Should city of Aspen help pay to fix Wagner Park after Food & Wine? $90k pricetag debated | AspenTimes.com

Should city of Aspen help pay to fix Wagner Park after Food & Wine? $90k pricetag debated

Somebody's got to pay for the $93,000 re-sodding of Wagner Park in the wake of the Food & Wine Classic, and at least one elected official believes it should not be Aspen taxpayers.

At Tuesday's monthly board of directors meeting of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, City Councilman Bert Myrin invited members to meet with City Council at a future work session concerning how the bill is footed.

Food & Wine event organizers are paying $40,000 of the cost, and the city is paying the rest.

Myrin, who also addressed the issue at Monday's City Council meeting, is arguing that the $53,000 balance should be paid out of the city's 2 percent lodging tax, three-fourths of which are earmarked for the marketing and promoting of Aspen tourism. The remaining one-fourth goes to the city's Transportation Department. The tax drew $3.7 million in 2017, according to city finance records.

The city, which received 18 passes to the most recent Food & Wine festival, has hired ACRA each year since the tax's inception to use the money for tourist promotion efforts. The 2 percent tax is paid each time a guest stays at an Aspen lodge.

The language for the tax approval notes that marketing purposes could include "attracting conferences, conventions and meetings of a commercial, cultural, educational or social nature to the city." That section of the approval could open the door for the tax to help fund the re-sodding, but ACRA could absorb the cost itself if the tax could not, Myrin said.

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"If it's not technically possible to do it through the lodging tax, it would resonate with the community if that balance or funding came from ACRA and not the city," Myrin told the board.

Board members, as well as ACRA President Debbie Braun, were open to starting a conversation about Myrin's idea but didn't opine on it.

"This is a true partnership for summer business between ACRA, the city and Food & Wine," Braun said. "If the partners would like to discuss equitability, I think it's a good conversation."

"We'd be happy to participate in a work session but I'm not ready to comment today," said ACRA chair Donnie Lee, also general manager of The Gant condominiums. "I have some initial reaction to that, but I think it's a bigger conversation for another day."

There is also the question of whether Wagner Park, which will reopen to the public by the end of Friday after being closed for the re-sodding, actually needs a full makeover after Food & Wine, whose thousands of patrons lived it up June 15 to 17 on the occasionally wet grass.

"As part of the work session, I'd like to hear what are the alternative options to replace the sod," said attorney Maria Morrow, who sits on the board.

Morrow offered that simply watering the grass could be an option.

"This is one of the things that is wrong with the city of Aspen, that all that sod is replaced," she said, adding it also is another example of what some residents regard as excessive spending by the city.

Mayor Steve Skadron said it actually costs less to re-sod the park than it would for the city to rehabilitate it, and later he remarked that the "height of excessiveness" could be witnessed at Food & Wine, where he said glasses were washed with Pellegrino and Aquafina water.

Food & Wine often returns Wagner Park to the public in better condition than when it received it, said Devin Padgett, Food & Wine's producer of special projects.

"We don't get it in perfect condition, but we try to deliver it back to community in the best condition we can," he said, noting that the event is not universally accepted by the community but its economic benefits — from sales tax revenue to jobs created — to the town is indisputable. He also said other groups use Wagner Park and inflict about the same amount of wear and tear but don't have to cover their events' tracks.

"You can find that group hates us, that doesn't want us here, but the truth of the matter is this is an amazing partnership between the city of Aspen, ACRA and my company, Food & Wine, we've all sort of created," he said. "I'd love to see the pros and cons of this weighed against each other."

rcarroll@aspentimes.com