Mountain towns reassess economy

ASPEN – The Great Recession has had even the well-heeled grabbing for the railings. That has had no small impact to the upper-crust ski towns.

Now, reflecting on the decade that was, many voices see the need to reposition themselves.

In Aspen, Mayor Mick Ireland continues to push for a return to the tourism that he found when he got there in the 1970s, working first as a dishwasher and bus driver. His vision of Aspen includes lower price points and less real estate carved out for the exclusive few.

“I think we’ve gotten the community talking about economic future in a way that wasn’t done in the past,” Ireland toldThe Aspen Times in a year-end interview. “We need to build an economy that’s not so boom or bust, but one that has more flexibility and a broader base.”

One way to create affordability, he said, is to ensure that city-approved developments include short-term accommodations. “When you look at development, you have to make sure you aren’t creating cold beds. You have to have an access point for people to come here.”

He also wants to see more affordable housing. “If we are serious about housing our workforce ... the time and place for that is not when you are in crisis mode, but when there is competition (for construction work),” he said.

In Jackson, Wyo., there was a backlash against the mansions of the last 20 years. In a letter published in theJackson Hole News&Guide, John Pistono says enough is enough. The last four houses he worked on “were simply too much: too many resources used for too few people,” says Pistono.

Yes, he says, some of the folks who owned some of the houses worked hard and made clever decisions to make money. “They deserve to be comfortable,” he adds, “but.. ”

In an editorial, the same newspaper takes a somewhat broader view: “Given the past year’s economic tumult, it is clear Jackson Hole has a choice: continue to embrace material excess or find a sustainable socioeconomic model.”

Jonathan Schechter, also in theNews&Guide, argues for the need to transition to a “new, humbler economic reality.” He sees the next decade as an opportunity to foster a new sustainability ethic.

Alas, sustainability is a pickle of a term to define. Schechter sees the need for environmentalists to recognize that economic health is part of true sustainability, while dyed-in-the-wool free-marketers must recognize that unregulated markets invariably collapse under the weight of their own greed. And, he adds, environmental health is the basis for all wealth, so it cannot be trampled.


Resort realty and retail edge up

ASPEN – Both the real estate and tourism economies seemed to be improving in recent months in Aspen and Pitkin County.The Aspen Times reports increases in sales volumes in September, October and November compared to the previous year, and while December was down once again, the number of sales actually was about the same as last year.

Jacobson Kopf, with more than 35 years of real estate

experience in Aspen, toldTheAspen Times that she believes the market will return to “normal” in 2011 and for appreciation to begin in 2012.

For the year, total sales sagged to $1 billion in Pitkin County – about what it was in 2003. The market reached its zenith in 2006 and 2007, with sales of about $2.6 billion.

Retailers in Aspen were also finding more good cheer over Christmas.The Aspen Times notes that storefront windows a year ago were plastered with “sale” signs. They are mostly gone.

“People are opening their wallets, finally,” said Mickey Palper, owner of a fur shop. “It seems like the general attitude is much better.”

Western-wear purveyor Tom Yoder said the vibes are different. “It feels busy and we’re having more fun,” he told the newspaper. “I think that’s the main thing. We and our customers are having more fun. Last year, we were all just a little puckered.”

In the I-70 corridor, there were also reports of an uptick. Paul Connelly, owner of a reservations booking service in Frisco, told theSummit Daily News that reservations are higher, if price points are lower. Two flagship lodges, one in Vail and the other in Breckenridge, were filled for New Year’s.


Blackout hits on busiest eve of year

SUN VALLEY, Idaho – For years, Idaho Power had been warning that Sun Valley, Ketchum and other towns in the Wood River Valley were at risk of failing power. Late on Christmas Eve, it happened.

Nearly everything was affected. Some people thought to flee, but the gas station pumps weren’t working. Similarly, tap water was unavailable in places because of the lack of pumps. Homes that were electrified rapidly got cold. Albertson’s, the community’s largest grocery store, opened the door to the cold to prevent frozen items from warming.

Sometime the next day, the electricity returned to portions, but not soon enough for the ski lifts at Bald and Dollar mountains to begin operations. At Sun Valley Resort, guests were slipped notes under their doors during the night to advise them that staying in bed was the best recourse for the time being. At some point, though, gas grills used in the summer were fired up to heat coffee and cook a makeshift buffet.

There were a few exceptions. The local hospital has a backup generator able to sustain operations for up to two weeks. And one bar in Ketchum had anticipated just such an occurrence with its own backup generator, which kept on the lights and doubled the business. Not so down valley in Hailey, where actor and bar owner Bruce Willis and his band were cut off mid-song by the loss of electricity.

TheIdaho Mountain Express, after reporting all this, observed that local officials had failed to use the Internet, which remained accessible to people with smartphones, in informing people where they could find necessities.

The outage was caused by a combination of cold, iced power lines and high demand.


Park City makes green resolutions

PARK CITY, Utah – Diane Foster, the environmental sustainability manager for Park City’s municipal government, has come up with a novel idea. In an effort to promote awareness of an individual’s environmental impacts, she has launched something called “My Sustainable Year.”

Think of “My Sustainable Year” as being like a New Year’s resolution, but more like a sampler. Instead of an onerous year-long commitment, there will be 52 possible actions, to be executed for a week each.

For example, one week’s vows call for an individual to live on 20 gallons of water per day. Another would have somebody try to adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet for a week.

A third week might be to go without indoor lights at home. That, explained Foster, can make a person aware of the easy habit of flipping a switch.

“I have no idea how this is going to go,” she said in late December. She said the idea is based loosely on the “One Book, One Community” program. In the case of Park City, she has no illusions that everybody will participate from day one. But, over time, she hopes that enough people participate that it becomes a conversation topic and spreads virally.

Park City would seem to be receptive to the program. When a meeting about global warming was held several years ago, 1,000 people showed up.

More recently, Foster solicited ideas about what steps might be taken to make the local community more self-sufficient and with fewer environmental impacts. Some 90 people showed up. Colorado-based Brendle Group, a consultant in energy matters, said that turnout was as large as one in North Carolina with four to five times the population.

“For a Tuesday night in November with the only bribe being cookies,” that was pretty good, said Foster.

That meeting was part of a community envisioning process. Foster said a draft action plan is tentatively scheduled for April release. That plan will sort through the potential actions steps, the costs and other challenges to their implementation, and the expected return on investment.


Council sets rules for dispensaries

CRESTED BUTTE – Crested Butte’s Town Council has settled on how it will handle the matter of medical marijuana dispensaries, at least for now. Five permits will be issued, and no more. The town studied what Aspen, Breckenridge and other Colorado towns had done before coming up with their own, unique approach, reports theCrested Butte News.

In Colorado’s Summit County, Sheriff John Minor said while the landscape has changed rapidly, he has problems with some of the changes. Medical use for people in chronic pain he understands, but it seems suspicious when young people are able to get a license for marijuana for an earache.

– Allen Best


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