What is ACRA, anyway?
September 4, 2007
Coverage in both Aspen newspapers last week brought to light something revealing about the Aspen Chamber Resort Association: It’s not sure what it wants to be.Members of the ACRA board spoke up at their Aug. 28 meeting, bemoaning the fact that they don’t have more clout in local decision-making. Irritated that the City Council rejected the Lodge at Aspen Mountain development proposal (which ACRA had endorsed) and that Mayor Mick Ireland hasn’t regularly attended their monthly meetings, ACRA board members took turns wishing they had more influence, and suggested ways to get more.Since then, a number of residents have criticized ACRA board members as whiners, suggesting they run for City Council if they wish to control council decisions. One writer implied that ACRA members join mainly for the discounted ski passes, and that the organization has never truly represented its members.Whatever you think about ACRA, and regardless of whether you agree with its critics, ACRA does seem a bit confused about its mission. Is it a marketing and promotional agency that stages events and tries to attract visitors to Aspen? Or is it a lobbying organization that represents the business community in local and regional affairs? Is it both?There’s some built-in tension between these two roles, especially when ACRA accepts roughly $500,000 in bed-tax proceeds every year to market Aspen. The city resolution governing disbursement of those funds specifically bars ACRA from using the money to influence elections, but ACRA appears free to lobby city council members on matters that aren’t going to voters.Whatever the case, ACRA’s mission is not for us to decide. That must be established by ACRA’s members. But it would help ACRA and the community if they explained their goals. If ACRA chooses to lobby more actively for local business interests, we would suggest it proceed carefully and clearly. For example, most Aspenites would expect the local chamber to argue for a new hotel at the base of the community’s flagship ski mountain – no surprise there. However, said letter would be much more persuasive if it stated, for instance, that ACRA “surveyed its XX members and XX percent of them favored the Lodge project.” Such transparency would help bridge ACRA’s credibility gap and give both decision-makers and the general public a better idea of how the business community really feels about the issues.