Parking department, Aspen lodges strike truce over parking
The city’s Parking Department and a group of Aspen lodges have hatched an accord over proposed changes to the guest-pass program.
Parking Department Director Mitch Osur originally had proposed charging lodges $10 for passes that entitle lodge visitors to unlimited parking for seven days in the city’s residential areas. That was a $7 increase over the $3 fee that has been in place for years.
Without the guest passes, parking in residential areas is $8 for a single day; the first two hours are free. After meeting with members of the Aspen Lodging Association on Oct. 11, Osur opted to retreat from the price increase. Instead, lodges will continue to pay $3 for the passes, but they only will be valid for four days instead of one week. The average lodge stay in Aspen is three days, Osur said.
“We gave him some strong feedback, which he received in a positive manner,” Jeff Bay told members of the Aspen City Council at a budget work session Tuesday. Bay runs Hotel Aspen and Molly Gibson, and he also is a member of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s board of directors.
Bob Morris, who runs the Aspen Lodge on Main Street, attended last week’s Lodging Association meeting. Morris’ gripe with Osur’s guest-pass price hike was that Aspen’s small, independent lodges would feel the brunt of such an increase, he said Wednesday.
The Aspen Lodge provides the passes free of charge to its guests when its parking lot is full, Morris said. The lodge could charge its patrons for the passes, but “we don’t want to send them away with a bad taste in their mouth. We’re not going to nickle and dime them,” Morris said.
He added, “The reason we are so sensitive to this is it’s driving our costs up. We’re getting nailed on employee wages, our health insurance is simply out of control, and we’re having to deal with a lot of cost increases.”
Osur is still working on details of the revised hotel parking plan in which lodges could only provide the passes to their guests when their garages or parking lots are at capacity. Some lodges have handed out the guest passes while their garages haven’t been close to being full, which defeats the purpose of the program, Osur has said.
A number of Aspen lodges don’t have designated parking areas, instead directing their guests to park in residential areas with the visitor passes.
Some lodge employees also have exploited the program by using the parking passes for themselves, Osur said.
“One of our concerns was there was some abuse by employees that use these passes,” Osur told the council.
To that end, Osur plans to roll out what’s billed as a “three-strike escalating consequence plan.”
The first strike comes in the form of issuing a warning to an employee who takes the guest passes for their personal use. A second infraction results in lodges losing the guest passes for 30 days. On a third violation, Osur said he would suspend the pass for 60 days. A fourth time could result in a pass suspension from six months to one year, Osur said, adding that he is “mostly concerned with permits not being used correctly and employee abuse.”
Bay argued that lodges shouldn’t be penalized for an individual’s actions.
“And that’s why the first offense is a slap on the hand,” Osur responded.
In 2015, the city sold 7,138 parking passes to lodges, Osur previously told The Aspen Times.
The biggest users are the Limelight Hotel, Molly Gibson, Hotel Aspen and Frias Properties, he said. Luxury hotels, such as The Little Nell and St. Regis Aspen, don’t use them, according to Osur.
Another proposal from the Parking Department is to hire an additional officer to help patrol parking at the Aspen Recreation Center and the Aspen Music Festival and School’s West End venue. The new officer also would aid in increased downtown parking enforcement during the last hour of metered parking, from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday during the high seasons and Monday through Friday during the shoulder seasons.
2017 revenues for the parking fund are projected to be $4.5 million, according to Pete Strecker, the city’s assistant finance director. Off-street revenues — from parking fees and tickets — are expected to account for $3.9 million of that total. The city is anticipating $425,000 in revenue from its Rio Grande Parking Garage, another $95,000 in lease revenue and $64,900 in miscellaneous revenue.
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