| AspenTimes.com

New marketing plan for Aspen will back off on shoulder seasons

The Aspen Chamber Resort Association plans to back off on promoting tourism in shoulder seasons as part of a larger effort to manage crowds and improve the quality of life for residents.

That’s just one strategy in ACRA’s recently released Aspen Destination Management Plan, which has been seven months in the making involving 1,300 resident surveys, town halls, workshops, interviews with community leaders and research done by consultant Destination Think.

One of the big takeaways from the outreach is that locals want their offseasons back.

For several years ACRA has aggressively marketed Aspen tourism in the spring and fall months and it’s clear that the agency’s efforts have resulted in too much pressure on the resort community, said Eliza Voss, ACRA vice president of destination marketing.

“That is a pretty big change in the way ACRA would go about marketing,” she said last week. “Part of that is we need to come back to the community because we heard it loud and clear that we need to protect the shoulder seasons, but what does that really mean for people?”

Voss added that ACRA will no longer be actively doing acquisition marketing for September and October.

“That’s not what the community wants or needs at this time,” she said. “Ultimately if the residents are happy the visitor experience is going to be improved so we are trying to find that balance.”

That won’t prevent for-profit organizations and lodges from marketing Aspen, but ACRA will turn its focus on educating tourists on the values of the community.

Whether to continue marketing the spring months has not been determined.

“We need to reengage with the community and define what we want our shoulder season to look like,” Voss said.

ACRA needs to determine whether the benefits of infilling the offseasons outweigh the negative impacts. Those who were surveyed and have a stake in the community have expressed that there is a limited period for businesses and residents to rejuvenate between seasons. A lack of down time can upset the balance between visitors and residents, the plan noted.

Limiting the promotion of offseasons is one of many actions in the destination management plan, which identified three “pillars” that have strategies attached to them.

Those pillars are addressing visitor pressure, enhancing the Aspen experience, and preserving small-town character.

The destination plan is in response to a growing sentiment from locals that there are too many people flocking to Aspen and not all of them appreciate or respect the way of life here, which is to tread lightly on the environment and treat each other with respect.

The plan aims to protect the quality of life for residents and preserve the very reason people enjoy coming to Aspen.

“Based on the findings, we defined the ‘Aspen challenge’ as follows: Aspen is a place that has become so popular that the ideal ‘win-win’ situation is not currently possible,” reads the destination management plan’s executive summary. “As a result, ACRA needs to reflect on how Aspen can survive its reputation (unhappy residents pose enormous business risks), socially (gentrification and seasonal impacts), environmentally (visitor pressure) and even existentially (losing its soul) … if Aspen chooses to maintain the status quo, it will not only have a negative impact on the quality of life for residents, but also begin to limit investment opportunities for the local economy.”

ACRA will take on a lead, advocate or partner role in issues like enhancing visitor education, catalyzing sustainable choices, and diversifying visitor markets.

The plan suggests ACRA stop advertising to direct fly and luxury markets and pursue passion- and value-based targeting instead of geography and demographics.

One of the plan’s conclusions addresses the mentality of newcomers to the community.

“There are also some residents that do not fully participate in the Aspen community,” the plan reads. “By actively promoting Aspen’s ‘mind, body and spirit’ mentality and actively inviting new residents and second-home owners to community events, perhaps ACRA can encourage residents to integrate themselves more into the community and reciprocate some of the value they derive from Aspen.”

Voss said that could be in the form of an ambassador program with locals guiding new residents.

“Maybe ACRA has an opportunity to partner with the city on welcoming new residents,” she said. “So instead of everybody being frustrated by the meld not happening naturally, can we provide opportunities with the Aspen Historical Society to do Aspen history 101 and kind of a welcome wagon?”

ACRA also is working to translate the plan’s strategies into a framework that will encapsulate its “Defy Ordinary” brand promise and reflect the sentiment that residents have been heard, and the agency is taking meaningful action to address their concerns.

In addressing visitor pressure, ACRA could advocate for free bus service from Aspen to Glenwood and a direct shuttle between the airport and downtown.

The plan even suggests that visitors pay a toll on Maroon Creek Bridge to discourage too much traffic.

In preserving small-town character and advocating for housing crisis solutions, ACRA might support a tax on short-term rental properties that will fund affordable housing initiatives and also push for a short-term accommodation study with reliable data.

The plan, which cost $123,780, was paid for by ACRA’s destination marketing department. It is under contract with the city of Aspen to provide destination management services.

The plan will be presented to Aspen City Council on Tuesday during a work session that begins at 4 p.m. in the new council chambers in City Hall on Galena Plaza.

“I hope people will read the plan and are optimistic and inspired,” Voss said.

csackariason@aspentimes.com

 

Business Monday briefs: Aspen firm adds attorney; new health-care venture in Western Colorado; Broughton named AIA fellow

New attorney at Kalamaya | Goscha

Kalamaya | Goscha announced that trial attorney Leanna Gavin has the joined the firm’s domestic relations team.

Gavin graduated from the University of Colorado Law School and was one of the first recipients of CU Law’s Leaders in Law and Community Fellowship. Gavin handles divorce, parenting disputes, and family law issues. In addition to being an attorney, she is a certified trauma-informed yoga teacher, and volunteers with Phoenix Multisport teaching yoga to people in recovery from addiction.

Kalamaya | Goscha has an emphasis in family law, personal injuries and criminal defense in Colorado. Its Aspen office is located on the plaza of Aspen Highlands.

Collaborative Choice Healthcare launches in rural Colorado

The Community Care Alliance that serves rural Colorado announced it is partnering with Collaborative Health Systems, a population health management services organization, to expand value-based care in Colorado.

Through the agreement, a new joint venture will be created called Collaborative Choice Healthcare, which will include rural health practices, critical access hospitals, and rural health systems throughout typically under-served western Colorado and Moab, Utah, communities. The joint venture will work to improve quality outcomes and lower health care costs for Medicare beneficiaries living in rural Colorado communities by sharing health IT infrastructure, building population health management programs, and other care optimization strategies, according to a news release. Collaborative Choice Healthcare will operate in Colorado.

The Community Care Alliance was formed in 2015 by the Western Healthcare Alliance, a network of 31 rural hospitals and health care organizations in Western Colorado and Moab that aid their members with collaborative solutions and resources focused on rural health care.

Through the new joint venture, Collaborative Health Systems will provide Community Care Alliance with actionable data and analytics, strategic growth planning, care coordination, and market leadership to expand and strengthen local health care services.

“This partnership with CHS is in line with our goal of helping our provider partners thrive in value-based care arrangements that reward them for improving quality of care and health outcomes for our rural residents,” said Dave Ressler, Community Care Alliance’s board chair and CEO of Aspen Valley Hospital. “We undertook an in-depth evaluation process and believe CHS is the right organization to bring success by maintaining healthy populations throughout rural Colorado with better care at lower costs.”

More details on Community Care Alliance are avaiable at www.wha1.org/community-care-alliance/. To learn more about Collaborative Health Systems, visit www.collaborativehealthsystems.com/.

Broughton named to AIA College of Fellows

Rowland+Broughton Architecture / Urban Design / Interior Design announced that principal Sarah Broughton has been named to the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows. Of a total of 88 AIA-member architects appointed this year, Broughton is one of two based in Colorado, along with Gregory R. Gidez of Hensel Phelps Construction in Denver. Roughly 3% of the more than 94,000 AIA members have attained Fellowship.

Rowland+Broughton Architecture / Urban Design / Interior Design has studios in Aspen and Denver, Colorado

Downtown Aspen’s unbuilt environment causing angst

City of Aspen officials are growing increasingly concerned about several buildings controlled by prominent landlord Mark Hunt that are boarded up and empty of tenants.

“We have heard from a number of residents about eyesore properties,” said Phillip Supino, the city’s director of community development. “It’s not a good look for residents, visitors or for the Hunt team.”

The city reached out to the Hunt development team last month asking them to clean up debris and remove graffiti at some downtown buildings and improve conditions at the old Boomerang Lodge in the West End neighborhood.

Hunt said last week that he recognizes the Boomerang property needs some attention.

“We do need a proper fence; we inherited that,” he said. “That can definitely look better. … We will get it cleaned up.”

City officials’ larger concern is the economic and community vitality that continues to erode every year that Hunt’s properties remain vacant or under construction.

Hunt, through limited liability companies with undisclosed investors, owns the now boarded-up Buckhorn Arms building at the corner of Cooper Avenue and Original Street; the shuttered Red Onion building on Cooper Avenue, as well as the ones on either side of it; the one next door to those — the Bidwell building, which is under construction; the old Crystal Palace on Hyman Avenue that is being developed but currently no construction is taking place; the defunct Main Street Bakery building; and several others that currently have tenants.

It’s been several years since Hunt has purchased those properties and received land-use approvals for them, but changes keep being made to the plans.

“There’s a pattern of wanting to change designs,” said Amy Simon, the city’s director of planning. “Community development would like to see the projects proceed. We are concerned with the effects of empty buildings and extended construction periods.”

Hunt, who arrived on the Aspen commercial real estate scene more than a decade ago and has developed three properties in that time, said it’s been a challenging environment to build.

He said he’s dealt with four land use code changes, a commercial development moratorium, a citizen-led referendum allowing the electorate to decide on variances and ordinances limiting heights to 28 feet and the ability for chain stores to be here.

“Those changes have consequences, and it takes it longer,” Hunt said.

Supino said he recognizes that Aspen has a complex development environment, which is a response to the community’s high expectations of downtown’s built landscape, but that doesn’t mean things can’t get done.

“While I agree that Aspen is a complex regulatory and development environment, we have several successful major redevelopments that are either underway or have been completed in recent years,” he said. “So I don’t accept the suggestion that it is the city’s fault that other projects are not moving along as quickly.”

Neither does Aspen Mayor Torre, who said many community members approach him lamenting and wondering about buildings that are historic in nature or had locally serving businesses in them that remain dormant.

“I share their frustration,” he said. “I very much disagree that the city is delaying his projects.”

Simon pointed out that Hunt had land-use approvals for 11 projects and could’ve built them, but when he makes significant changes to the original plans, some are subject to new land use code regulations.

“He can build what was approved,” she said.

Hunt said his team is not interested in building cookie-cutter type of buildings and is taking great care in the design and construction of his projects.

“The frustration on our end is we don’t focus on getting something off the shelf,” he said. “Our goal is to build great buildings that will be here a lot longer than we are or our children are.”

Another reason for the delay in the projects is that the changes being made to the buildings are tenant driven.

“I’m designing buildings without tenants,” Hunt said, adding that often those designs are rushed to get approvals before the rules change, again.

Changes to the original approvals at the Bidwell building at 434 E. Cooper Ave. and at the Crystal Palace on Hyman Avenue have delayed those projects and are at the request of the tenant and co-owner of the properties, RH, formerly known as Restoration Hardware.

Hunt said significant movement is happening at the Bidwell site, and construction will fire back up on the Crystal Palace site in March.

The Bidwell site will serve as RH’s main storefront, with a gallery and restaurant, and the former Crystal Palace will be a boutique hotel with the RH brand.

“RH is a visionary company, and it will be worth the wait,” Hunt said. “It’s frustrating for all the parties, and I apologize to the community that it’s taking longer than we thought.”

Changes also are being made to the original approval for a planned hotel known as Base1, where the Buckhorn Arms building is located across from City Market.

Hunt said his development company has a letter of intent with a hotel operator, who has requested reconfigurations to the room layouts and other changes in the building.

Base1 is planned to have a rooftop terrace with public access, along with bars, restaurants and other community amenities.

“I’m more excited about this building than any of them,” Hunt said, adding the city has been great in working with his team on this project. “It will be the greatest gift back to the community.”

The former Main Street Bakery property has approvals for a restaurant and a building permit has been submitted to the city and is in review.

That property, which Hunt bought in 2019 after it had been closed for almost three years, is an example of tenant needs stalling the project, he said.

Because there are two buildings involved on the site, one historic and one new, prospective restaurateurs said they wanted a breezeway.

That would’ve been a significant change that would’ve required lengthy review by the city, Hunt said.

“I bought it in its current condition, and we are well aware of the city’s aversion to change, so we waited, and unfortunately, it sat,” he said. “Finally, we found an operator that will go there without the breezeway, so, hopefully in two months, we are doing construction.”

He wouldn’t reveal the operator but said they have local ties, as do the future operators of the historic Red Onion, which is slated to open by Thanksgiving.

A music performance center operated by Jazz Aspen Snowmass is planned in the buildings next to and above the Red Onion.

“The lion’s share of the portfolio is ready to go,” Hunt said. “I understand the community is frustrated, but I promise that when we do it, it will be done right.”

The building housing Su Casa, Eric’s Bar and Aspen Billiards on Hyman Avenue has been leased to one tenant that has several concepts envisioned for the property that will include a restaurant, according to Hunt.

That tenant, which Hunt declined to identify, is expected to apply for a building permit this month to remodel the interior.

Su Casa, Eric’s and Aspen Billiards plan to close in April.

Torre said the closures of locally serving businesses like those which used to operate in many of Hunt’s buildings are what slowly erodes the community’s vitality and character.

The loss of so many affordable restaurants and bars and retail stores has prompted individuals to place “Evict Mark Hunt” stickers on buildings around town and on chairlifts and Kleenex dispensers in lift lines on Aspen Mountain.

“It has risen to a new level of frustration,” Torre said.

He added that having one developer taking on multiple projects at once is detrimental to the community.

“You should finish one before you start the next,” he said.

Torre said the municipal government is limited in what it can control in the free market, but he and other city officials are looking at ways to prevent what is happening, or not happening, in the future.

“When it comes to the evolution and redevelopment of Aspen, Colorado, it needs to be a collaborative effort where we are all working together,” he said.

Performance bonds can be attached to a project in case it stalls, but that only protects the construction site from being a hazard or to make a public improvement, like installing a sidewalk where there once was one.

“The city’s ability to influence the commercial sector, the real estate dynamic and types of businesses is limited,” Supino said, adding that there is a growing concern among residents and city officials about the disappearance of mom-and-pop, locally serving businesses that are necessary for a year-round sustainable community and economy. “I have said to Mark and his team that they ought to think about their impact on the local economy.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com

New Aspen lounge won’t have to go through the LLA ringer

A former Aspen bar operator who ran afoul of public health orders amid the pandemic and is now an investor in a new drinking and dining establishment won’t be subjected to the scrutiny of the Local Licensing Authority.

The LLA board unanimously voted at its monthly meeting Tuesday to bypass a hearing on Andrew Sandler and his role with Sterling Club Aspen. By doing so, it approved the lounge’s liquor license.

“We’re going to approve it as it is and sit back and wait, rather than prejudging,” said LLA Chair Bill Murphy.

The hearing would have allowed the board to examine Sandler’s background, which would have shown, for example, that he pleaded no contest to the LLA in October 2020 for operating his Bootsy Bellows nightclub in violation of public health orders and staying open past curfew. Sandler formerly operated the now-defunct Scarlett’s and Bootsy Bellows, most recently at Galena Street and Hopkins Avenue.

The LLA also agreed to fine Sandler $5,000 at the time.

Sandler’s name came to the LLA’s attention again this week after Joonas Group LLC, which owns Bear Den Aspen and Sterling Aspen, filed paperwork with the state and city indicating a change to its corporate ownership structure.

“Pursuant to the municipal code and to state statute, such ownership change has to be approved by the Local Licensing Authority,” Assistant City Attorney Kate Johnson told the board. “You guys have the option to either approve it or set a public hearing.”

On Dec. 8, the newly formed The Sterling Aspen LLC, of which Sandler is a member, acquired 49% equity interest in Joonas Group through a $1 million cash investment, according to paperwork provided to the LLA ahead of this week’s meeting. The deal also set equal partnerships of 25.5% for Bridger Smith and Alia Joonas, who previously had been the sole managers of the Joonas Group.

Through the arrangement, the Joonas Group has ownership of Bear Den and Sterling Aspen. Both establishments are located on the 300 block of East Hopkins Avenue known as restaurant row. The Sterling Aspen establishment debuted in late December, using the former underground space most recently occupied by the former wine and tapestry bar known as Joonas Aspen, which Joonas Group also owned an operated.

The Sterling Aspen LLC’s managers are Sandler and Samuel Lee, according to public records.

“This is a change in ownership in a sense of the structure of the ownership entity,” attorney Chris Bryan said on behalf of Sandler, who did not attend the LLA’s virtual meeting. “But the same person that holds the license that you granted still holds the license and is still the manager. It’s just that Mr. Sandler is a minority member in an LLC that’s become a minority member of this entity, Joonas LLC. He takes an ownership stake, but it’s a minority position, and the license holder has not changed.”

Bryan added: “All we did was submit within 30 days of that entity change, the updated members of the LLC, so it’s a bit misleading to say this a change ownership that is going to Mr. Sandler. That’s not accurate. He’s a minority member of a minority member.”

Initially, board members Amos Underwood and Bill Murphy said they favored a public hearing — which also would be held to determine if Sandler had the “moral character” to be in the business — rather than automatically approving the liquor license under the new ownership structure. Yet after board member Bryan Semel asked Johnson why the issue was being brought up, board members began to change their tune.

“It seems very opinionated from your end, I feel,“ Semel told Johnson after she informed the board of its option to either hold a public hearing at a later date or approve the structural change on the spot. ”If he ended up with a pulled liquor license, then that would be something else, and there was no follow-through on investigation on his last business.“

Bryan also said the matter seemed to be personal.

“You have the discretion right now just to approve this change of ownership,” he said. “The license holder hasn’t changed. The applicant hasn’t changed. It’s just that somebody that some of you don’t like is a minority member of this LLC.”

LLA member Chris Bendon said he didn’t believe Sandler’s association with Sterling Aspen rose to the level of holding a public hearing over the fate of the liquor license.

“If Mr. Sandler is a financial partner, that concerns me much less than if he is an operational partner,” said Bendon. “It sounds like there’s sort of an air gap between him and the actual ongoing operation. Otherwise, I think we’d be unfairly disparaging the license holder for what is essentially the financial structure of the business.”

At October 2020 hearing before the LLA concerning Scarlett’s and Bootsy Bellows, Sandler said he was getting out of the business for the time being.

“We are bankrupt at Scarlett’s,” said Sandler. “We have surrendered the premises to (building owner) Mark Hunt. I’m out of everything — money, resources, employees — everything.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

A ‘traumatizing’ dispute over Aspen rentals commission shows the paper trail matters

An Aspen luxury rental firm’s termination letter to an employee has come back to haunt its founder.

The favorable court ruling for an ex-contract employee of Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals (ALVR) didn’t end with the March 11 order from Pitkin County Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely. Instead, it provided the springboard for more fighting between ex-broker Victoria Cooke and Tricia McIntyre, who started The Aspen Agency Inc. and ALVR in the mid-2000s, over a commission payment of $7,250.

Cooke was terminated from her job as a broker with ALVR on Oct. 21, 2020, after starting the job three weeks earlier Sept. 30. Following her termination, McIntyre accused Cooke of leaving the job with an office computer and rental leads that weren’t hers.

Yet it is Cooke who has come out triumphant in small claims court over her former superior, McIntyre, winning a judgment of $7,305 for unpaid commission and interest following a trial in February. McIntyre also was unsuccessful in her attempt to appeal the order.

McIntyre said the March 11 ruling from Judge Erin Fernandez-Ely was rooted in a lack of understanding of how commission agreements work in the vacation rental business. McIntyre also said she plans to challenge District Judge Anne Norrdin’s refusal to listen to her appeal.

Both Cooke and another former employee, Sarah Thompson, “have traumatized me and I mean that seriously,” McIntyre said. “And I was so shocked by the ruling by Judge Ely that I don’t even trust the court system.”

While Cooke has taken legal action against McIntyre and her company, Thompson has not. Thompson, however, testified in support of Cooke at the February trial and said she also had difficulties receiving commission she was due.

According to the two ex-employees, McIntyre misled them about their commission and withheld full payment from them for as long as she could. McIntyre said they weren’t entitled to their commission because they performed poorly at their jobs and didn’t complete rental commitments.

“I know where the cracks were in my business, and I’ve adjusted them,” said McIntyre. “It’s been traumatic for me, this whole thing.”

Cooke and Thompson said they are the ones who have been traumatized — whether it has been through their ongoing efforts to get fully compensated or the difficulty they’ve had paying off personal bills like rent as a result.

McIntyre also has made them out to be the catalysts for the dispute when she was the one who forced their hands to take action, they said.

“She needs to be held accountable, and I don’t want her to keep doing this to people,” Thompson said. “It’s not a good look for this town.”

Where it started

Cooke sued McIntyre individually in Pitkin County small claims court in December, seeking $7,250 for a 10% disbursement agreement, or commission, for her work brokering a $72,500 vacation rental as a contract employee for Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals.

Cooke’s one-page complaint was straight forward and based on what she claimed she was due: “$7,250 is my commission check I have not received,” said the suit, which Cooke filed pro se and without an attorney.

McIntyre’s formal answer to the complaint, filed in February, also was terse. “A transaction was not done, we had no formal executed agreement,” was the sole line of defense in her response.

After hearing both sides make their cases in a virtual trial in February, Fernandez-Ely ruled that although Cooke did not have it in writing from McIntyre or ALVR that she would receive 10% commission for brokering the vacation rental, she “relied on the representation and procured the rental for the company.”

The judge’s order also said an Oct. 21, 2020-dated termination email from Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals sufficed as evidence that Cooke was due commission. The email said, “Please send me a mailing address or a place where I can send your commission.”

Yet McIntyre, writing in a March 29 appeal brief to the judge’s decision, said the court did not comprehend the commission structure that called for half of the 10% commission to be paid to the rental broker at the time the rental agreement is signed, and the remaining half after the guest has checked out.

Cooke was fired before the guests in the East Cooper Avenue rental she brokered completed their Aspen stay, and McIntrye said she handled most of the details of the vacation rental.

“Tricia (ALVR’s owner) completed the rest of the rental requirements, from drafting the rental agreement, obtaining required signatures, greeting the guest, collecting funds, getting the house rental ready, addressing guest’s needs during their stay, a check-out inspection, returning the guest’s security deposit, among the many requirements needed to earn full commission on a rental. A draft of the rental agent’s job description is given to all new agents and was given to the court. Victoria understood what was required to earn commission as she admitted she read the contract,” McIntyre’s appeal brief said, noting that Cooke also refused to sign an at-will agreement to work for Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals.

“Victoria refused to sign ALVR’s agreement, despite numerous attempts and reminders asking her to do so. Despite this, Victoria started working on leads, even though she was not officially a representative of ALVR,” the brief said.

McIntyre also argued that Fernandez-Ely based her order on incorrect information that was inadvertently attached to an email sent to the court and then submitted as evidence.

Thompson eventually settled out of court with McIntyre over commission. Thompson worked with ALVR from Aug. 4, 2020, through Nov. 2, 2020, and said the company held off paying her the remaining half of her commission for bookings she originated because it fired her before the guests checked out.

“Refusing to pay agents their entire commission is a predatory business practice if employers can simply terminate employees for no cause just before the guests arrive,” Thompson wrote in an email summarizing her experience with the company.

Meanwhile, McIntyre’s appeal gained no traction with the courts because it was filed after the 14-day deadline.

“Here, the notice of appeal was filed on March 29, 2021, which was 18 days after the entry of judgment that had occurred on March 11, 2021 — so it was 4 days late,” Norrdin wrote in an Aug. 31 dismissal of the appeal. “The filing was accompanied by a letter signed by Trisha McIntyre, a plaintiff who appears to be the corporate representative of the other plaintiff, Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals, Inc. The letter purports to explain what it terms a 2-days late filing based on ‘unforseen emergencies with business and health.’ The letter lacks specifics about what the emergencies were. It also does not account for the fact that the appeal was actually filed 4 days late.”

The order became official Sept. 28 when Norrdin released the $250 appeal bond.

Theft allegations

Cooke and McIntyre also have accused each other of criminal acts.

McIntyre’s allegation that Cooke left with a work computer after she was fired didn’t hold up. Cooke returned the computer two days later, saying it was taken by mistake.

Cooke, meanwhile, asked the Aspen Police Department to investigate a bank transaction after the judge’s order in March. Aspen Luxury Vacation Rentals deposited $7,305 into her account after the judgment, on March 24, but somehow took $7,305 from the Cooke’s account the next day, on March 25.

For now, Cooke said the matter is being treated civilly, and she plans to sue ALVR for treble damages over the money allegedly taken from her bank account. She claims it was taken through an act of forgery; McIntyre said it was a clerical error resulting in a charge reversal.

In the meantime, ALVR did pay her the $7,305 after taking out the money, but it wasn’t until the middle September.

“The amount of time,” Cooke said discussing the issue with police and Wells Fargo fraud department, “I think it’s fair enough to say that I need to be paid for that pain and suffering.”

McIntyre said she her reputation is being sullied by two vindictive employees who don’t understand the business.

“The way she has made me feel, that I’ve done something terribly wrong to try and screw these girls,” McIntyre said.

McIntyre said she’ll make sure brokers in the future fully understand they only get full commission after the guest has completed and paid for their stay.

“In hindsight, we didn’t get it in writing,” she said. “I’m not a litigious person. I don’t make a living out of fighting people in court. My job is to give a people a happy vacation. I didn’t get in it for this drama.”

For their part, Cooke and Thompson said it’s impossible to get paid full commission when you’re fired before the guest’s vacation you brokered ends.

“She knew what she did,” Cooke said. “The judge tells you to do one thing, and you decide to do something tricky the next day.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Grocery wars? Not so much in Basalt and Carbondale

The new City Market in Carbondale opened in August 2020.
John Stroud/Glenwood Post Independent

When the new, larger City Market in Carbondale opened in late August, there was speculation it would eat into Basalt’s sales tax revenues, but early returns indicate grocery stores in both towns continue to flourish.

For the four full months since the Carbondale’s 62,000-square-foot City Market opened, Basalt has experienced growing rather than stagnating retail food sales. Cumulative sales tax collections from retail food sales for those four months were $890,544 — up $44,194, or 5%, from the same period in 2019.

Sales tax reports don’t identify taxes paid by individual businesses, so information isn’t available on sales by the El Jebel City Market or Whole Foods.

Basalt Mayor Bill Kane said his gut feeling is both Basalt grocers are on solid ground despite the addition of a large, new store in Carbondale. There was already a City Market in Carbondale, so it’s not like the new store is breaking ground, he noted. While some Carbondale shoppers might be more inclined to shop in their hometown now that there is a greater selection, City Market and Whole Foods in Basalt are rooted with shoppers, Kane said.

Midvalley residents are unlikely to head to Carbondale to shop when two stores are so close in Basalt and upper valley residents are in the habit of going to Whole Foods for specialty products and El Jebel City Market for staples, he said. He doesn’t see that changing.

“I think the upper valley shoppers are somewhat adverse to driving beyond the El Jebel City Market,” Kane said.

Kane and Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney said more time is needed to see how the new City Market in Carbondale affects shopping patterns.

Mahoney pointed out the COVID-19 has decreased the amount of time people are eating at restaurants, out of personal choice or mandatory capacity limits. That’s driven up grocery sales because people are cooking more at home and buying prepared foods. Clear patterns of spending might not emerge until after the pandemic.

However, like Kane, Mahoney said the Basalt stores would continue to draw from Aspen and Snowmass Village.

“Upvalley folks aren’t going to defect,” he said.

Where people buy their groceries is more than a trivial point. Retail food sales tax generates a major portion of Basalt town government’s budget.

In 2019, Basalt collected a record $6.67 million in sales tax revenue. Of that, $2.34 million, or about 35%, came from retail food sales, which primarily reflects sales by the two grocery stores.

Preliminary figures show Basalt topped $7 million in total sales tax revenues in 2020. Of that amount, $2.54 million was from retail food sales.

While Carbondale might not be eating into Basalt’s grocery sales, its retail food sales tax collections are growing. The town collected nearly $1.3 million in retail food sales tax revenues in 2020, an increase of 15% over 2019, according to the year-end sales tax report. Retail food accounted for 25% of total sales tax revenues.

Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said none of the current council members were on the board when City Market was approved, so he couldn’t speak first hand about exact expectations for increased sales tax revenues.

“It’s always packed. Clearly it’s been successful,” he said. “Everybody I’ve talked to is giving this City Market a try.”

The town government’s 2021 budget anticipates a 3% to 5% increase in sales tax revenues, according to Richardson. A relatively new tax on online sales is fueling growth for many Colorado governments. The larger City Market also is expected to boost sales compared with the old store, he said.

Richardson said a segment of Carbondale residents will continue shopping at Whole Foods in Basalt for organic food and specialty products. How shopping patterns shake out remains to be seen.

“I’m not hanging my hat on any data yet,” Richardson said.

scondon@aspentimes.com

Business Monday: Pitkin restaurants show appetite for 5-Star program

At least 33 businesses in Pitkin County, including 30 restaurants, had applied by Friday afternoon for membership into the 5 Star State Certification Program that eases restrictions and will be administered locally, a county official said.

On Monday, the county will start reviewing the applications giving restaurants priority, according to Laryssa Dandeneau, the COVID-19 program administrator with Pitkin County Public Health. Gyms and offices will be next in line.

The goal is to have eligible restaurants certified by Friday, she said. Restaurants will need to submit a business safety plan with the county; businesses that filed plans after Nov. 13 do not need to submit another one. Business filing plans before that date are required to submit another one for certification.

Dining establishments aiming for 5-Star certification must adhere to requirements that include employees doing daily symptom and exposure checks and recording customer names for contract-tracing purposes. Restaurants also will be required to space tables 10 feet apart and operate on reservations only.

As of last week, Pitkin County — while accepting 5-Star applications — was still not eligible to install the program because it didn’t meet all of the criteria.

Even so, it is processing applications for the 5-Star program so once the county is eligible, certified businesses can immediately enjoy the benefits of a color level down.

Red counties like Pitkin can participate in the 5-Star State Certification Program once they meet all of the following criteria:

— A two-week sustained decline in incidence, and a percent positivity under 10%; or 10 cumulative days of decline in positivity in the previous rolling 14-day period;

— Less than 90% of regional ICU hospital beds in use in addition to 10 cumulative days of decline in the previous 14-day period for hospitalizations.

On Friday, Pitkin County had met those metrics except one — 90% of regional hospital ICU beds were in use.

Satisfying that criteria would allow certified businesses in Red counties to operate under Orange-level guidelines that allow indoor dining at a 25% capacity.

Pitkin County went under Red-level restrictions that ban indoor dining at all restaurants Jan. 17. Outdoor dining, also with restrictions, is allowed under Red, and takeout is permitted.

The county’s incidence rate was down to 732 on Sunday, and it needs go down to 700 or lower for the county to reduce health restrictions under the Orange level.

Certified businesses could operate under yellow guidelines — which includes 50% capacity for restaurants and 6 feet between tables — if Orange trends hold for a week. The state’s COVID-19 dial dictates what color restrictions are used during implementation of the 5-Star program. All three metrics must be simultaneously satisfied under the state’s COVID-19 dial for the 5-Star program to take and remain in effect.

“Depending on where the county falls on the state COVID-19 dial metrics, certified businesses may be eligible for less restrictive capacity caps,” according to the county’s 5-Star FAQ section. “For example, if Pitkin County case and hospitalization metrics all move to Orange for at least seven days, certified businesses would be eligible for level Yellow restrictions.”

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

What’s the Big Deal: Red Mountain the home of $27M sale

What’s the Big Deal runs Mondays is based on the prior week’s most expensive property transaction recorded in the Pitkin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.

Price: $27,371,000

Date recorded: Jan. 29

Buyer: Vistajax LLC

Seller: RM Development LLC

Address: 12 Salvage Circle

Subdivision: Ridge of Red Mountain

Property type: Single-family residential

Year built: 2020

Total heated area: 7,272 square feet

Lot size: 31,000 square feet

Assessor’s office actual value: $9,231,300

Assessor’s office assessed value: $660,040

Property tax bill: $20,416

Source: Assessor’s Office and Clerk & Recorder’s Office, Pitkin County

 

Aspen, Snowmass mayors lack votes to loosen rules


The mayors of Aspen and Snowmass Village on Thursday failed to persuade fellow members on the Pitkin County Board of Health to reopen restaurants to indoor dining under the less restrictive Orange level.

Saying they had majority support from their respective boards, Aspen Mayor Torre and Snowmass Mayor Bill Madsen sprang separate motions on the seven-member board to remove the Red-level limitations that took effect Jan. 17. Other board members could not go along with the proposals.

“I don’t think this should happen today,” said Greg Poschman, who as an elected commissioner represents Pitkin County on the board. “I really don’t.”

Despite Torre and Madsen’s unrealized attempts to recharge the restaurant sector, COVID-19 trends point to numbered days in the Red if the county’s incidence rate keeps dropping. By next week, the county could revert to Orange, said Jordana Sabella, interim public health director.

Put simply, if the county records an average number of seven positive COVID-19 cases per day, the incidence rate will go below 700 on Monday, county officials said. A 10-case daily average moving forward would have the county under 700 and in the Orange by Feb. 3, according to projections from county health officers. Public health set the threshold at 700 based on its capacity to contract trace and remain faithful to the “box-it-in strategy.”

Pitkin County’s incidence rate, which reflects the number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population, was the highest in Colorado and one of the 20 highest in the U.S. when it hit 3,108 on Jan. 15. It had tumbled to 929 Thursday, according to Pitkin County’s daily epidemiology report. On Wednesday, the figure was 1,222.

Meanwhile at the meeting, Torre and Madsen made their motions following the board’s private talk, in executive session, concerning the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance’s litigation.

The alliance, a collection of restaurants and other supporters, is suing the county, its public health department and interim public health director to bring back Orange-level restrictions.

On Wednesday and in advance of the board’s meeting, alliance attorney Chris Bryan submitted a letter to the county saying the health board’s decision to go Red has created more harm than good because of lost jobs and societal impacts. Local residents are suffering from economic uncertainty, mental struggles, domestic violence and substance abuse because of the pressures associated with business closures and “draconian” public health orders, the letter said.

“Not only has the County created a mass-unemployment public health crisis, but its health order actually makes COVID-19 worse,” said the letter, which also accused the county of hypocrisy by keeping the airport restaurant open to indoor customers. The county runs the airport.

Bryan’s letter concluded with a reference to Black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., saying “the words of Dr. King are as true today as they have ever been: ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ The Board of Health has the opportunity now to do the right thing.”

Madsen was more forceful with his remarks, some of which also referenced Black America.

“To harken back to the George Floyd incident, we have put our foot on the throat of the restaurant industry and they can’t breathe,” he said.

The newly elected mayor also said would-be guests aren’t booking stays in Pitkin County because of a perception that it is under lock down. Hotels and the airport remain open, and restaurants remain allowed to serve diners outside and provide takeout service.

Madsen’s motion to allow indoor dining under the Orange level, effective immediately, failed to advance without a second from another board member.

More discussion prompted Mayor Torre to introduce a motion directing county public health to ease the county down to level Orange, which allows restaurants a 25% indoor seating capacity. Torre initially proposed an 11 p.m. curfew for restaurants before adjusting the time to 10 p.m. He had the support of Madsen, but that was it. The motion failed 5-2, prompting Torre to note that Orange levels don’t have curfews. His proposal would have included a 10 p.m. cutoff.

As board members debated the motion, Poschman was texting his BOCC colleagues to see where they stood. One of them, Patti Clapper, an alternate on the Board of Health, suggested officeholders on the health board face political forces that non-elected members don’t.

“For the rest of the board members, it’s easier to make your decision, but for those elected officials on this board, they really need to vote with the consensus of the boards they represent,” Clapper said.

Poschman, after calculating Clapper’s comments with his text messages, said the BOCC appeared to be 3-2 against going into Orange.

“I’m uncomfortable with the way this is going,” he said. “And in any event, if we’re going to make changes like this, my personal feeling is they need to be referred back to public health staff, because we need to analyze it.”

Dr. Jeanne Seybold, a Board of Heath member, said restaurants aren’t the only ones suffering. She also voted against Torre’s motion.

“We want to get the incidence rate down,“ she said. ”We need to get our kids back in schools. We need to get this virus out of this community so people will stop being exposed. The restaurants are not the only businesses and I love restaurants; I want them to open. I’ve been supporting them through gift certificates, but people who have concerts or gyms, they have not been able to operate at all, and our high school has been remote for weeks. We need to get this down because we need our kids back in school. They’re getting ’D’s and ’F’s. And some kids cannot learn remotely.“

Of the three public health metrics that inform the board’s public health orders — which include the percent positivity of COVID-19 tests and impacts on hospitalization in the central region of Colorado — Pitkin County’s incidence rate has been followed the closest.

Its high level was the catalyst for the Board of Health’s Jan. 11 decision to move from Orange to Red. And if it continues to go down, it will be the reason the county returns to Orange, a decision that can be made administratively and without board approval.

Returning to Red would take the county’s incidence rate holding above 700 for 14 days. It also would be forced into Red if one of the three metrics is red for 14 days and another metric goes Red for any period of time.

In a related development, the county officials said they have all but received clearance from Colorado to participate in the 5-Star State Certification Program, which loosens restrictions for participating businesses.

The county is confident enough it will receive approval that it is currently accepting applications from local businesses wanting 5-Star certification.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com

Business Monday: ADN, ex-employee settle work dispute lawsuit

An Aspen newspaper and a former staff photographer have settled a lawsuit for undisclosed terms, according to court papers.

Filings made last week in the U.S. District Court of Denver showed a confidential agreement had been reached between the Aspen Daily News and ex-staffer Craig Turpin, most recently the publication’s chief photographer until he quit in May.

In a joint stipulation pleading filed Jan. 21, parties on both sides said they “have resolved this action, and agree to the dismissal of this action, and all claims alleged by any party in this action, with prejudice.”

That means claims from Turpin and the Daily News’ counterclaims are no longer in play and both sides have gone their separate ways in the dispute.

Local disputes and disagreements brought on by coronavirus pandemic have sparked a number of court actions, including the Pitkin County Restaurant Alliance’s attempt to undo the board of health’s Red level health restrictions and an Aspen restaurant’s lawsuit against its insurance carrier over unpaid claims related to lost business from public orders, for instance.

In this case, it was Craig Turpin versus Silver City News and the media company’s respective managing director-publisher and executive producer-publisher, David Cook and Spencer McKnight.

Neither side returned messages Sunday seeking comment on the settlement.

Turpin was represented by the Denver-based Sawaya & Miller Law Firm, which took the defendants to federal court Oct. 12 amid allegations that management told newspaper staff March 26 to keep working as they collected benefits. Part of the plan also allegedly included the Daily News’ paying them 25% of what they collected in unemployment benefits, while employees reported that pay as contract labor, or 1099 income, to the labor department.

In a formal answer dated Dec. 29, Daily News attorney Jason C. Astle of the Denver firm Springer & Steinberg said Turpin’s suit misrepresented Cook’s presentation given to employees. Cook also did not believe the plan was illegal, yet Turpin’s attorney Adam Harrison previously argued the scheme violated the law.

The ADN’s answer also included civil-theft counterclaims against Turpin that he stole a company-owned hard drive containing photos worth $800.

“ADN states that Turpin has 
not returned a hard drive that is and contains ADN’s property, despite a demand for its return,” the counterclaim said.

The Daily News addressed the matter in an Oct. 15 editorial published the same day the litigation was reported in The Aspen Times. The Daily News editorial, entitled “A series of unfortunate events,” called Turpin’s allegations “wild” while standing by the newspaper’s “decisions made during an impossibly difficult time wrought by a pandemic.”

Turpin began work at the Daily News on March 1, 2017.

rcarroll@aspentimes.com