Snowmass economic task force making progress, pursuing short term solutions |

Snowmass economic task force making progress, pursuing short term solutions

Christy Sports tells passersby that they’re closed with a sign in the window on the Snowmass Village Mall on Monday, May 11, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun)
Kelsey Brunner/Snowmass Sun

The Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force aims to identify strategies and significant, realistic actions that can assist local businesses in Snowmass Village so they remain viable and sustainable amid the COVID-19 crisis. Locals are encouraged to reach out to the task force members with their ideas and solutions. Members include:

Greg Smith, chair

Bill Turner

Steve Briggs

Reed Lewis

Wendy Harris

David Dugan

Barb Wickes

Jordan Sarick

Andy Gunion

Dwayne Romero

Bob Sirkus (ex officio)

Clint Kinney (town staff)

After two virtual discussions, the Mayor’s Economic Recovery Task Force is moving forward with several initiatives to help local merchants and businesses as they begin to reopen their doors.

From a more robust “shop local” marketing campaign to expanding the legal areas for where existing restaurants can serve food and alcohol, the 10-person task force is working through a list of ideas it soon hopes to make reality.

“Our discussions have been targeted along the lines of what can the town, merchants and landlords do to collectively get things going as we start to open up,” said Greg Smith, a longtime financier, town Financial Advisory Board member and now chair of the new economic recovery task force.

“We’ve come up with a pretty good list of actionable items I think can be implemented quickly.”

Over the past two meetings, Smith said the main theme for the task force has been coming up with short-term actions town government, merchants and landlords can collaborate on.

Some of those actions include creating designated “pick-up” zones and parking spaces where people can drive up and grab their ordered food, beverages or other merchandise; establishing a sort of “picnic area” on Fanny Hill where people can enjoy food and beverages from local eateries; putting sanitation stations around the village to promote a safe, healthy town environment; launching a “shop local” marketing campaign, including a voucher program that supports Snowmass merchants; and expanding legal liquor license areas so restaurants can provide more outdoor seating and easier align with county public health requirements.

As the task force is spearheading these initiatives to support economic recovery in Snowmass Village, Clint Kinney, town manager, said town staff is working hard to respond and figure out the logistics of making them happen.

So far, Kinney said Snowmass Tourism is working on the specifics of the “shop local” marketing campaign, and staff also is looking into the potential for the other initiatives to bring back to the task force for feedback, hopefully making them a reality over the next few weeks.

“As Ronald Reagan said, ‘The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help,’” Kinney said. “We (town staff) can’t just show up with solutions, we have to talk with businesses to see how best we can help, which really is the beauty of this task force.”

As of May 26, Kinney said town staff had made the most progress with allowing for an easier liquor license area expansion process.

These premise expansions require local and state approval, usually taking quite a bit of time, Kinney said. However, town staff is prepared to process applications as fast as possible and the state has expedited its approval process, allowing for restaurants and eateries to move forward with expansions and create additional outdoor seating/operations in a more timely fashion.

“We haven’t received any applications yet but we’re prepared to get them through as quickly as possible,” Kinney said May 26.

Through a more long-term economic and recovery lens, Kinney and Smith said the task force also has discussed creating some sort of “survival fund,” what would be made up of town money or private money or both to ensure Snowmass businesses make it through the coming months of expected hardship and setbacks.

Specifics for the fund and how it would work haven’t been nailed down yet, Kinney and Smith said, but will continue to be discussed over the next several task force meetings.

“There’s a great collective wisdom among all of the members which brings real value to these discussions,” Smith said, “and I’d also say there’s a sense of urgency there; we all feel it and we are all doing our best to see what we can do quickly in a practical way that will effectively help our community.”

But while task force members like David Dugan, co-owner of the Base Camp, Sake, State 38 and Slice of Italy restaurants in Base Village, feel the group is a positive thing and is coming up with good ideas, none of them are “silver bullet” solutions.

Because Snowmass Village is so dependent on tourism — and has a much smaller local community than Aspen and other Roaring Fork Valley municipalities — Dugan, who is on the task force, said he feels the only way to really recover is to bring in visitors, which he recognizes will look differently and be harder to do as a result of the pandemic.

“A lot of the (task force) ideas are helpful but by what degree? The only thing that will really help us is to get people here and how do we do that? Can we do that?” Dugan said. “While any and all local support is good we don’t have enough locals here to fully support our businesses. If we did we wouldn’t have offseasons.”

Dugan went on to say he is certain Snowmass Village will be hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis for months to come due to the various canceled Aspen-Snowmass events and lower anticipated number of visitors, but that he thinks the task force is a great group to have in place and has a lot of potential to help provide some really good community supports.

He also said he feels businesses will need to come up with their own creative strategies and business model changes to adapt to the pandemic, which his team is working to figure out for the Base Village restaurants they decide to open this summer.

“We’ve been doing a lot of menu work and trying to come up with creative ideas,” Dugan said of his four Base Village restaurants. “But you have to weigh the costs versus the benefits. … Anything extra we do means extra people we have to pay or extra materials, and it’s hard to know what to expect this summer.”

However, while there are many unknowns and question marks going into the months ahead, Dugan and Bob Sirkus, the ex officio council member on the task force, said implementing the task force’s initial idea list and really encouraging all village residents and visitors to shop locally is a good place to start.

“From my personal perspective, I’ve found myself shopping locally more without necessarily trying to do so,” Sirkus said, noting that it seems to be his natural response to the county public health orders. “If we all work as best we can to shop locally, I think that can really support businesses early on and be of help to the entire community.”