Blumenthal: Friends in the right places | AspenTimes.com

Blumenthal: Friends in the right places

Mel Blumenthal
Second View

Mel Blumenthal

Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, well before Skico revealed its sugary visions of Base Village, and right at the pinnacle of our town's upper-valley inferiority complex, the powers that be decided the success of our resort-based economy was dependent in part on the long-term viability of the Krabloonik dogsledding and wild-game restaurant operations, which then set in motion a very complex set of negotiations among the town, the Divide Homeowners Association and Dan MacEachen that allows his private business operations to continue on town-owned property until 2026.

We're still living with the results of those negotiations, and without trying to pass judgment on the oft-debated issue of whether MacEachen did or continues to brutalize his working sled dogs and whether he runs a humane and respectable business, I think it's of interest to understand how we got to this point in the first place.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, it became apparent that MacEachen's dogsledding and restaurant operations were not generating sufficient income to ensure their continued viability. In spite of the fact that there were critics going back as far as 1988 alleging animal cruelty against Dan, he had many friends in the right places. And, most importantly, the town was eager to see his business operations continue unabated. Thus a creative land exchange was worked out among Dan, the Divide Homeowners Association and the town of Snowmass Village. As part of the agreement, Dan transferred his ownership of the Krabloonik properties to the town in exchange for ownership of a town-owned public parking lot, the use of which the town agreed to change to a developable single-family residential lot. No money changed hands between MacEachen and the town because the values of the exchanged properties at the time of the exchange were claimed to be equal, and I hope the town can produce appraisals to confirm those valuations.

Since it was the town's mission in this transaction to help MacEachen maintain a viable business operation and thus keep Krabloonik as a resort attraction and tax-revenue generator, the exchange was made in order to get him a viable piece of developable land that he then could sell in order to raise operating capital and perhaps a few extra bucks in his pocket.

The stars were aligned, and wouldn't you know it — Dan already had a buyer in the wings while the exchange transaction was being finalized. I understand that he pocketed in the neighborhood of $2.3 million — obviously enough to keep things going for quite some time.

Since the town was not interested in running a dogsledding or restaurant business, it entered into a long-term leaseback to Dan, running until September 2026, covering the Krabloonik properties it just received from Dan in the exchange — and best of all, he no longer needed to apply to the town, as he was required to do prior to the exchange and leaseback, for an annual temporary-use permit that the town could deny or extend on a yearly basis, and the rent the town negotiated is only $10 per year. Sounds to me like Dan got a pretty good deal. It's often good to have friends in the right places.

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I've reviewed the lease between the town and Dan, and to my eyes it's a sweetheart deal without many of the typical tough provisions and protections that the landlord, in this case the town, would normally include in such leases. That being said, there is a weaker-than-normal, but still serviceable, provision requiring that Dan comply with all applicable laws and that he shall not use the property for any purposes deemed unlawful, disreputable or extra-hazardous.

Although there have been injury lawsuits and many complaints leveled against Dan and his dogsledding operation over the years, he appears to have escaped any serious repercussions so far. Until the 9th Judicial District attorney's recent intervention, our town managers, our mayors, our police chief and most of our Town Council members in recent years, with the exception of Jason Haber, Markey Butler and Chris Jacobson, have turned a blind eye and deaf ear to all the credible sources of complaints against MacEachen.

Their newly conceived excuse for not doing anything in the past is that the town has a conflict of interest as landlord of the Krabloonik facilities. Since when does our town government or Police Department refrain from investigating potential criminal complaints against a private business just because the town owns and leases the property on which the business conducts its activities, and why hasn't the town looked into the potential noncriminal breaches of the lease that quite likely would be the basis for terminating the lease altogether? As I said before, it's often good to have friends in the right places.

Since Town Hall has consistently failed to do its job and move expeditiously to investigate the numerous years of allegations against Dan and, if they're proven to be true, to take appropriate disciplinary and/or corrective action, fortunately the district attorney has stepped in with her resources to do so. We anxiously await the outcome of her investigation.

I have a few friends; unfortunately none of them are in the right places, but you can always contact me at secondview@earthlink.net.