Does Aspen need a new sales tax for marketing efforts? | AspenTimes.com

Does Aspen need a new sales tax for marketing efforts?

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Fresh off the Snowmass Village Town Council’s decision to seek approval of a new sales tax to fund resort-marketing efforts, a similar move has been proposed in Aspen.

The call for a 1 percent sales tax in Aspen to boost its marketing coffers came up Wednesday during a meeting of the Economic Sustainability Group.

The tax would generate $2.5 million to $3 million and “create a real marketing fund,” said Molly Campbell, general manager of The Gant, who floated the proposal to the group.

A joint effort of the city, Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the Aspen Institute Community Forum, the group is charged with coming up with recommendations to improve Aspen’s business climate. Its members include representatives of government, the business community and local nonprofits.

Wednesday’s discussion was a continuation of a brainstorming session that began two weeks ago. The group has come up with a list of ideas that it plans to sift through before it comes up with actual recommendations next month.

“My proposal is a sales tax – 1 percent devoted to marketing,” said Campbell, who chairs the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors.

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The half-cent lodging tax collected in the city, which provides about $400,000 annually for a fledgling marketing program, isn’t enough, Campbell argued.

Existing sales taxes in Aspen total 9.6 percent, with passage of the lodging tax and a new city open-space tax in November 2000.

“We’re the only resort in the state of Colorado that isn’t over 10 percent,” Campbell said.

Her suggestion drew little comment from most members of the group, though Commercial Core and Lodging Commission member Andrew Kole backed the idea.

The $400,000 the city currently has to work with “is a joke,” he said.

“Of all the things on this list, [marketing] is the only thing you can do quickly and see some results in a couple of years,” Kole said.

Currently, the ACRA has the contract to spend the city’s marketing dollars. Last winter’s first effort, featuring a campaign produced by a Denver firm that has since resigned from the account, caught some flak from the community, noted consultant Stan Clauson, who co-chairs the group.

“If we had another million dollars to market, who believes that we know how to do that effectively?” he said. “Would we be better at it if we had more money to throw at it?

“Do we have that vision – who that target audience is and what we want to tell them?”

Campbell said she believes marketing dollars can be used effectively to bring people to Aspen. She co-chaired the ACRA’s Marketing Advisory Group, which came up with the plan to spend the initial influx of marketing dollars produced by the lodging tax last year.

Other suggestions from group members on Wednesday included an underground parking garage to remove some of the hassle of coming to shop or dine in downtown Aspen, and the potential for pedestrian improvements like those made to a couple of blocks of Mill Street and a block of Hyman Avenue in 2000.

Also added to the list was the possible need for zoning changes to encourage a desired, though undefined, mix of businesses downtown or to restrict businesses like time-share sales offices in certain retail spaces.

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

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