Stone: From Fantasyland to Nightmare Alley
October 21, 2015
I spent the past couple of weeks in a place where the Internet was mostly unavailable.
Two weeks when I couldn't keep track of what was happening in Aspen.
Talk about paradise!
In my blessed ignorance, I dreamed that I would return to find peace and harmony reigning over this little mountain town. Or, if not peace and harmony, at least a reasoned debate over the merits of the Base2 hotel.
Yeah, I know: Forget paradise — I was clearly vacationing in Fantasyland.
When I got back, what I found instead of reasoned debate was Aspen behaving like … like … well, hell, behaving like Snowmass.
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I read one pro-Base2 screed claiming that the local residents behind the petition to force a vote on the project were "a small number of irresponsible bullies."
Oh yeah, they're "bullying" the billionaire real estate speculators, Skico and almost the entire municipal government. Shame on you, you big, bad citizen bullies. Go pick on someone your own size!
On the other hand, opponents of the project were rattling on about how the project is rife with multimillion-dollar giveaways, secret deals and flat-out corruption.
Hey kids, approval of this deal required nothing more than the usual Four Horsemen of the Aspen Apocalypse: Stupidity, Naivety, Willful Wrongheadedness and Greed.
Steering clear of those horsemen, let's look at the project itself.
In a nutshell — no offense to nuts — it's the wrong idea, the wrong size, the wrong design in the wrong place. (Aside from that, it's just lovely.)
Wrong idea: The plan is based on the claim that Aspen needs more hotel rooms. But everyone agrees that when all the rooms we have are filled, town is unbearably overcrowded. How can we need more hotel rooms when we already have enough rooms to make everyone miserable?
Another wrong idea: Aspen needs "affordable" hotel rooms. As if 37 hotel rooms could make a major difference. As if anything else in this town is "affordable."
Wrong size: There's been a lot of debate over this one, proving only that numbers can indeed lie. So let's skip those lying numbers and look at the simple fact that this will be one great big building slammed down in a so-called "transition zone," where the buildings are supposed to be stepping down in size from the massive Hotel Jerome to the smaller buildings that line Main Street heading out of town.
And, talking about the Jerome, we get the argument that since the Jerome is big, there's no reason not to build another big hotel just down the block.
That's like saying that we might as well allow Exxon to drill for oil on Wagner Park, because an oil rig really isn't that much different from a ski lift. Hey, they both have big metal towers. What's your problem?
The Jerome is a historic Aspen icon. Base2 would be a historic Aspen mistake.
And forget the size — the building just doesn't fit in. I'm not saying it's ugly in itself; it's just completely out of character for that very important location. Yes, I know, Main Street's a bit of a hodgepodge already with a mix of Victorians and fake Swiss chalets, but this Base2 design is something completely different — an aardvark at a dog show. There are places in Aspen where it might look just fine. This just isn't one of them.
Finally, a project should be known by the company it keeps. And in this case, that company is Mr. Mark Hunt, the official face of a bunch of faceless, big-money guys who (Mr. Hunt says) care deeply about Aspen — but refuse to reveal who the hell they are.
Timeout: My copy editors hate the formality of "Mr. Hunt." So, to keep them happy, I'll get familiar and switch to "Marky Mark," in honor of the lead singer of the deservedly forgotten band Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. (That's the same Marky Mark who transitioned from rock star to Calvin Klein underwear model, spread-eagled on billboards in Times Square.)
So … our Marky Mark is pushing his package (no underwear-model pun intended) with a mix of money ($50,000 for a pro-hotel campaign!), threats and promises.
The threats are transparent: If the people of Aspen reject his too-big hotel, he will show his deep love for the community by erecting a commercial building every bit as big and ugly in its place. Count on it! And, furthermore, he will rent space to a cut-rate drugstore that will crush Carl's Pharmacy. Plus, another damn bank. And whatever else he can think of that everyone will hate. Yes he will! Because he loves this town.
Then he offers the Good Marky Mark.
Good Marky Mark promises that he will spend great bunches of money to provide underground parking for his hotel. He has no plans, no engineering studies — but he promises! And the City Council promises it will hold him to it.
Just the way they promise those hotel rooms will be affordable.
So we should put our faith in a developer — who, on the basis of his record to date, seems to make promises just so he can keep in practice breaking them — and in the City Council that approved the project without parking or employee housing and then, in the face of majority public opposition, reaffirmed its determination to get the damn thing built.
Why am I not reassured?
This bunch reminds me of a desperate drunk trying to score at 2 a.m. and counting on the haze of the hangover to provide cover in the morning. ("I never said 'Jet to the Bahamas.' I said 'Get my pajamas!'")
But what really hacks me off about Marky Mark was when he said, at a public debate, "Do we as a community want to be part of the solution?"
Mark Hunt is an out-of-town developer who came here with out-of-town money to buy as much Aspen as he could — and then change it in the name of profit.
He is not "part of the solution."
He is the problem.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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