City not alone in retail concerns | AspenTimes.com

City not alone in retail concerns

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen isn’t the only resort pondering the impact of a proliferation of real estate offices in its prime retail spaces.

In Park City, Utah, the Community Development Department has undertaken a study to quantify the changing makeup of its Main Street commercial core and estimate how much sales-tax revenue is being lost when offices take over retail space.

In the past five years, Park City has seen a number of ground-level spaces on its Main Street taken over by office uses, primarily real estate sales, according to Rick Lewis, the city’s community development director.

“Those types of uses don’t really generate any sales taxes for the city,” he said. “We’re just a little bit concerned that this is a long-term trend.”

Lewis’ staff is surveying how many Main Street spots are not occupied by retailers, restaurants or nightclubs, but are offices and real-estate showrooms, where developers are selling a particular project, such as condos at The Canyons, a nearby ski area.

Unlike Aspen’s commercial core, which consists of a traditional grid pattern of streets, Park City’s historic Main Street contains the shops, restaurants and watering holes that draw tourists and locals alike.

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As in Aspen, escalating rent prices are making it difficult for small-boutique owners to lease the spots, and real estate developers are moving in, according to Lewis. Concern among City Council members there spurred the study, he said.

After the survey is complete, Park City may pursue an ordinance that would boot future office uses into second-floor spaces, Lewis said.

Aspen may be watching closely.

Retailers here recently formed the Aspen Retail Merchants Association. The group’s first order of business was asking the Aspen City Council to consider an emergency ordinance aimed at halting the conversion of downtown retail spaces to office use. The outcry has been primarily fueled by the recent influx of time-share and fractional-ownership sales taking place in what were once stores.

News that the vacant Aspen Drug space on the Hyman Avenue Mall may become a sales office for Intrawest developments sparked the demand for immediate action.

Lewis said his staff is researching other municipalities that have enacted similar zoning legislation; most seem to be larger cities.

“My gut feeling is this is something that’s going on in the resort communities, as well,” he said.

Although Park City is concerned about the loss of sales tax revenues, it’s the impact of real estate sales and other offices on the tourist experience that most troubles elected officials there, according to Lewis, who said he has noted the same trend in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

“It does degrade the shopping experience to some degree,” he said. “If you’re not in the market for a $3 million home, you don’t walk in.”

Merchants in Park City are apparently pleased with their government’s attention to the issue.

“We only have one Main Street. It needs to stay vibrant,” shop owner Monty Coates of the Main Street Business Alliance told The Park Record, the city’s newspaper. “If you start to take away commercial uses, it hurts the tenant mix on the street.”

Lewis said his staff plans to touch base with the community development departments in places like Aspen and Vail to find out what Park City’s Colorado counterparts are doing about the issue.

Aspen’s City Council declined this week to pursue an emergency ordinance, though the city is preparing possible revisions to its zoning regulations as part of a broader effort to foster new development and redevelopment within town.

Council members have indicated they will consider addressing the use of retail spaces by nonretail businesses as part of those zoning changes.

Park City may be a step ahead of Aspen this time. Usually, that’s not the case, according to Lewis.

“We plan to talk to places like Aspen and Vail because whatever problem they’re having, we’re either starting to have it or will have it in five years,” he said.

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

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