City of Aspen to businesses: How can we help? Let’s have coffee
The city of Aspen is offering an olive branch of sorts to the downtown business community after a few tempestuous weeks of communication breakdowns.
The city is hosting three listening sessions April 4 that are dubbed “Coffee and Conversation with City Staff.” They are designed to let businesses ask questions and offer comments on parking and transit in the core. But it can be more than that, said Mitch Osur, the city’s director of parking.
“We want to ask, ‘What can the city do to help you? How do you want us to communicate with you?’’’ he said.
Osur and other city staff have taken a lot of heat from angry and frustrated business owners who feel their local government is working against them, rather than with them.
Earlier this month, a group of local restaurateurs and business owners on Hopkins Avenue mobilized after they learned the city was planning to remove parking spaces and add dedicated bike lanes in front of their establishments.
They said they were blindsided by the proposal and would have preferred being consulted prior to a plan being implemented. The Aspen Chamber Resort Association organized a meeting with Osur and the city’s project engineer, Pete Rice, where they heard the objections loud and clear. The plan was later scrapped, but again, the business community wasn’t informed of that.
Erik Klanderud, vice president of member services for ACRA, said the city’s latest outreach effort is a step in the right direction.
“This is exactly what we want,” he said. “The city listened to the business community so I view this meeting as a success.”
The city also has come under fire for its perceived lack of outreach on the upcoming Castle Creek Bridge construction, which begins Monday. It is a four-month, $4.6 million project that will overhaul the Hallam Street corridor with a wider sidewalk over the bridge, and improved bus shelters and intersections at Seventh and Eighth streets. Traffic detours are planned and delays are expected. Work stops June 12 until Aug. 12, and then resumes through October.
While the city has held numerous open houses, mailed fliers to businesses and neighbors of the project and carried out a host of other measures, it hasn’t been the right kind of outreach for some.
David Fleisher, who has owned Pitkin County Dry Goods since the late 1960s, said the city should be asking longtime business owners their opinions, and how specific initiatives would impact them. Dropping a flier off with one of his employees isn’t enough, he said, comparing the city’s effort to using Western Union.
He said he’s approaching next week’s meeting with trepidation.
“Anything is a help,” Fleisher said. “(But) I’m very suspicious of bureaucrats in this situation because they didn’t come to us first.”
The city is holding a neighbors and business meeting Thursday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. at the Pitkin County Library to answer questions about the bridge project.
Klanderud said the city’s “Coffee and Conversation” sessions Wednesday may end up centering around the bridge since it will be fresh on people’s minds.
“This will be a good litmus test for the bridge because it will be two days in,” he said.
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