Will the Big Aspen Barbecue be back?
September 6, 2011
ASPEN – The Big Aspen Barbecue may have its second coming next year, after circumstances conspired to pull the plug on what was to be the popular event’s return last month.
Put on by The Little Nell hotel, the event debuted in 2010 but was scratched from the calendar on the final weekend in August this year over a conflict with the MountainSummit film festival taking place at the Wheeler Opera House.
Members of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors last week lamented the cancellation of the barbecue and urged board member John Speers, general manager at The Little Nell, to revive it next August.
It’s return is a possibility, said Speers, indicating he plans to talk about it with members of the Aspen City Council.
“I would love for the event to be able to come back to Aspen,” he said.
“For the event to come back, I think we would need to see strong support from the city, first and foremost, providing us with the appropriate venue,” Speers said after the ACRA meeting.
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Speers said he would also look for financial support from both the city and the ACRA and want a confirmation from the city that the barbecue is a go by November of this year so he can line up sponsors and market the event, which would take place on the final weekend of August 2012.
The event lost $30,000 in its first running and pulling the plug on it this year may have cooled potential sponsors to stepping up in 2012, according to Speers.
“We feel that we’ve lost a tremendous amount of traction by missing the event this year,” he said. “We’re not in a position to lose money on this event.”
Last year, the barbecue received $15,000 in seed money from the city; this year, the ACRA put up the same sum to help produce the event. That money wasn’t spent.
With live music and pit masters from across the country serving up plates of barbecue, the event drew some 7,000 people last year. It took place on a block of Hunter Street and Gondola Plaza, near The Little Nell. Adjacent shopkeepers, however, complained about the smoke from the barbecue pits and said they lost business as a result of the festival, so this year, it was to move to Monarch Street outside the Limelight Lodge, with music in nearby Wagner Park.
That plan raised objections from Gram Slaton, Wheeler executive director, who said the noise and smoke would be detrimental to the film festival. Speers was offered Rio Grande Park as an alternate site, but he declined. It’s too far off the beaten path and too far from the infrastructure of a nearby hotel and kitchen, he said.
Both The Little Nell and the Limelight Lodge are owned by the Aspen Skiing Co.
Speers said the favored locale remains Monarch Street and Wagner Park, with Hunter Street an acceptable alternate, though he’d want to use a second block of Hunter if the event returns to that location.
ACRA board members shook their heads over the impasse that led to this year’s decision to call off the barbecue. It would have taken place on a weekend that is typically soft for local hotels, falling between the end of the Aspen Music Festival and Labor Day weekend, Speers noted.
“For a four-day [film] festival, we were looking for eight hours…we couldn’t come to terms and that was a shame,” Speers told the ACRA board.
Aspen needs to figure out how to accommodate both events, said Pitkin County Commissioner Michael Owlsey, an ACRA board member.
“It seems to me for the Ferris wheel to be arguing with the merry-go-round … they all have to be there,” he said.