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City mulls creating new job to oversee economic growth

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

After a year’s worth of discussions about how to revive Aspen’s downtown core, the city has a plan: Make it someone’s job.

But not someone in city government.

Economic development became the focus of myriad committees and task forces last year, when empty storefronts and a sense that downtown Aspen was losing its vitality sparked calls for action within government and the business community.



An Economic Sustainability Committee spent much of the year identifying economic hurdles and what to do about them, the Downtown Improvement Group was formed to brainstorm on some quick and long-term fixes, and the Aspen Retail Merchants Association sprang to life, promising a little less talk and a lot more action.

Then there’s the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission and the Aspen Lodging Commission.




“We’ve got all these entities that overlap their function. We’re losing all of that energy,” said Julie Ann Woods, the city’s director of community development and a member of the Economic Sustainability Committee. “We really need to find somebody to serve as the coordinator to bring all those functions together.”

Who that person should be, what entity would employ him or her and the individual’s job description are all details to be nailed down in the coming months. The City Council has directed staffers to act quickly to hire someone on an interim basis ? probably a year ? to help define what could become the resort’s “economic development” arm.

“There’s really nobody here in City Hall who has the skills and abilities to pull off that function,” Woods said. “They [the council] did not want this to be somebody hired from the government.”

“The main question is, what’s government’s role in this,” said City Manager Steve Barwick when the council discussed the need for a formal approach to economic development during a retreat late last year. “At some point, somebody’s going to have to be a driver of this.

“To me, at least in the retail sector, it’s time for some collective action.”

The city will likely look to the Aspen Chamber Resort Association for help defining the position, at least initially, according to Woods.

“What we envision is a position that is a cross between a downtown manager and someone who will work with business, realtors and the city to achieve the best mix of businesses and promotions to ensure the ongoing success of the resort,” she wrote in a memo to the council.

At least initially, the city would probably fund the position’s as-yet-undefined salary, she said. Governments often get such efforts going; later, the private sector plays a role, too, she said.

The first step for the city, working with the ACRA, will be writing a job description for the post.

“The idea is we try to get someone who can start pulling the entities together … help figure out what our next steps are,” Woods said. “I think this is going to have to be a person with very good people skills and who has a very good business sense.”

“Do something” has been the cry directed at city government in the face of recent hard times, noted Councilman Tim Semrau at last month’s retreat. When things are on the upswing, the city will catch flak for butting in with more government, he predicted.

“We need to think of this in 10-year terms ? good years and bad,” he said. “And, I don’t support making a new department in government.”

Getting the position established, however, is an appropriate undertaking for city government, according to Mayor Helen Klanderud.

“That doesn’t mean this person should be a city employee,” she said. “At this point, I see the city as facilitating something happening in this area.”

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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