Survey input: Pro Challenge hurts Aspen retailers
September 14, 2012
ASPEN – Many Aspen merchants say they lost business when the USA Pro Challenge was in town last month, but the business community voiced overwhelming support for the cycling race’s return despite a hit to the bottom line for some retailers.
The city surveyed businesses after the pro bike race, as it did last year, distributing a questionnaire through the Aspen Chamber Resort Association. A tabulation of the results will be presented to the City Council at its work session Tuesday, starting at 4:30 p.m.
According to the survey, 82 percent of 115 respondents want to see the event return to Aspen. The Pro Challenge debuted last year, and Aspen hosted a stage finish. This year, Aspen was the only stop on the tour to host both a finish and a stage start.
Though many survey respondents expounded on the detrimental effect of the race on their operations, others expressed support for the greater good the Pro Challenge brings to Aspen.
“The exposure of this race is great for town long-term, so PLEASE keep the race,” wrote one merchant.
“We would love to have the race back every year!” another wrote.
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Overall, 65 percent of the survey respondents said their business is up this year, but 46 percent said their business was down the week of the race compared with the prior week, while 33 percent indicated that their business was down on race day compared with race day last year. Another 22 percent said their business was up on race day; 44 percent said it was the same.
The majority of retailers who responded to the survey said their business was down when the race came to town, while hotels and lodges mostly reported an uptick. The resort was a virtual lodging sellout the night of Aug. 22 – the day racers arrived – but a chunk of Aspen’s accommodations had to be given to racers and others associated with the event.
Most restaurateurs who completed the survey also reported a loss in business; office representatives mainly said their businesses saw no change.
Many respondents took the opportunity to write individual comments on the survey form. The input tended to be more negative than positive, but those who felt negative impacts from the event likely had more reason to provide feedback, according to the summary prepared for the City Council.
Most of the complaints centered on blocked parking and street closures, vendor tents that blocked access to businesses and the location of the race route and vendor village.
“The street closure KILLS my business,” one respondent wrote.
This year, riders finished Stage 3 of the Pro Challenge with a route through town that ended on Main Street next to Paepcke Park. The finish line was moved farther up Main Street from last year’s location adjacent to the Pitkin County Courthouse. Vendors were set up in Paepcke Park and on adjacent streets this year; last year, they were centered in Wagner Park.
Some survey respondents urged a relocation of the finish line, either to get it away from their businesses or to bring the action closer to their establishment.
“Have an event at Gondola Plaza to bring more people to that side of town. Try to get the start (first leg) of the race in Aspen so we can get a few more days of business,” one wrote.
Another wrote, “Don’t shut the town down and have the event outside the city core!”
At least one person called for more Jumbotrons (the big screens televising the racers heading for Aspen) around town, while another said having a big screen and vendors in Wagner Park was a better way to draw people into the core.
“Having it set up at Paepcke Park and the surrounding streets drew people away from the downtown businesses,” the respondent said.
Several respondents urged organizers to better integrate local retailers into the event.
“I felt like old paint that just got wallpapered over and hidden,” one individual said, objecting to a row of vendor tents blocking access to his or her shop.
“It is the single most disruptive event that is held in Aspen,” another said.
Some questioned whether the expense the city puts toward hosting the Pro Challenge is worth it given the loss in sales receipts.
“I don’t see the benefit to the town hosting the event,” one businessperson said.