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Talks heat up over rodeo

Sarah S. Chung

With the clock ticking, negotiations to save the Snowmass Village Rodeo are heating up.

Since the rodeo grounds were put up for sale for $5.5 million, the property’s owners, Bill and Rod Burwell, and members of the Town Council have expressed a desire to save the long-standing summer event.

Toward that end, both the Burwells and the council have put forth proposals that have garnered a lukewarm reception from each other.

“It makes so much sense, it’s bound to fail,” quipped Bill Burwell on his proposal to act as a partner with the town and Jazz Aspen.

In his plan, the town would save the rodeo and see some employee housing built, Jazz Aspen would get a permanent venue for its summer festivals in Snowmass and the Burwells would get to make some improvements to the property.

Specifically, he has proposed a covered grandstand, a hoedown barn that would shared by the rodeo and Jazz Aspen, 40 seasonal dormitory beds, increased parking and a conservation easement that would be owned by the town.

“It makes all the sense in the world, everybody comes out ahead,” Burwell said.

To make the deal work, Burwell has proposed that the town contribute $2 million, Jazz Aspen chip in another $2 million, and the cost of building the employee housing and the grandstand would be borne by the Burwells.

“I sure don’t want to lose [the rodeo,] but Bill’s plan is Bill’s plan toned down slightly,” said Councilman Kevin Costello, referring to a plan for the parcel recently withdrawn by the Burwell brothers. Ten townhomes included in that initial plan are gone.

“There’s been a good amount of response from citizens saying we want to save the rodeo, but no one’s come up to me and said giving Bill two million for this [plan] is a good idea,” said Mayor T. Michael Manchester.

Though the mayor said he remain’s open to Burwell’s proposal, he questioned the return the town would receive for its investment.

In light of a longstanding desire to build a community pool and a transit center on the parcel, Manchester noted that a conservation easement that limits development of the rodeo grounds might not be the best way for the town to spend $2 million.

Instead, Manchester hopes to piece together a joint public/private, nonprofit “consortium” to buy the rodeo grounds outright from the Burwells. So far, discussions with Jazz Aspen and private businesses are in the preliminary stages, he said. But Manchester is optimistic that, with public support, a partnership could be assembled that would save the property for the rodeo, but would also allow a pool, a permanent home for Jazz Aspen, and a transit center to be built there.

Burwell, however, said he won’t treat such a consortium differently than any other potential buyer.

“If he’s got it, great. But just like all real-estate deals, money talks,” Burwell said. “There’s a clear and easy deal on the table. But if he wants the land, at this point it’s the first person with the cash. … I have a lot of people looking at it.

“If he wants to buy an option with half a million cash, I’d probably consider it,” Burwell said. “He’s got to show me there’s more than talk going on. Show me the money. That’s the reality.”


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