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An arts and culture bust

One of the best things about this time of year is that you meet so many people you know on our quiet streets. One of the worst is that you meet so many people you know on our quiet streets. I ran into Lee Anne Marlets, a veritable local specter, the other day. Take that as you may.I find her phony, yet interesting. Her take on local happenings is almost always offensive. Knowing full well that she will never sue me, I am taking the liberty of putting down our conversation in an interview format:RM: Nice to see you, Lee Anne, what’s shakin’ in town these days?LAM: Really, there is only one thing on my mind these days, and it is that time shares spell d-o-o-m-s-d-a-y for Aspen arts and culture.RM: (I must note that I chuckled, not imperceptibly.) You’ll have to excuse me, but I don’t see the connection.LAM: That’s because you are a dimwit. There are currently 11 time share projects selling nothing but image in the valley right now, and people are buying them like hot cakes. Do you know why? I didn’t think so. It is because the developers are spending millions of marketing dollars to make sure that they do. It’s a synergistic effort to rake up all the fools who narrowly escaped the bottom in the tech stock boom and convince them to “invest” what is left of their once-large fortunes into real estate, because it’s safer. Ha!RM: Ah, I still don’t see the connection …LAM: That doesn’t surprise me. (She pinches my cheek condescendingly.) I’ll give you another hint. Nearly every one of the advertisements for these timeshares tells you how smart you are to “invest” in one now. With catchy phrases and solipsism they go well out of their ways to proclaim how wise and smart people are who plunk down a half a million dollars for the privilege of being obligated to paying three grand a month in dues so that they can enjoy their preassigned slot for four weeks a year. You know what it means when somebody tries just a little too hard to sell you on something.RM: Ah …LAM: It means it’s not true, for goodness’ sake! Would you ever buy a car from a dealer who advertised that they are honest? Would you have your teeth cleaned by a dentist who proclaims their work is painless? Do you stay at hotels that tout modern amenities? Would you eat at a restaurant with a sign out front that says “under new management”? Of course not! These are all indicators of problems. The oldest trick in the advertising business is to cover up flaws in the product by highlighting them.RM: This is …LAM: Time-share marketers are going out of their ways to point out how dumb you would have to be to purchase one of these units, and people are lining up to buy them anyway! Now do you see?!RM: No, I …LAM: This is pop culture taking over our town! Price it high, pump it up, throw in a few gimmicks, rub it all down with some snake oil and you have the “must-have” item du jour! We have a full-on real estate feeding frenzy around here, and they’re not gathered round a candle lit table either. We’ve reverted to selling tricolored Rocket Pops out of the back of a gaudily painted truck with a bell on the hood.RM: Now wait a minute. I don’t think it’s fair to say …LAM: Let’s just say that the flakes buying into this are not part of the deepest drift in the G-Zones. These are not the kinds that are going to support art, music, physics, or the very Aspen Idea for long. This is the Branson and Orlando crowd all wrapped into one. How long do you think it’s going to be before we decide to host made-for-television sporting events and feature rap singers at Jazz Fest?RM: Well, actually …LAM: It gets worse, too! The prices of these timeshares are out of this world! It makes real real estate look cheap by comparison … for a while. You get people coming in here thinking they got a steal because they bought a whole condominium for $3 million compared to a month in a timeshare goes for a million. Then other people come in and buy an actual house for $6 million and feel like they’re getting away with something. RM: That sounds good for the economy, actually …LAM: Of course you’d think that! Idiot! Have you been listening to me?RM: Not so mu-LAM: Remember all of those millions of dollars of marketing money the time share developers are spending right now to make this place hotter than fresh asphalt on the local G-IV landing strip? You didn’t really think our newfound popularity is due to boosting by the Chamber of Commerce, did you? What happens when all the time shares are sold? The developers’ pitch money disappears more quickly than promises of putting your family portrait on the mantle before you arrive for your two-week stay in the middle of October.RM: Wh-LAM: You can’t replace those kinds of advertising dollars. First the time shares go to pot. They’re not that easy to sell without all that money pushing prices from behind. The bottom drops out faster than a pair of designer jeans off the sale rack. The scavengers come to town to pick up what’s left of them, and then you have the worse case scenario – cheapskates with a little more smarts and a little less taste who actually do show up year-round.RM: You are …LAM: I’m not finished, big-nose. Suddenly a few million for a condo starts to look like real money. $10 million for a house becomes a joke. The only justification that people can use to put a ton of money into a second home that they use just twice a year evaporates – Aspen is no longer a good investment. The party is over before we know it, and the last guy left is playing “Auld Lang Syne” on a kazoo in the corner. Like I told you, it’s doomsday for arts and culture in Aspen!Roger Marolt gets a little carried away now and then, especially right before he goes on vacation. Drop him a note at roger@maroltllp.com and he’ll get back to you in a couple weeks.


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