Stone: Snidely Snowmass comes to Aspen
October 9, 2013
First shot out of the box, the uproar over the summary execution ("Take 'em out and shoot 'em!") of the Village Market up in Snowmass just seems like the latest version of an age-old story: Greedy landlord boots a longtime business just to rake in a few more bucks.
Snidely Whiplash twirls his mustache and sneers, "I must raise the rent!" And Tess Trueheart winds up tied to the tracks.
But this particular iteration of the melodrama does have a few unusual points.
For one thing, I don't think I have ever known people to get quite so deeply emotional about a supermarket (or, in this case, semi-supermarket).
Still, not being a Snowmass guy, I have to take everyone's word for it that Village Market in Snowmass is truly the reincarnation of the beloved old neighborhood grocery with the beloved old neighborhood grocer behind the counter, fluffing the produce, remembering everybody's favorite foods, fixing their cars and delivering babies in his spare time.
But, reading the letters to the editor, it's clear there's something more than just fresh-produce anguish going on here.
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Sheer loathing for Related, the behemoth that owns just about all of Snowmass and is our Snidely Whiplash du jour, oozes from the letters. Everyone's favorite word seems to be "predatory."
My fellow columnist, the usually meek and mild Roger Marolt, skipped "predatory" and settled on "ignorance" and "arrogance" in his discussion of Related.
I think that, aside from sincere anger at the loss of a well-liked business, the residents of Snowmass are glad to get a chance to vent their general outrage at the amazing and persistent mess that has been created where there was once a perfectly nice resort.
It's hard to remember that this all began years ago with a plan to turn Snowmass into a great, grand and glorious resort. The whole place was supposed to be uplifted, facelifted, buffed and polished. Mistakes of the past would be fixed; hopes for the future would be realized.
Instead, in the usual confluence of raging greed and inadequate planning, the result was a couple of new buildings, a bunch of half-completed skeletons and a lot of mud.
I don't think Related deserves all the blame for the mess. It took a lot of cooks to spoil this bucket of broth, but Related has been in charge for a good while now, and it certainly made this most recent stupid mistake all on its own, so it does deserve its current full measure of grief.
"You screwed up our town! You screwed up our grocery! Ka-blooie!"
But there is a larger lesson here. And "larger" is exactly the right word because Related, having bought up just about everything in town, has been wallowing around with the kind of arrogance and ignorance (thank you, Mr. Marolt) that makes one think of the mammoth whose bones turned up in the mud in a reservoir above Snowmass three years ago. Too big, too slow. Too bad. Cue the mudslide.
Since I am already quoting Marolt, let me tuck one more passage in here. Wondering how Related could have been so stupid, he mused, "I suppose it's possible that nobody from Related ever set foot in Village Market."
And that brings me to a point that has not received a great deal of attention: Dwayne Romero.
In case you haven't been paying any attention, Romero is the president of Related Colorado.
He is the Snidely in our Whiplash, the chief cook and bottle smasher in charge of this particular spoiled broth, the man whose Vibram bootprint is on the butt of Village Market. Yes, he is a man who loves to claim deep community concerns and connections — and yet his actions led Marolt to wonder if anyone from his company had "ever set foot in Village Market."
And here's my larger concern: He is also Aspen's newest City Council member. Selected, not elected.
By all accounts, Romero is a perfectly pleasant gentleman. And parts of his resume are impressive enough: West Point graduate, Harvard MBA (just like George W. Whatshisname — but never mind that), executive director of the state of Colorado's Office of Economic Development.
To be sure, that same resume does have some blots on it.
One glaring example (if blots can glare): Romero takes credit for helping develop the Aspen Highlands Base Village — and that particular project counts as a massive disaster, a megalith of embarrassment, devoid of soul and character.
In fact, the presence of that project on his resume should have been an automatic disqualification for the Snowmass gig — the same way a conviction for child molestation would have been for an applicant for kindergarten teacher.
Like a sprinter with a club foot, Aspen Highlands is a magnificent mountain tragically crippled by a disastrous base area.
But wait — as the pitchman says — there's more!
Actually, this is nothing new, but we should all remember: Romero was on the Aspen City Council once before and then resigned before his term was completed in order to take that job with the state Office of Economic Development — where he lasted only about half a year before resigning to return to Aspen and (as they say) "spend more time with his family."
Steadfast of purpose and committed to community are not terms that come to mind.
And now — deep breath — this is the man who is running the company that has cheerfully and heedlessly destroyed a successful and well-liked local business in order to grab a few more bucks.
That leaves us with two questions.
One: Why is anybody surprised?
And, two: Having seen Romero's concern for community in action up at Snowmass, what does he have in store for Aspen?
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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