City launches ‘education campaign’ on Burlingame | AspenTimes.com

City launches ‘education campaign’ on Burlingame

Janet Urquhart

Aspen has created a website and a brochure to provide information about its Burlingame Ranch housing project, and it has taken the unusual step of contracting with an outside spokesperson to handle communications about the project.The website, aspenpitkin.com/burlingame has been created as part of an “education campaign” that also includes a color brochure detailing the project, available at City Hall.Writing the text was Ben Gagnon, a former local journalist who now works independently as a for-hire communications/media relations consultant. Among his recent roles was handling communications for the private Obermeyer Place development while it went through the planning and approval stages.The city has a six-month contract with Gagnon for up to roughly $22,000, he confirmed. It expires when final designs for the worker housing project are approved, which is expected in April or May.The city decided its own staffers didn’t have time to handle both the planning of Burlingame and requests for information about the project, so Gagnon was hired, according to Ed Sadler, assistant city manager.”We get phone calls all the time – ‘OK, explain this to me'” Sadler said. The informational material in the brochure and on the website is meant to be just that – informational, Sadler added.”We tried to keep it very apolitical,” he said. “We’re not saying it [Burlingame] is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and we’re not saying it’s the worst thing.”The material is a “just-the-facts” approach, Gagnon said.”I’m not out there trying to pitch the concept of providing affordable housing as a matter of public policy,” he said in a news release he issued Tuesday. “Instead, I conducted a great deal of research to gather all the relevant facts so I can talk about the history and purpose of this particular project.”The brochure and the website contain information about how Burlingame will be financed and its potential impact on the school district – issues that have generated some misinformation and generated questions, Gagnon said.The total city subsidy for Burlingame, for example, is estimated at $14.7 million. It will come from a fund primarily supported by a real estate transfer tax dedicated to worker housing. The tax generated $6.3 million for the housing development fund in 2004 alone, according to the brochure. The funding for the housing project won’t compete with other city needs, Gagnon noted.”I’m not sure people get that – or the fact that it’s such a healthy fund,” he said.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com


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