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Selling Aspen vs. selling out

Janet Urquhart
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspen needs to loosen up its rules on commercial signs and allow occasional street closures to accommodate new special events in town, according to the committee that issues event permits.

But should the resort draw the line at, for example, letting a watch company put its name on the Wagner Park clock tower in exchange for sponsorship dollars?

All of these issues will be on the table when the City Council conducts a work session today on special events on public property.

The city has dedicated part of its marketing budget to attracting new special events, but is now trying to decide where to put those events and how to accommodate the kind of advertising that event sponsors expect.

The producers of an arts fair and an antiques fair are both interested in bringing their events to Wagner Park this year, but the city’s Special Events Committee has recommended those activities be accommodated on the streets in order to protect the playing field at the park.

The committee has suggested the council give it the authority to close streets up to four times a year for events and recommended the city loosen up its sign restrictions where events are concerned.

Banners on light poles on streets in the commercial core and signs for sponsors in the public rights of way should be permitted in conjunction with events, the committee concluded during a debate earlier this month.

“I think we need to be more flexible, but I think there have to be guidelines,” said City Clerk Kathryn Koch, who chairs the committee.

But just how accommodating the resort should be in allowing signs, or even closing the streets, were matters of dispute on the committee, which includes representatives of the fire and police departments, parks, parking and transportation officials.

“In a way, I think we should look at the malls. We already have closed streets and we want to revitalize the malls,” said Sarah Oates, city zoning officer.

“I’m not in favor of closing the malls or the streets from a fire department standpoint,” countered Ed Van Walraven, fire marshal.

Closing a block of Cooper and a block of Galena for a day could mean $812 in lost parking revenue, noted Tim Ware, head of the Parking Department. Closing off a block of Hyman and Mill ? the corner in front of the Wheeler Opera House ? would mean an estimated $518 in lost revenue, he said. Paid parking helps fund the city’s free bus system.

The sign issue was even tougher for the committee, which pondered the boundary between “crass commercialism,” as one member put it, and how to attract sponsors for events.

“Sponsorship dollars are very hard to get and sponsors are very demanding,” said Hana Pevny, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, which oversees Aspen’s marketing efforts through a contract with the city. “What they want to know is, ‘What exposure am I going to get?’ The big thing sponsors want is exposure and part of the exposure they’re looking for is how many signs and banners they can get their name on so people can see it.”

There’s an inherent conflict between the city’s push for new events and sponsors, and the character it wants to maintain with its regulations, Pevny said.

A watch company, for example, is interested in making a two-year commitment as an event sponsor in exchange for its name on the Wagner Park clock tower.

Or, can the chamber sell rights to a car company to be the “official car of Aspen” for a particular event in exchange for sponsorship dollars?

“We need to know what our limits are. I need to know how far I can go and what I can sell them,” Pevny said. “These are the kinds of issues we’re coming up against.”

“That is the big question for the council. How far do you want to go?” Oates said. “The clock tower is the perfect example ? some people are going to perceive it as Aspen is for sale.”

“I just don’t know where that line is,” Koch said. “This committee is torn between being a successful community and not selling out.”

The council’s discussion of the issues will begin at 4 p.m. at City Hall.

[Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com]


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