City balks at ‘downtown catalyst’ |

City balks at ‘downtown catalyst’

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A consulting team’s ideas on how to revitalize downtown Aspen won praise from the City Council Monday, but members balked at implementing a key recommendation ” the hiring of a “downtown catalyst.”

Mayor Helen Klanderud and some members of the business community joined the consultants in calling for the hiring of someone to oversee the revitalization effort, but other council members said the proposal requires further discussion.

The council did vote unanimously to accept the consultants’ report and endorse its broader concepts.

The consulting team, including Ford Frick of BBC Research and Consulting in Denver and Henry Beer of CommArts, a Boulder-based design firm, recommended the hiring of a downtown catalyst to spearhead ideas to improve the retail environment in the core. The individual would also work toward the formation of a business improvement district.

City staffers suggested the position, under contract to the city of Aspen for a salary of $65,000 to $75,000, be funded by a $60 surcharge on the tax the city charges to obtain a business license. The position could report to either the city manager or the Aspen Chamber Resort Association.

A proposed job description outlined nine items the individual could accomplish in a one-year trial run, but some council members wondered if the measures could be accomplished by city staffers.

“All nine are things that we should be able to accomplish,” said Councilman Torre. “I tell you what, I’ll do it for half the price.”

The city should be able to tackle the rewriting of overly restrictive zoning regulations, for example, on its own, agreed Councilwoman Rachel Richards.

Members of the business community don’t understand the need for the post, she added.

“Nobody knows what this catalyst position is supposed to do or why,” she said. “I don’t want it to be a passing off of council’s work load.”

But Rick Jones, chairman of the ACRA board, urged the council to hire the catalyst.

“I keep coming back to who’s going to do it?” he said.

“How do we get from doing great studies … to getting something done?” asked local restaurant owner Bill Dinsmoor, chairman of the city’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission.

David Perry, senior vice president of the Aspen Skiing Co., urged the council to adopt the report and its conclusions in their entirety.

Some studies should be shelved, but not this one, he said. “Frankly, I think the city has hit the mother lode,” Perry said.

“In a certain way, this is a fabulous blueprint to revitalize our core,” agreed Councilman Tim Semrau. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s our number one priority.”

But, Semrau argued the council needs to decide what it wants the catalyst to accomplish before it creates the post.

The catalyst’s job description, how it’s funded and to whom the individual reports will all be topics of discussion at a council work session next week.

The job duties recommended by city staffers include coordinating store hours; working with merchants to light up storefronts and make them more inviting; creating table seating in the center aisles of the pedestrian malls; and pursuing a relaxation of the open container law to allow casual dining and drinking there. Amending the city’s sign code and working on creating a communal fire pit were also on the catalyst’s list of initial projects.

Klanderud urged the council to formally agree last night to create the position, even if the job description is subject to further tweaking.

“I’m just afraid that if we continue to put this off, that we’ll get stuck,” she said. “I think it’s important that we move forward.”

Councilman Terry Paulson expressed the sole reservations about the report’s conclusions, which call for the city to embrace change rather than letting its downtown get stuck in the past.

“There are some things here that need more discussion,” Paulson said. “This is a big step.”

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