COVID town hall generates wintry ideas for Aspen
Wednesday’s virtual town hall for the community at large hosted by the city of Aspen and the chamber of commerce attracted just over 50 people who offered their opinions and shared ideas on how to proceed this winter in what has been described as the “Great Interruption” that the COVID-19 crisis has created.
“It’s really our job at the chamber and at the city to help the rebuilding of confidence and of the structure,” said Debbie Braun, president and CEO of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. “We need to start thinking not about a return to normal but the next normal.”
The feedback from the participants in the town hall, as well as one held last week for the business community, along with the results from an online survey that the city is conducting on its web page aspencommunityvoice.com, will be gathered by city staff and be used for recommendations to be made to Aspen City Council on Oct. 12.
“As we move forward I really hope we can build on what some of the things were this summer that were successful, things like our mandatory mask areas that really helps simplify helping people do the right thing in the right places and looking forward to seeing how else we can do that to support you and making this the community you’re proud to be part of,” City Manager Sara Ott said.
There have been 325 responses to the city’s survey, which asked everything from what people are most concerned about this winter and what they support, along with specifics such as businesses operating at reduced capacity and operating in streets and parking spaces, as well as a lack of housing, jobs, workers and tourists and restrictions on event sizes.
More than half responded they were concerned the city’s mask zone would not be extended, and a majority wants businesses to operate in the public rights of way.
Almost half of the respondents are worried there will be too many people in town to be able to accommodate them safely.
There’s also a rising response to the concern of mental and physical health.
Aspen’s economy didn’t do as poorly as first thought, even though unemployment in Pitkin County hit a high of 24% in April but dropped to 7.8% in August.
Lodging, retail and restaurants suffered this past summer, but real estate hit a boom with an urban exodus of people from cities buying properties here and making themselves permanent residents.
School enrollment is up, and the amount of toilet flushes is pacing at the same rate as last year, which determines how many people are in town.
Aspen outpaced other mountain resorts in occupancy and the average daily rate of a lodge night is higher than the competition, reported Becky Zimmerman, president of Design Workshop, a firm hired by the city and ACRA to help with the town halls.
“We are coming from a solid foundation,” she said about the summer season.
During the town hall, breakout groups chatted about what ideas they had and what ways people want the city and ACRA to help the community during a winter of COVID-19.
Limits on capacity on local buses and resulting transportation pressures are a big concern among the groups, as is the availability of tests to determine if someone has contracted the disease.
Ideas were floated about how to host events and handle outdoor recreation on trails and dedicated open spaces.
Mayor Torre came up with the term “connectivities,” which are activities for connection.
That could be in the form of parades, heated tents across the city, or volunteerism.
“I was very pleasantly surprised that the groups I was in were being creative, were thinking outside the box and reinforcing a real community ethic in the solutions that they were sharing,” Torre said.
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