Lum: Buying the friendly skies

Su Lum

The little recession we experienced for the past few years might have been a blessing in disguise. Things calmed down, and except for a few government projects, such as the Rio Grande Park excavation enterprise with hundreds of imported boulders and a half-million-dollar outhouse, we were at a relative standstill, Aspen-style.

But it seemed that the moment we managed to extricate ourselves from the quicksand of the financial doldrums, we reversed gears and everyone went insane. The developers went nuts, rendering the downtown core unrecognizable — and they’ve just gotten started, with half a dozen more plans on Mark Hunt’s drawing board breathing fire-eating-dragon breath onto our little core.

And it’s no small irony that the city of Aspen itself is unfurling a horrific plan for massive government buildings — isn’t that God’s way of telling us we make too much money, just like the cocaine T-shirts used to say? Are we going to get to vote on that?

On the heels of the city, the county is laying out unspeakable plans of its own for office spaces, meeting rooms and an airport that may or may not enhance the commercial flying experience into and out of Aspen but is fairly certain to be a boon for private planes.

The recent disclosure that we are letting private planes jump the line past commercial travelers is about as bad as it gets on the disparity meter, and it will be interesting to see if the new airport manager actually does anything about it in defiance of Aspen’s (wink-wink) tradition and levels the playing field.

We wish.

I’d put my money on Paris Hilton not having to circle the airport.

It’s so easy to brush it off by saying these are the crunch times so of course air traffic will be backed up, but the truth is emerging — that we (as we always suspected) are bumping commercial flights to make way for private jets on a regular basis as a matter of course. Those detours to Grand Junction and those return trips to Denver with their planes full of distressed passengers all depend on who has the golden ticket for the VIP seats in the sky.

Now we read in the papers that not only do the skyways belong to the highest roller, but the air between the mountain and the newly hatched penthouses also is for sale, thus preserving the buyers’ views — what’s left of them — of the ski hill.

How can that possibly be true? How pseudo-Aspen can you get when you can put a price on air?

Who owns the air between, say, the Mother Lode building and Aspen Mountain? How many owners of the space between would have to agree not to build anything above a specified height in order to guarantee the pristine views of the Mother Lode penthouse? What would that cost per square foot? How many buyers and sellers would be involved in this ephemeral transaction?

Maybe the penthouse owner could be lulled into a sense of expensive security, but the savvy buyer has to beware of the pitfalls of such a nebulous negotiation. Even the splitting of multiple commissions could get so tricky that the deal would never get off the ground.

What if a new council (hell, the present council might approve it) said “Yea” to seven-story buildings at the base of the mountain that would block the views of everyone behind them? How much is your airspace worth now?

We’re a caveat-emptor kind of town — be careful what you buy and what you wish for.

Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks we should build a grand private-plane airport in Silt. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times. Reach her at


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