Blumenthal: World travels and local political circus shows
Reporting from Hanoi: Several days ago, six bold adventurers — locals Marcy and Howard Gross and Frankie and Skip Welfeld, along with the not-so-local Blumenthals — set out on a journey to Vietnam and Cambodia.
During our first few days in the country, we headquartered at Hanoi’s historic Metropole Hotel with its recently rediscovered wartime underground bunker featuring an oral and photographic history of what the Vietnamese refer to as the “American War,” just one of many they’ve been subjected to during the past thousand years.
This crowded capital city is rich in culture as well as a vast array of ethnic foods and numerous street markets selling everything conceivable to nourish the mind, body and spirit. We visited “Uncle Ho’s” house and his eternal resting place and toured the infamous “Hanoi Hilton,” which served as a prison and house of torture during a good deal of Vietnam’s long and violent past.
As I write this week’s column, we’re on a two-day riverboat journey across Halong Bay viewing the beautiful treasures disseminated across the Bay of the Descending Dragon, including exploration of its fascinating caves, beaches, floating villages and unique rock formations rising up out of the emerald water and, lest I forget, tai chi on the sundeck at the break of dawn.
More of the trip in my next column.
Before leaving the U.S., I was able to catch a bewildering show starring a cast of Snowmass players not seen together in many year, including prominent players from Aspen Skiing Co. and Related Colorado, former Town Councilman Arnie Mordkin, former Town Manager Mike Segrest and Keith Long, general manager of Aspen Sports. The town’s playlist included the usual cast of elected characters augmented by the recently self-appointed, unelected sixth council member and Town Attorney John Dresser and, last but not least, interim Town Manager Gary Suiter.
Directed by Related and Skico, the players gathered together in Town Hall on a recent afternoon to see how much additional damage they could do to our resort infrastructure.
Apparently Related and Skico hatched a plan some time ago to convert what has been a food-and-beverage outlet (most recently the Snowmass Bakery and before that the Sweet Life) into an expansion of its Four Mountain Sports store. What makes this little drama so interesting is that when the town granted the Base Village development approvals many years ago, this space was designated to remain a food-and-beverage facility, but Skico and Related didn’t like that restriction, so they persuaded Suiter to quickly and quietly include this change of use in his manager’s report without going through the messy process of dealing with such a significant change during a publicly noticed agenda item, allowing the public to weigh in on whether this change should be granted.
First to the podium crying foul was Mordkin, who advised the council that it couldn’t grant the requested approval, but he was quickly shot down by Dresser, who had a different interpretation of the previously approved restrictive language.
Next came Segrest with a viable compromise for a one-year temporary-use permit for the ski-rental operation, giving Related more time to find another food-and-beverage tenant. Related and Skico balked because that would cost them a few bucks tearing down an interior wall that they claimed they couldn’t justify for just a single winter season.
Just as the council was about to throw in the towel, in rushed Long, from his perch in front of the TV down at the recreation center, who couldn’t believe the council was about to further enhance Skico’s monopoly on ski rentals and sales in Base Village to the detriment of all the other ski shops in the village.
He wove a tale of intrigue little known to us mere mortals in which good and kindly Skico used to give its Beginner Magic clients vouchers to rent ski equipment at all the village ski shops. But soon after its acquisition of D&E Sports many years ago, Skico quickly cut off all the other ski shops from participating in its Beginner Magic program. To make matters worse, we learned that shortly before Skico bailed on its Base Village ownership, it instituted a restriction that all future owners of Base Village would have to abide by: No person or company other than Skico could operate a ski-rental or -sales store in Base Village.
Hearing this revelation was the final straw for Councilwoman Markey Butler, who went into meltdown mode expressing rage at Related for its recent Village Market fiasco and for being boxed in by both Related and Skico, forcing the council to make this important decision on the spur of the moment due to the rapidly approaching ski season.
After emotions cooled down a bit, the council, which didn’t want to see another vacant store in Base Village this winter, caved in with a one-vote majority. Unfortunately this space will be used by Skico as a ski-rental operation for as long as it wants.
In my opinion, the interim town manager and council were expertly outmaneuvered and manipulated by Related and Skico, another prime reminder of the desperate need for stronger town management and leadership that won’t be bullied by the local school of barracudas.
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