None of the CCLC’s business?
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” While Aspen city officials are busy grappling with the future of downtown, the people charged with protecting it struggle to be heard and remain relevant.
“We take ourselves seriously,” said Bill Dinsmoor, chairman of the of Aspen’s Commercial Core and Lodging Commission. “And we’d like to be taken more seriously in this process.”
Started in the mid-1970s, the CCLC was formed primarily to help create Aspen’s pedestrian malls. The CCLC is comprised of Aspen business people and professionals who tackle everything from downtown parking issues to addressing Aspen’s alleys, newspaper boxes and recycling, as well managing the Aspen Saturday Market ” Aspen’s third-most profitable annual event, according to Dinsmoor.
The CCLC once had an annual budget of $40,000, but today, the commission has no funding. And with no regulatory power on city policy, the commission relies on its volunteers who meet twice a month to brainstorm and then advise City Council on business strategies and downtown core issues, Dinsmoor said.
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“There are times we’re heard,” Dinsmoor said, adding he is frustrated by formal work sessions when the commission isn’t given time for discussion and CCLC members are asked to boil down their ideas, or they are lumped in with public comment.
“We can’t tell our story in a paragraph,” he said.
Dinsmoor, owner of Main Street Bakery and Cafe, is concerned about issues like city government tinkering with the downtown mix of restaurants and shops, especially by a City Council with no experience in the retail industry.
“We think the business community should have an organized, articulate voice in this at all times,” Dinsmoor said. “And not just when it suits council.”
Former Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said defining the CCLC’s mission is critical at this point as government officials consider regulating the mix of retail stores downtown.
“I think [the CCLC] can be very effective, but I don’t think it has been particularly,” Klanderud said, adding she couldn’t say whether the fault lies with the council or with CCLC members.
Klanderud said during her tenure, the City Council brought some issues to the CCLC and had been frustrated the group didn’t follow through.
“There needs to be a collaboration and cooperation with City Council,” Klanderud stressed. “I just don’t think it was structured so that they had an effective voice before council.”
And with groups like the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, the Aspen Business Improvement League and a planned Business Improvement District, their work might make the CCLC redundant.
“It’s been hard at times to get the business community organized in an effective way,” Klanderud said. “I think council has to take a good hard look at the CCLC,” and define its role and establish the best way for cooperation with the City Council, she said.
“We are the voice of the core,” countered Shae Singer, co-chair of the CCLC.
“I think that in the past, perhaps there was some difficulty in communication between some members of the CCLC and the old council,” Singer said. “They listen, they don’t always follow our suggestions.”
But Singer believes the make-up of the City Council ” three new members were sworn in last month ” is different.
“I think that the new City Council is excited to have an ear to the commercial core community,” Singer said.
Singer believes government should not dictate how many T-shirt shops and real estate offices there are in town, but said government has a vital role in zoning or slating first-floor areas for specific types of business.
“A lot of things have been implemented because of the CCLC,” Singer said, including ways to keep visitors in the downtown core, establishing alley cleanups, relaxing sign ordinances and starting programs such as “Aspen Goes Bazaar” shopping weekends. Currently the commission is looking at possibilities such as designated alley parking for smaller vehicles and motorbikes.
“We help in those small ways,” Singer said. “We want anyone who has an issue to come to our meetings.”
Terry Butler, a longtime CCLC member, said the commission is an important go-between for the business community and the City Council, calling theirs a straightforward and “happy” mission to make sure things run smoothly in downtown.
“Various councils listen more than others,” Butler said. “Some depend on us totally, some do not.”
And Butler said the commission works on details and does research that is presented regularly at City Council meetings ” work Butler calls “a lot of nuts and bolts” in an effort to revitalize downtown.
Butler remembers a time when her hotel on Galena Street was surrounded by local amenities such as a grocery store, drug store and an affordable restaurant. But after what she described as poor governance from previous City Councils, Aspen’s core emptied out with vital stores. The CCLC played an important part in revitalizing the downtown in the wake of an economic downturn following Sept. 11, 2001.
While Butler believes in leaving the free market alone, she stressed Aspen’s high rents are unique, and advocates ways for government to get involved and encourage locally-serving businesses that can compete with national chains.
“I don’t like the fact that we have to go to Glenwood for our shoes,” Butler said, adding that “water is not seeking its level” in the downtown core mix.
“This is a sensitive issue and people have strong, strong feelings about it,” Butler said, adding her hope is that Aspen’s downtown remains vibrant, unlike other ski towns that die by 8 p.m. most nights.
“We don’t want ’em home, we want ’em downtown,” Butler said of Aspen visitors.
At a recent CCLC meeting, members discussed larger commercial core issues, such as the downtown commercial mix, with Chris Bendon, director of the city’s Community Development Department.
“I think it’s a legitimate concern. It shapes your experience of visiting the town,” Bendon said of Aspen’s commercial mix.
“I just wonder what place government has being involved,” Dinsmoor said. “I don’t think Carmel has worked at all,” he said, referring to the glitzy coastal California tourist town that limited the number of jewelry stores, for example.
Dinsmoor said he was frustrated at the many definitions of “locally serving” or “affordable commercial.”
“If there is a need [for a service] there would be some profit around it,” he said.
But Bendon and some commission members said conditions are unique in Aspen, with high rents and the loss of locally-serving businesses where people can buy necessities.
“It’s an extraordinarily complex issue,” Bendon said
Charles Agar’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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