Letter: City should subsidize space

You know what they say when one assumes. Then why make the assumption that the “smaller box” alternative to the Base2 proposal would be useless? I’ve heard this (thinly veiled threat) from the proponents, and frankly I find it quite cynical and unimaginative. A building, with about two-thirds less floor area than Mark Hunt’s supersized (15,873-square-foot) proposal, would not only be a better match with our community values, per the land-use code and Aspen Area Community Plan, but it could be innovative and extremely valuable for both residents and visitors.

Those in tune with Aspen realize that we’re quickly losing any level of affordability for commercial spaces. Unless one is selling very high volume or extremely expensive products, they have no real hope of being viable. The impetus to utilize the old art-museum space for entrepreneurs illustrates the desire from locals, including motivated millennials, to have affordable opportunities to establish and operate a local business. As a 20-year local business owner, I really appreciate the challenge of establishing and operating a business in town. If I had to pay local lease rates, there’s no way I could own a local business. Out of necessity, I operate from a home office.

If the “no” vote prevails, which I believe it will (primarily due to the excessive variances), and if Hunt really cares about Aspen, I have a creative idea for the smaller building that would be built. How about innovating a subsidized affordable commercial opportunity, utilizing a private-public partnership, to enable local entrepreneurs to operate a business in Aspen? Hunt would charge below-market rent for the spaces, and the city of Aspen could subsidize the difference to ensure Hunt’s viability. This would be thinking outside the box (pun intended) and an incredible community asset, which could set a precedent for more affordable commercial versus a precedent for more development featuring more variances, which exact a toll from the community.

Remember imagination? Let’s use ours, as adults, and imagine a shop that sells basic essentials for locals, a store that sells unique, locally made crafts or even a second bookstore for town. Just imagine what type of locally owned businesses would be on that prime Main Street corner serving both locals and visitors. Imagine entrepreneurism and vibrancy alive and well in Aspen!

This imaginative solution, which would serve our town and resort, also would provide desperately needed parking and affordable housing per the land-use code.

This is a basic concept that would need to be refined further. I think we’re motivated and creative enough to do so. I see the potential benefits of this small-box alternative far outweighing a promise of an “affordable lodge,” which carries with it no guarantees of being affordable in the future. I used to help manage the Sardy House, with some of the smallest yet most expensive rooms in Aspen. History has demonstrated that size does not ensure affordability. Let’s think outside the box — especially the supersized box.

Erik Skarvan