Winter events set, but merchants worry about this summer
Downtown Aspen will be busy next winter. Winterskl, Gay Ski Week and the X Games will run back to back from the middle of January through early February.But downtown merchants are concerned that the surge in business from those events might not come soon enough. They have dark visions of empty sidewalks and empty storefronts in Aspen this summer – and they’re hoping someone can do something about it.This was the message that emerged at the Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors meeting on Tuesday.The board confirmed that Winterskl 2003 will run from Thursday, Jan. 16, to Sunday, Jan. 19. It will overlap one day with Gay Ski Week, which starts on Jan. 19 and runs to Sunday, Jan. 26. The 2003 ESPN Winter X Games will follow close after, opening Thursday, Jan. 30, and ending Sunday, Feb. 2.That news was tempered, at the same meeting, by a report from Stan Clauson, chairman of the economic sustainability committee.The task of the committee is to make recommendations to improve the town’s economic climate – as was pointed out by board member John Sarpa – and Clauson conceded that none of the committee’s work was likely to make a difference for this summer.Clauson said the committee had met recently with one of Aspen’s biggest commercial landlords, Tony Mazza, to talk about the number of vacant stores downtown.The committee asked Mazza if landlords in town were purposely keeping retail storefronts vacant. According to Clauson, Mazza replied that no, “a day’s rent lost was a day’s rent lost.”Mazza was also asked about the growing trend of non-retail businesses, such as real estate development sales offices, taking over retail space.In one of the latest examples, the company behind the proposed Hyatt timeshare project across from Rubey Park has leased the 6,000-square-foot space on Mill Street where Eddie Bauer used to sell clothes.”It’s very hard to bring people strolling past a bunch of real estate offices,” Clauson said.When asked if he would accept a city ordinance that prohibits ground floor space from being leased to non-retail stores, Mazza replied that such a new rule would create even more vacant spaces, according to Clauson.Another issue the economic sustainability committee is looking at is adding more vibrancy to downtown, which in turn may attract more people.To that end, Clauson’s committee may recommend the formation of a downtown business corporation that could raise money from retailers to pay for special events and activities in the downtown core.And that just may be one in a series of recommendations by the committee, which will report to the ACRA board, the Aspen City Council and the Aspen Institute’s community forum.That won’t come soon enough for retailer Barry Gordon, who urged the board to take quicker action to bring vitality to downtown Aspen.”I think we need to address it,” said Gordon. “What happens between now and our next meeting? I feel a little frustrated.”ACRA Chair Molly Campbell said that the issues that Gordon is raising might best be addressed by the creation of a retailer’s association.She pointed out that ACRA produces three events, Winterskl, Food & Wine and the Fourth of July, and that “ACRA cannot be all things to all people.”Clauson said whatever structure may ultimately come about, the sustainability committee was moving toward “having a body in place” to deal with livening up the downtown area.In fact, there was some encouraging news for the coming summer presented at the meeting.Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, reported that the reservation center’s summer bookings were up 4 percent over last year, not counting the addition of reservations for Snowmass Village, which SAS did not handle last summer.Tomcich said the month of May started out flat against last May but is ending some 32 percent up, which is a reflection of the continuing trend of last-minute bookings.
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