Retail consultants get an earful
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A team of consultants hired to study Aspen’s retail environment has received an earful on the topic, even before the first of three scheduled meetings to hear from merchants convened this morning.
The team has already spent a considerable amount of time talking with everyone from local merchants to city officials, downtown landlords, the Aspen Skiing Co. and Aspen Chamber Resort Association representatives, according to Ford Frick of BBC Consulting in Denver.
They’ve encountered “no absence of candor,” he said. Nor, Frick added, has the team found a shortage of viewpoints.
“There’s little universal agreement on anything,” said Frick, who met with the City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday to outline the focus of the study before a series of meetings with retailers got under way today.
The city was aiming for a maximum of 50 participants at today’s 7 a.m. meeting at the Mountain Chalet and had that many reservations by yesterday, though organizers had asked attendees to RSVP by last week.
The session will be taped by GrassRoots TV for later rebroadcast, according to Julie Ann Woods, the city’s community development director.
It’s clear from early interviews that the business community is polarized into two groups – those who believe the market will right itself and those bucking for some kind of city intervention, Frick said.
“There is a large body of people who don’t trust the city to intervene,” he said. “Then there are a whole lot of people saying, `We ought to be out there fixing it.'”
After the consultants complete their work, they plan to present the council with a list of options that the community may or may not choose to implement, Frick said.
Councilwoman Rachel Richards urged the consultants to weight their recommendations.
“I don’t want 100 recommendations and we pick five easy ones that don’t get us any return,” she said.
Frick said he has encountered frustration in the retail community, as well as business owners who continue to operate successfully despite a challenging economy.
“There are certainly a number of merchants who are doing well. They’re saying, `It’s not as easy as it once was, but I’m prospering,'” he said. “But if some of them are doing just fine and the overall market is down, then some are really struggling.”
Local commercial landlords, often a target of criticism when it comes to downtown lease rates, have been cooperative and helpful in talks with the consultants, according to Frick.
“The landlords benefit from a successful retail core. They know that,” he said. “Life is tougher, and the landlords are having to dig a little deeper, and they’re doing that.
“They’ve been open and willing to talk,” Frick added. “They may not be open to going to a public meeting and being vilified, but they’ve certainly been willing to talk to us.”
Today’s meeting with merchants focused on market/resort trends, competitive influences and demographic changes.
On Oct. 22, team member Henry Beer, whose expertise is product/retail design, will focus on the physical aspects of Aspen’s retail experience. A Nov. 12 meeting, led by Brad Kornfield, real estate attorney and owner/developer of retail projects, will focus on the retail/tenant mix and the landlord’s perspective.
[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org]
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