A committed partner in affordable housing
The lively public debate about affordable housing, including the Aspen Music Festival and School’s (AMFS) historic and ongoing role, is in need of some further facts. Recent letters to the editor state that they are presenting facts, but allegations do not become facts just because someone says they are. Thus we call on the whole community’s memory to verify the following.
Many citizens, officials and staff helped make the Marolt seasonal housing a reality. But none was more important to the project than Fritz Benedict, formerly chairman of our board and one of the great figures in supporting music in Aspen. The whole project was Fritz’s idea, and the use of the Marolt land would not have been possible without Fritz and Fabi’s generous gift of the open space they owned to the city. AMFS’s participation in a long-term lease guaranteeing the viability of the project was essential.
The seasonal housing at Burlingame also depended significantly on participation of the AMFS. Then-president Robert Harth proposed the project and led the campaign for it. We agreed to purchase $1 million in the bonds issued. We guaranteed rental income at a time when it was by no means certain that the project would otherwise be viable, given the nature of off-season rentals in those years. We continue to be represented on the project’s governing board.
During the long and complex process of developing and winning approval for our Castle Creek campus master plan, we never requested exemption from any housing policies. On the contrary, from the outset we agreed that Pitkin County’s Land Use Code’s provisions for housing mitigation be followed, and this was the ultimate and unanimous action of the Board of County Commissioners.
All kinds of numbers are bandied about with respect to our housing needs. Each summer, we do bring students, faculty, seasonal employees and guest artists to the valley. If the premise is that we should be responsible for owning or developing housing for all of these, we think property managers, hoteliers and citizens who rent rooms or enjoy inviting students to stay with them would be very upset. Over our long and proud history it has been a great benefit to the whole community to have our musicians live in Aspen.
This year, the primary cause of housing difficulty for us was that owners of affordable dormitory-style housing refused us access to more than 60 beds that are deed-restricted for our use. Legal remedies are in process, and we are negotiating the use of some of these beds, after all. To use figures in the hundreds as a representation of our hypothetical housing obligations is unfounded. Is the new standard to be that all employers must house all their employees in Aspen? Will this apply equally to all non-profits, businesses and the government itself?
It is alleged that we have rejected exclusive offers from the city to work on housing, but that is patently false. We are in ongoing discussions that have included the possibility of housing on our Meadows campus (now off the table), participation in development at 488 Castle Creek and participation in development at the Aspen Business Center, as well as other possibilities. As members of City Council verified while visiting last week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, no special or exclusive deals are being offered to us. Rather, we are part of a more general and inclusive process.
Beyond the political back-and-forth, there is a fundamental fact that has been overlooked: Our success as a non-profit, growing from an inspired but casual gathering in 1949 to become one of the great festivals in the world, has equally been this community’s success. With our illustrious “sibling,” the Aspen Institute, and our friends at the Aspen Skiing Company, we have played a central role in developing the Aspen Idea of “Body, Mind and Spirit,” creating a cultural economy that is the envy of every resort in the world and making Aspen what it is today.
Editorials suggest we have not been forthcoming about plans to address housing, but all of the public projects we have been discussing are abundantly on the record. Common sense makes clear that private discussions about property and development need to be conducted privately. We fully have pledged to be, and we expect to be, partners in solutions to Aspen’s affordable housing challenge.
The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Aspen Music Festival and School
Al Dietsch, chair
Robert LeBuhn, chair-elect
Fonda Paterson, vice chair
Betty Schermer, secretary
Arnold Porath, treasurer
Alan Fletcher, president, CEO