said.
Council candidate Bill Maron said the town could make simple changes to its zoning to accommodate start-up businesses. Zoning could encourage shops and offices on the ground floor of buildings and residences on the second story.
“If you could have a type of situation where people could live and work in the same place, you could form these micro-little businesses that could virtually bloom out of nowhere,” Maron said. “I think that would be a creative way to engender that instant create-a-business scenario. It would be like mini-business incubators all over the place.”
“Something as silly as that,” Maron said, would lead to creation of small businesses that grow into larger businesses.
Council candidate Rick Stevens said Basalt Affordable Citizens Housing, a citizens advisory group he belongs to, is already promoting a healthy economy. It helped bring the nonprofit developer, Roaring Fork Community Development Corp., together with the town government to purchase the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park for a planned redevelopment. Now the group is looking at other parcels of land around town and examining development opportunities, he said.
“We’ve put together some exciting opportunities for the community to consider,” Stevens said. “I think it will boost the economy and it will build on what’s going on here already.”
The two candidates for mayor offered their own fresh ideas on priming Basalt’s pump. Whitsitt said that despite the tough economic times, Basalt is seeing some of the best projects ever.
“We have a lot of stuff coming in here in the next few years that should create several hundred jobs. I hope so,” she said.
Meanwhile, the town government must help to promote buying locally through a simple marketing program, Whitsitt said.
“I really got the feel from the business owners that I talked to that we are not making an effort to keep our own businesses busy with our own dollars,” she said.
Getting the town’s art galleries together for special events might be a place to start, Whitsitt said. She suggested that some event such as Carbondale’s wildly successfully gathering on the first Friday evening of each month is something to emulate.
“I don’t want to say First Friday, but having something like that to generate some activity” is what Basalt should pursue, she said. “I really think we’re hurting ourselves when we take our money elsewhere.”
Mayoral candidate Glenn Rappaport said he was impressed to learn about a Roaring Fork Valley nonprofit group that helps entrepreneurs gauge the prospects of their business plans. Basalt could benefit from having someone who could help young, prospective business owners go over their operation plans and offer advice.
“I think we spend a lot of time brainstorming on what kinds of businesses are going to work, and the reality is we need to know more about what businesses are even going to have a chance,” Rappaport said.
He also touted development that creates more jobs and opportunities.
“Nobody’s talking about compromising Basalt’s beauty or its small-town character,” Rappaport said. But if more than 80 percent of the people who live in Basalt work elsewhere, the town should try to lower that number, he added.
The Basalt election is April 3. The mayor and council seats are all for four-year terms.
The Aspen Times is running questions and answers with the mayoral candidates this week. Council candidates’ questions and answers will run next week.
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