Real estate at odds with tourism

KETCHUM, Idaho – In many ski towns of the West, there has been a quiet war going on for the last 10 to 20 years. The war is between real estate development and tourism.

That battle is suggested in Ketchum where a local grocery store, Williams Market, is closing. The owner, Chris Williams, said the decision was premised in the changing demographics of the Ketchum area. Like many ski towns, Ketchum has fewer shops catering to tourists and more shops and businesses catering to locals.

“The merchandise business has not been extraordinarily brisk,” he told theIdaho Mountain Express. “I can’t speak for boutiques or the construction business, but some suppliers appear to be doing well. Basically, every new project has been related to residential development.”

In Ketchum and Sun Valley, skier visits have remained flat for several decades at about 400,000. More of the skiers are locals, a trend observed at Aspen, Steamboat, and many other ski resorts of the West. And, beginning clearly since tax reform during the Reagan administration, fewer condos are put into rental pools as wealthy purchasers find that rental income is of no major importance. In Ketchum, the number of hotel rooms has actually declined by 40 percent.

The city government in Ketchum, which sits at the base area of the Sun Valley ski area, has imposed a “de facto ban on new hotels, refused to build affordable housing, and fought practically every new idea that’s come down the pike,” laments the Idaho Mountain Express.

“New commercial spaces are not being filled by new tourist-related businesses, but by offices – finance, real estate and such,” continues the newspaper. “Compared to just a decade ago, downtown is empty and far too quiet after 4 p.m. Some areas are largely deserted except during July and August.”


New gondola will break records

WHISTLER, B.C. – Intrawest has announced a major new toy, a gondola spanning the 2.7 miles (4.5 kilometers) between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains.

The Peak to Peak Gondola, as it is being called, will set three records. At one point, passengers will be 1,361 feet (415 meters) above the ground. It will have a free span of 1.8 miles (2.9 kilometers) between supports. And, finally, it will be the longest continuous lift in the world.

What purpose will it serve?Pique newsmagazine suggested a declogging of a base area, but more importantly a Disneyland-type ride that will draw more visitors. The resort has fallen on hard times of late, or at least less flush than what it had come to expect. Winter room nights peaked at 616000 in the 1999-2000 winter, and last year they dipped to 500,000.

“It’ll become a tourism icon, much like the CN Tower or Niagara Falls,” Stuart Rempel, senior vice president of marketing and sales, told the Whistler council.

Intrawest is looking for a joint venture partner on the project, with hopes of getting it up by the 2007-2008 winter – just in time for the world’s attention in the 2010 Olympics.


Communities resist resort glitz

WHITEFISH, Mont. – Across the West, the mantra in new resort areas is this: “We don’t want to be like Aspen, Vail or Jackson Hole.” And with this statement of disdain usually comes the professed belief that somehow, it’s possible to take some other road.

So make what you will of a report byBloomberg News about new hotspots in Montana. The rush is on by the high-tech nouveau rich to these pretty mountain valleys, says the newspaper.

The poster child is the Whitefish-Kalispell area. Riveting mountains in the background, proximity to Flathead Lake, and oodles of golf courses are just the beginning of the amenities. It also has a ski area, Big Mountain, and is near Glacier National Park.

Another hotspot is the Bitterroot Valley, south of Missoula. There, West Spiker, the spokesman for a members-only resort, says Montanans are “afraid to death that little towns are going to become like Aspen or Vail, where the billionaires chase out the millionaires, and employee have to live 45 to 50 miles away to drive to work.” But, he adds, it “won’t ever happen, because people come to Montana for what Montana is. They don’t want to change it.”


‘Dumb and Dumber’ sentenced

VAIL, Colo. – The two seasonal workers from New South Wales, Australia, who robbed a Vail bank of $129,500 in March have been sentenced to prison.

Dubbed “Dumb and Dumber,” the two did not disguise their accents and they wore badges similar to ones worn by staff at the ski shop where they worked. Minutes after robbing the bank they used their ski passes to board a chair lift about a quarter-mile from where the bank is located.

The next day, after buying more than $11,000 worth of jewelry, the two men tried to purchase one-way tickets to Mexico with their stolen loot. Soon after, a police officer who recognized their photos as they tried to pass through airport security arrested them.

“What I did was greedy and selfish, but I’m still not sure why I did it,” Anthony Prince, 20, said as his parents and those of his partner, Luke Carroll, 19, looked on. “All I can say is I knew better; I was raised better.”

Prince was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison and Carroll to 5 years.


Telluride dims light pollution

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Telluride was the first town in the country to get rid of its gas street lights. Nonetheless, like so many towns, it has acorn-shaped globes that are meant to resemble old-time gas lights.

Trouble is, those acorn-shaped street lights illuminate the sky and adjacent mountain slopes better than they do the street. To force the illumination to the ground, where it will do some good, the lamp posts are being retrofitted with pagoda-like fixtures. The new fixtures, explainsThe Telluride Watch, bounce 50 percent more light to the street and none directly to the sky and adjoining hills – or second-floor bedrooms.


Aspen Board of Realtors moves

ASPEN, Colo. – Real estate is getting so expensive in Aspen that even the Aspen Board of Realtors is leaving Aspen. In moving downvalley 18 miles to Basalt, directors figure to live what they preach and buy property, instead of leasing space, reports the Aspen Times.

However, this puts the Aspen Board of Realtors into Eagle County, which is where Vail is located. Despite this indelicacy, the group intends to keep its original name.


Building booms in Ridgway area

RIDGWAY, Colo. – For all of their knock-down beauty, Ridgway and Ouray County have not been bowled over by development. That, however, is starting to change.

The Telluride Watch, which does business on the other side of that magnificent background of mountains, reports that current building proposals would double the size of Ridgway.

-compiled by Allen Best

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