No barbecue block party this year in Aspen |

No barbecue block party this year in Aspen

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Looking forward to another Big Aspen Barbecue Block Party this summer? Just like the one nearly two years ago that featured pit masters from around the country, live blues music and mouth-watering side dishes?

Forget about it.

John Speers, general manager of The Little Nell hotel and coordinator of the block party, which originally was intended to be an annual occasion, said the New York company he hired to put on the August 2010 event has opted out this year.

Union Square Events has a more pressing engagement in late August: the Republican National Convention, set for Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Fla. The company also had landed a job for the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 4-6 in Charlotte, N.C.

“They are handling both the Democratic and Republican national conventions,” Speers said. “For me, that’s the time when I need the business, and that’s when the community needs the business.”

He said Union Square has the expertise to put on a successful barbecue festival and that there’s no chance of coming up with another partner to help stage the event this year.

“I don’t think people realize how challenging it is to put on an event like that,” Speers said. “They have all the resources, the contacts and things like that. The other aspect is that it is a branded event, based in New York, and I can do it with them, but I cannot do it for them.”

Union Square stages a Big Apple Barbecue Block Party annually in New York City. This year it will be June 9-10 in Madison Square Park.

“The company is multifaceted,” he said. “They’re doing concessions for a lot of major stadiums on the East Coast, they’re rolling out a hamburger joint called Shake Shack, which they’re taking both national and international, so they have a lot of things going on.”

Speers had to cancel the block party in 2011 because of a controversy over the proposed location, along Durant Avenue and in a section of Gondola Plaza, near The Little Nell. A few nearby business owners and managers complained to the Aspen City Council that the smoke and commotion from the festival hurt their sales.

He then tried to move it to Monarch Street, using part of Wagner Park near the Limelight Lodge, but faced opposition from Wheeler Opera House executive director Gram Slaton, who had scheduled the city-sponsored annual film festival, MountainFilm, on the same weekend. Like the business owners near The Little Nell, Slaton complained that noise and smoke from the barbecue would hurt his event at the Wheeler.

Aspen Skiing Co. owns both The Little Nell and Limelight Lodge.

A scheduled appearance by Speers earlier this month at a City Council work session to discuss a potential public subsidy for the block party was canceled. Speers said the 2010 event cost $150,000 and lost about $30,000. The entertainment expense alone was about $50,000, he said. The city, through its Special Events Committee, kicked in $15,000 for the event in its first year.

The lack of a city subsidy might have forced organizers to cancel the event this year, Speers said, but now the issue is moot. He said it was city officials who came to him in late 2011 to try to bring back the event, despite some public perceptions that he and Skico were pressing the city for the subsidy.

Speers added that he’s not sure whether he’ll try to resurrect the block party for 2013.

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