Chamber eyes return to business advocacy
August 25, 2006
Aspen’s business community will soon have two lobbying organizations representing its interest in local politics and community debates.Aspen Chamber Resort Association officials announced at an annual membership luncheon Thursday they will form a Public Affairs Committee. It will “provide advocacy on relevant community issues,” according to Stan Clauson, a member of ACRA’s board of directors.Other business leaders announced earlier in the month the formation of the independent Aspen Business Improvement League to weigh in on issues like transportation and parking.The two advocacy efforts are being pursued separately because they fill slightly different needs, according to Stan Hajenga, general manager of the Mountain Chalet and someone affiliated with both groups. He is on ACRA’s board of directors and he is one of the organizers of the business league.Hajenga said ACRA’s ability to be an advocate for the business community is limited because its membership is so diverse. Any position it takes on a controversial issue is likely to alienate part of its constituency.”You don’t want to come out with a [position] that fractures the membership,” he said.The business league is designed to give owners and operators of restaurants, retail shops and lodges – particularly those in the commercial core – a strong voice, Hajenga said. Lodges have direct representation, separate from ACRA, in the Aspen Lodging Association.Restaurants and retailers haven’t had their own advocacy group in recent years.The business league, he said, “is not opposed to anything the chamber is doing.” Instead, the league’ efforts will complement the chamber, not compete with it.Clauson announced to ACRA’s members that the question has come up in recent debates about growth whether Aspen is a community or a resort. It’s both, he said, and balance is needed. But he also indicated that ACRA leaders feel that “Aspen the resort” isn’t well-represented at times in community discussions.Other community activists express the opposite. Les Holst, a historic preservation advocate who started the “I Love Aspen” white-shirt campaign, recently complained that city development approvals are ruining much of Aspen’s charm by changing the mass and scale of buildings.ACRA’s interest in acting as an advocate for its members has swung like a pendulum over the years under the leadership of different directors and board members. In general, when the chamber suffers a big loss, like the public vote on the expansion of the airport runway in the early 1990s, it seems to retreat from advocacy.Its new advocacy role won’t focus exclusively on local affairs, according to president and chief executive officer Debbie Braun. She said ACRA will also look at state government issues that affect Aspen tourism.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.