Extending progressivism to elections
President and CEO, Aspen Skiing Co.
You know it’s election season in Aspen when friends, neighbors and co-workers start taking sides and decrying infill, the importance of our small-town heritage and who’s to blame for the parking scandal. It’s amazing how progressive our little community can be when it comes to serious global issues, in rallying to help a member of the community coming back from an accident or illness or in offering high-quality, genuine hospitality to all of our visitors. Yet, election season hits and suddenly, small-town discourse and civility take a back seat to irrationality and incendiary accusations. So let’s drop the campaign rhetoric and talk straight.
I’m against Referendum 1. Why? Because I’m concerned about our future as a community and viability as a resort economy. As CEO of a business that is dependent on the health of our resort economy, I obviously have a vested interest in this topic as do all of us who earn a living here. It’s clear that the issue of the decline in our hotel and short-term rental accommodations is real and getting worse, and I believe the vitality of our town and the essence of the Aspen Idea is under attack. This community has long embraced this concept of creating a unique place that provides renewal of the mind, the body and the spirit. It’s about building and nurturing a cultural gathering place in the mountains. And the fact that this can happen in a town with “small-town character” is compelling and an important aspect of our heritage. However, our small-town heritage should not be an anchor to our past that prevents us from evolving and looking forward as a community. Going back to the “good old days” is not an option, and it’s not what has made this community great.
We’ve long been progressive in looking to the future, embracing Bauhaus architecture, bold arts programming and in gathering leaders to discuss the great challenges of our time. Why would we become regressive on our land-use policies? Eliminating representative democracy on the most important development projects will have a clear and direct effect, it will ensure that any landowner or developer thinking about building a hotel will drop the idea and apply for a smaller-scale residential project. The upfront costs of going through the application process plus the risk of losing an election will eliminate that option and the string of lodge closures will continue. Two very recent examples come to mind: the Lenado converting from a 19-room hotel to a single-family home and the 26-room Mountain House Lodge closed to be redeveloped as two single-family homes. This trend will further propel us down a path of being more and more reliant on fewer and fewer extremely wealthy guests. It will threaten the viability of any businesses and cultural institutions that rely on the current volume of visitors, and mountain operations will not be immune to the impacts of a declining visitor base. I won’t attempt to predict the specific impacts, but I’m convinced that voting “yes” on Referendum 1 is a step in the wrong direction and will accelerate the erosion of our bed base and the gentrification of Aspen.
A relevant and real-life local case study is the Shadow Mountain neighborhood and lift. If you haven’t walked around Willoughby Park lately, it’s worth a visit. This is the birthplace of our awakening as a community represented today by the original lift equipment preserved in the park and the rundown state of the former Skier’s Chalet and the old fixed-grip double chairlift. While visiting that sight, picture the iconic photo of Walter Paepcke, Governor Knous and Mayor Robison standing below a sign that read “Aspen, World’s Longest Ski Lift.” They stood proudly, announcing to the world that they intended to create a winter sports mecca in Aspen. This image harkens back to what this area once was and symbolizes an important crossroads for our future. The FIS has clearly told us that they love Aspen, they respect our long history and legacy, including hosting the 1950 FIS Championships. Yet, they’ve said we have to catch up to modern expectations to keep up with their brand standards. They cannot continue to host events on such a dilapidated site. Of course, they want a new chairlift, but just as importantly, they want a new base area, with vitality, with places for racers and visitors to stay, for spectators to congregate, a place where people can gather, celebrate and even reminisce about the past while embracing the future. Isn’t that what we all want? Vote “no” on Referendum 1 and “yes” for the candidates who embrace the past and the future.
Mike Kaplan is the president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Co.
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