Rogers: City of Aspen joining the ranks of evil landlords? |

Rogers: City of Aspen joining the ranks of evil landlords?

Aspen Times editor Don Rogers

One of the biggest dilemmas of today’s Aspen lay like a turd on the sidewalk outside the Wheeler Opera House.

And the Aspen City Council stepped right in it. No one has yet noticed the stink, busy as they’ve been hollering over how hard it is anymore to keep humble local businesses in the downtown core and what that has done to the city’s very soul.

Et tu, Council? Can May have an Ides?

The same crisis exists for merchants as residents, of course. The value of real estate has only rocketed, and the ripples look more like tsunamis in the ruins of half-done construction and the dislocation of small businesses that can no longer afford their rent increases.

Landlords no doubt face their issues, too, especially if they bought their commercial properties during the latest boom. The tragedy, frankly, is the longer-term landlords whose problem is more about maximizing opportunity than existential. Tragedy for the town itself, I mean.

Market forces are what they are, though not the only consideration for the wise. The tipping point, then, becomes moral worth. Where do the imperatives of supply and demand balance against longer-term calculations about community appeal, if not the community for its own sake? This is where the golden goose philosophy applies.

Is Aspen going to be all about bidness or make room for higher values? Will the next wave of real leaders here turn more cynical or look more to Aspen’s aspirational legacies?

Who are these real leaders, anyway? The answer is more complicated than we like to think.

In the moment, it’s those with money. Wealth means power in our civilization, although the great weakness among the rich is the fear of losing it. Greed largely is miscast. It’s more mental illness than evil.

In the slightly longer term, real leaders also are the people we vote into office. This is a nation of rules, lots of rules, more in some places than others. And America, for all the hand-wringing, remains just about the least corrupted on the planet. City councils and county commissions have real power, too. Who gets elected matters a lot to a municipality’s future.

But the true cornerstone of real power, you guessed it, lies with the citizens and here, the second-home owners and visitors as well. The voters and the consumers, at root. Our collective habits determine what happens with Aspen. Time wise, we’re talking decades, generations of slow, inexorable sculpting of the town we experience today. Against that, what happens in the moment, say, often seems to make little difference.

Like stepping on turds and no one noticing until later, wondering where that smell in the house came from.

What does this have to do with the Wheeler, a triumph of municipal leadership? Only Mia Valley, it might appear.

Valley grew up in Aspen. She’s had her art gallery for 24 years, and in 497 square feet at the Wheeler for nearly 17 of those years. She’s paid her rent to the owner on time every time, and been a widely acknowledged model tenant. Her lease comes up in November. If she doesn’t get the next 10-year lease, odds are she won’t be able to afford the rent and stay in business.

Her landlord is toying with other ideas, however. Maybe something like fast food with a current paucity of such places. Maybe a different mix of retail there. Maybe a rent increase, presumably. That’s how landlords talk when they aim to raise rates. This, after all, is how a city is run like a business.

It is a dilemma. The city wants to help longtime businesses, and the city wants to help lower the cost of dining out. In this case, the city is both property owner and municipal entity — two of the three legs of the real leader triangle.

One decision kicks out the longtime business, and the other makes grabbing a bite to eat at a bargain maybe a little harder to find.

That’s not really so much of a dilemma, though, is it? Moral wisdom dictates a clear enough course away from the purely commercial. The next lease should be a consent item passed, ahem, unanimously without need of further discussion.

There isn’t a real debate here, only a turd easily stepped around.

Aspen Times Editor Don Rogers can be reached at