Paul Andersen: Fair Game
The Aspen Times
Aspen Co Colorado
The Aspen Times recently reported a wild prediction that local Baby Boomers could one day take up residence in abandoned monster homes. Palatial estates of the once rich and feckless would be converted into assisted-care facilities for Boomers whose faculties have disintegrated even beyond the strange dementias that plague them today – and perhaps account for this prediction.
Imagine a houseful of geriatrics in wheelchairs staring out the windows of Prince Bandar’s Starwood castle awaiting their breakfast of whole-grain pabulum. It’s possible, given the unlikelihood that Bandar’s palace will sell for the $135 million asking price.
This bizarre forecast came from Jim Westkott of the Colorado demographer’s office, who delivered the somber pronouncement that high times are over for a large segment of the working population of the Upper Roaring Fork Valley.
“The dominance in the economy of the super-rich and the large second homes is likely to weaken significantly,” Westkott said at a joint city/county meeting. “The people that were a very big part of your market lost a lot of money. It’s quite possible there will be prolonged difficulties, to say the least.”
According to Westkott, about 40 percent of the upper-valley workforce enjoyed the lucre of the opulent second-home market that fueled much of Aspen’s economy. Construction all but stopped with the Great Recession, which also reduced demand for ancillary services.
Instead of monster homes popping up in mountain meadows, Westkott projected a new clientele of “moderate-sized second-home users and retirees.” The private personal hotels that were once all the rage will be consigned to albatross status that nobody wants to heat, maintain, or invest in. Who wants to pay upkeep on a Wal-Mart-sized abode?
These vacant mansions, built with unconscionable volumes of global resources, still burn natural gas and electricity just so the toilets will flush. But it appears that the Aspen real estate market is over the top with status symbols of glamour, gilt and gluttony.
Meanwhile, downvalley communities, from Glenwood Springs to Parachute, are attracting droves of retirees looking for quiet mountain communities removed from the pandemonium of urban America. A recent report from Aspen Journalism, a local nonprofit news organization, revealed that New Castle grew by an explosive 127 percent in the decade from 2000 to 2010.
Such growth was the result of a double-pronged housing demand from retirees and gas-and-oil workers. Since New Castle is about equidistant from service jobs in Aspen/Snowmass and drilling work in the oil fields along the I-70 corridor, it became a housing hub.
This boomtown growth makes Garfield County among the fastest growing counties in Colorado, which will drive new development but also create attendant problems like overburdened schools, social services, law enforcement, health care, roads, etc.
So while Baby Boomers are shacking up in princely palaces in Aspen to fritter away their golden years waiting for the Grim Reaper’s stretch limo, New Castle will be building its third McDonalds and fourth highway interchange. The economic focus may shift even more dramatically, given another shocking forecast.
It was reported last week that climate change, i.e. global warming, will trim the duration of ski seasons on both ends by the mid-21st century, cutting ski resort revenues by tens of millions of dollars. Prosperity in the Upper Roaring Fork will shift downvalley, where it’s more affordable to live and where there may actually be jobs.
Aspen may not suffer any of this if Republicans hold sway and further consolidate wealth among the richest monster-home-loving Americans, but the allure of faux Tudor mansions, phony colonial plantation homes, and ersatz Tuscan villas appears to have ebbed. Perhaps the super rich have finally come to their senses and realize that size doesn’t matter.
For me, living up the Fryingpan, the tidal shifts of wealth from one end of the valley to the other are of no immediate concern. Living somewhere in the middle, I may go either direction to bask in the glow of luxury after retirement. But since I’ll never afford retirement, what’s the use of dreaming?
Perhaps Westkott’s prediction isn’t so preposterous, and I may spend my dotage in Bandar’s manse hanging out with my decrepit peers. We could do a little skiing if the mountains open for the month of February. We could mountain bike into the ghost town of Aspen to witness the second Quiet Years epoch. Or we could ride the seniors van to the cosmopolis of New Castle for a tour of the 200-story EnCana Energy Tower where, on a clear day, you’ll be able to see all the way to tomorrow.
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