Marolt: Three myths and a prediction
Myth No. 1: The X Games are leading the resurgent youth movement for Aspen. It sounds logical, right? Kids love the extreme-sport championships and flock here to participate in the madness that the made-for-television event generates. They have a great time and identify with the branding, and so we are led to believe they will come back as they grow up, get careers and start families.
It sounds great, except I don’t see any evidence that it’s happening. We are 15 years into the X Games experiment. High school and college kids who attended the first games here are now in their 30s. Time flies like The Flying Tomato through a halfpipe, but where are all those young people now? My observations lead me to believe that Aspen’s visitors have only become older and more affluent as a group rather than younger and more hip since ESPN started turning our town upside down every January.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying hosting the games is not economically beneficial. It definitely is. It just isn’t doing it in the way we were led to believe it would. What is actually happening is that rather than bringing younger visitors to our town on a regular basis, the X Games image makes our older visitors feel younger. Compared with pushing shuffleboard discs across the deck of a cruise ship with other retired folks, Aspen’s X Games image rejuvenates the spirit of the aging skiing population.
Myth No. 2: Aspen is primarily a ski town. As much as I would like to believe that our hometown is first and foremost a ski town, the evidence is stacked against that notion. Skiing is simply not the reason most visitors come here anymore.
If you look strictly at sales tax receipts, you might not believe this. The amounts collected in the winter months, December through March, crush the amounts taken in through the summer, June until the end of August. This only proves that the winter months are still the time we butter our bread, though.
To get the straight poop on when more people are visiting Aspen, we have to look at the sewage flows. Data show that the average daily wastewater flows in the Aspen Sanitation District are roughly the same in the four winter months as they are during the four summer months. However, during the peak months of December and January for the winter compared with July and August for the summer, the wastewater flows are nearly 12 percent higher during the summer. That’s a crapload more!
Need further proof that people don’t come here mostly to ski anymore? Let’s go back to those sales tax receipts. If fewer people are visiting in the winter months than the summer, yet they are spending significantly more money then, I think it’s fair to assume that they are spending more time in the shops during the winter than they are in the summer. Our winter visitors shop more than they ski! In the summer, on the other hand, it appears that Aspen’s visitors are more likely to be outside biking, hiking, golfing and playing in the water fountain on the mall. The conclusion: Most of our visitors do not come to Aspen to ski.
Myth No. 3: High-end national retailers don’t care if they make any money in Aspen. They are happy to pay high Aspen commercial rents in order to put the name of our town on their letterhead.
There’s some truth in this, but it is not the main reason the pricey stores come here. Remember, these businesses are successful. They didn’t get that way by taking losses to gain bragging rights. Their presence here is actually all about the jets.
You have to think about tax savings to get to the bottom of this one. You have to think like an executive of one of these chains who owns or rents a home here and travels back and forth in a private jet. If you use a jet for business travel, you get to deduct the operating costs plus take a deduction for the depreciation of the plane’s cost. If you throw an extravagant New Year’s Eve party, you can deduct the cost if you demonstrate it was for a business purpose. The tax benefits from the business deductions on multimillion-dollar jets, homes and Aspen parties can easily offset the cost of renting a downtown commercial space.
Now, for the prediction: In the very near future, an Aspen real estate firm will strike a deal with a luxury automobile manufacturer for sponsoring its brokers. It makes perfect sense. It would be fantastic exposure for the car company to have brokers driving super-rich clients around in their cars. Look for our rush hours to be clogged with Maseratis and four-door Porsches soon.
Roger Marolt busts his butt busting myths right here every Friday. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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