Effects of the epoch | AspenTimes.com

Effects of the epoch

Chad Abraham

Though it looks like business as usual on the Snowmass mall, restaurant and shop owners say business is down from last summer. (Mark Fox/Aspen Times Weekly)

Steve Carpenter was frustrated while bicycling with his family in Snowmass Village recently. The first of many summers of construction caused a detour that took the Carpenters off the bike trail near the Snowmass Center and onto the narrow shoulder of busy Brush Creek Road.

“We almost got hit by a car,” he said testily, looking at a map that he described as a bit confusing. The detour “puts you right out on the street to come across to link up with the trail on this side. Then we had to cross the street again down the hill,” said Carpenter, visiting from Conway, Ark.Workers at the bike rental shop warned them about construction-caused travails they could face on their bike jaunt. But Carpenter, a repeat visitor to Snowmass Village, had never seen it looking like this.”Grin and bear it,” he said, sans grin.That sums up the attitude of many in town. For 11 hours a day, six days a week, construction of the $400 million Base Village proceeds. Intrawest and the Aspen Skiing Co., partners on the project, expect construction to be complete in 2012. A development expected to revolutionize the sleepy village and improve its prominence among ski resorts doesn’t happen in a single summer, after all.

Residents and businesses are dealing with major construction near the rodeo lot, where the town is building a new intersection and where a roundabout was just completed; at Fanny Hill, the site of a new parking garage, children’s ski center, guest services building and the Elk Camp gondola; and on Lower Carriage Way below the mall.Officials in lodging, law enforcement and business differ on the effects of construction. Shop and restaurant owners on the mall say business is down so far this summer compared to 2005. Construction may be only one factor. The absence this year of the Suzuki music group, a large contingent that met in the village in past summers and spent money on the mall, didn’t help, merchants said.Neither has the weather. Rainy weather of late has kept attendance down at the free Thursday concerts, said David Chambers, owner of Good Fellows Pizzeria.”It’s a slower summer for sure,” he said, filling up condiments as he prepared to open for lunch. “I don’t know what to attribute it to, though. I don’t know how I can tell.”

Mark Anderton, a manager at The Stew Pot, said construction is a factor behind his restaurant’s lack of business.”Summer is usually steady, but it’s been completely dead,” he said. “The only time it’s been busy is with the Chili and Brew Fest. People who knew [the construction] was going to happen probably aren’t going to come because it is a mess down there.”It’s going to be 10 years of a mess,” Anderton continued. “The town should really be doing something to bring people here while this is going on, to make sure that the businesses that are still here can succeed.”Debbie Hamby, manager of Local Color of Snowmass, said the volume of shoppers on the mall seemed lower in June.

“I think the dirt and smog, nobody likes to see that,” she said. “Personally, I think in the long run Base Village is going to be good for us. [But] I think we’re going to have to hurt.”Lodge officials, however, say little has changed. John Quigley, vice president of sales and marketing at Silvertree Properties, said business in June was up and July is tracking ahead of last year. His company owns the Silvertree Hotel, Wildwood Lodge and Village Property Management.”We’re getting some last-minute bookings, which is great. August is even with last year, and September is up,” Quigley said.The construction sites are far enough away “that it’s not an issue,” he said. “For those of us who live in Snowmass, the commute goes from three minutes to four minutes.”

Quigley credited Intrawest officials with keeping the town and residents abreast of construction news and developments.Vanessa Walker, manager of the Pokolodi Lodge next to the mall, said occupancy is about the same as last summer. At the Snowmass Lodging Co., sales director Karlyn Stout said guests likely experience “shell shock” when they first get here. But she hasn’t heard many complaints.”I think as you drive into the village, it’s scary for anyone,” Stout said.Likewise, Village Market’s store manager J. Potter said the construction impact hasn’t been as acute as he anticipated. Lunchtime is busier because of construction crews.

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But it’s “not as good as we thought it would be,” he said. “It hasn’t had a tremendous effect on us, businesswise.” Sales are up 4 percent over 2005, “which I think is a normal increase.”As for the construction itself, there have been a few minor mishaps. One truck carrying river boulders tipped over a few weeks ago and lost its load outside town, said Sgt. Brian Olson of the Snowmass Village Police Department. The driver was ticketed for what Olson said was an isolated incident.”I think the truckers seem to be doing as good as they can. As many of them as there are, we’ve had just a few minor things with all that traffic,” he said. “We’re pleasantly surprised that it’s going as well as it is.”On patrol, police occasionally here gripes about trucks either speeding or going too slow. “And those seem to balance each other out,” Olson said.

Whether the ongoing grind of constructing Snowmass Village’s renaissance will eventually be balanced by Base Village’s promised bounty will not be known for years. As the town adjusts to its slow transformation, Hamby had a reminder about change.”Change scares everybody,” she said. “But we have to do something to make Snowmass a place to stay in.”Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is chad@aspentimes.com

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