Help on the way for downtown Aspen merchants?
The city of Aspen is mulling the creation of a new position with the intent of peeling away layers of bureaucracy for downtown business operators who often get snared by rules, regulations and government process.
The concept of a downtown coordinator also is being considered in advance of the city’s plans to remove and replace the bricks from the downtown pedestrian malls, which city officials say are rife with infrastructural woes that need to be addressed sooner than later.
That work isn’t expected to begin until 2018, but city officials want to make sure mall merchants are aware and prepared for the work that could possibly disrupt their businesses. A downtown coordinator would be the key figure in working with businesses before and during the renovation of the malls, which the city has said would be restored to its historic look while the infrastructure is modernized.
The idea surfaced Tuesday at a City Council work session focused on the 2017 budget.
“I’m not far along enough to propose this to you, but I’d like to hear your input and thoughts about this,” City Manager Steve Barwick told the council. “We are going through a major planning effort right now.”
It’s unclear under which city department the new position would work. Community Development handles code enforcement, building applications and other aspects of downtown businesses. The Parks Department does upkeep on the outdoor malls through trash collection and landscape work. The City Manager’s Office supervises all of the city departments.
Whichever department the person works for, the employee would act as a liaison between the downtown businesses and the city government, said Jeff Woods, who runs Parks and Recreation.
“We don’t have one person looking at downtown holistically,” Woods said in an interview Thursday. “And I think if there’s a chance for us and the business community to have a single point of contact on an issue, it would help. Right now, they don’t know where to go: If you want to have a sidewalk sale, who do you contact?”
Many downtown merchants don’t know how to navigate the city government’s nuanced sets of rules and regulations, and it can come back to haunt them in certain cases — whether it’s putting up a sign that doesn’t meet city code or building a new facade without the proper permits, among other missteps.
“We think it would be nice to have a point of contact in the business community to be somewhat of an advocate. … It’s a way to have a strong link between the city government and downtown businesses,” Woods said.
The position isn’t on the proposed budget for 2017, but it could be approved through a supplemental budget request. Woods said it’s too early to say what salary the position would command. The person would need a strong skill set in communications and property management, and an understanding of civic government. Local knowledge also would be a plus, he said, adding the person would not only work with the city and downtown businesses but also the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the Commercial Core and Lodging Commission, along with other organizations.
“You have to be really outgoing and be able to work with the community,” Woods said. “You need someone who can deliver a message (to businesses) and not be authoritative. You tell the story of why the city does what it does, and you have a working relationship (with the businesses).”
While the position was billed as “mall manager” at the work session, Barwick said the person would work with all businesses in the downtown core.
“I think you make a solid argument for the position,” Councilman Art Daily told Barwick at the work session. “It’s a complex area. … It could be very beneficial to the community of mall merchants to understand the whole picture.”
The new job, with the council’s approval, could be created as soon as January, Woods said.
“It’s definitely not an entry-level position,” he said.
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