Aspen city government looks to help ‘locally serving’ businesses
The Aspen Times
TO VOICE YOUR CONCERNS
The Community Development office encourages anyone who’s interested to attend its open house event at The Limelight Hotel on Nov. 9 from 3 to 7 p.m.
A first reading on the proposed amendments to the land-use code is scheduled for Nov. 14, followed by a second reading set for Nov. 28.
It’s the first week of November; the leaves are dead, the outdoor malls, streets and sidewalks are dead and most of the businesses in Aspen’s downtown core are dead or closed — except for Big Wrap, where hungry locals form a line that reaches outside the door as they wait patiently to place an order.
In the past year and a half, Aspen has said goodbye to many of its more affordable, mostly locally owned restaurants, including Boogie’s Diner, Johnny McGuire’s Deli, Little Annie’s, McDonald’s and Main Street Bakery.
With news of Main Street Bakery’s closure last week prompting many to express concerns over the loss of these establishments in Aspen, residents may find relief in knowing the city government is looking for a way to help locally serving businesses, Mayor Steve Skadron said Wednesday.
“OUR MOM-AND-POPS ARE VANISHING”
On Main Street Bakery’s last day in business, an elderly lady in line griped about “losing another one” and said how town isn’t the same anymore.
“The list of longtime local businesses closing is growing,” Aspen City Councilman Bert Myrin wrote on Facebook as he shared The Aspen Times’ story detailing the bakery’s closure.
Myrin also utilized a Facebook feature to let his friends know he was feeling sad about this news.
And based on the 74 comments on Myrin’s post, the Aspen councilman isn’t alone.
Scrolling through the commentary, it appears many people are frustrated and fearful of Aspen losing its sense of character.
“Sorry to see so many of the unique older establishments closing… Aspen is loosing some of it’s (sic) charm,” Myrna Cakerice wrote on The Aspen Times’ Facebook page.
In an interview with The Aspen Times, Terry Butler, who owns The Residence Hotel, echoed: “I am sad. Our mom-and-pops are vanishing. … I just don’t want our downtown core to lose the heart and soul of our mountain town.”
Butler, an Aspen resident for 50 years, added, “If we lose our local ownership of our downtown stores, we’re just going to lose a lot of the charm of why people come here in the first place.”
On Myrin’s post, Betsy Kostizak-D’Alba commented: “There are so many empty, dark spaces in the core or just outside. From Little Annie’s to the entire block to Boogie’s. The city council should not be concerned with MORE beds…. they should be concerned with ALL of these dark commercial spaces. Each week, I see more dark spots popping up. … The restaurants are VERY limited and locals can’t even eat here. How about more lower priced restaurants for not only locals but tourists coming in!”
CITY GOVERNMENT SUPPORT
Beds aside, Skadron said the loss of these businesses is “a huge concern” for the Aspen City Council.
“It’s always unfortunate when longtime restaurants close, and I’ve never liked to see that,” he said. “Those restaurants are a very important fabric of the community.”
While each of these establishments closed for differing reasons, from changes in building ownership to retirement, looking at what might fill these voids is a priority for the city government, Skadron said.
As the city revises its land-use code, the mayor said city officials are “investigating various incentives that can work to preserve and invite locally serving business,” perhaps through a code amendment of some type.
The emergency moratorium, formally known as Ordinance 7, prevents the filing of land-use applications in certain commercial zone districts.
By putting a temporary halt on development, the intent is to allow city officials the time and opportunity to revise its land-use code to align with the Aspen Area Community Plan.
Aspen City Council voted unanimously in mid-March to pass the moratorium, which went into effect immediately.
In April, the city’s Community Development officials began meeting with the City Council and residents through a public outreach, Community Development Director Jessica Garrow said.
“We talked about what are the goals (in revising the city’s land-use code), what kind of businesses do we want to encourage, what kind of businesses do we want to discourage or maybe see less of,” Garrow said.
It became very clear in the meetings that supporting Aspen’s locally serving businesses is of utmost importance, she said.
The term “locally serving,” she explained, refers to businesses that offer a more affordable price point targeted at residents or essential services for residents and/or are locally owned.
Acknowledging the city government’s limitations in helping these businesses, city Long Range Planner Phillip Supino said Community Development is seeking a “design-based” solution.
“We can’t control rent and we can’t control ownership,” Supino said. “And trying to control price point is very challenging and has not been very effective.”
A “SECOND-TIeR” SPACE SOLUTION?
What the city can do, according to Garrow, is help create spaces for these businesses.
The question is, “How do we create the types of spaces that would be appealing to and draw in some new local business?” Garrow said.
Community Development is eyeing what Garrow referred to as “second-tier spaces” as a potential solution.
“These spaces that are not the prime retail where the international luxury chains are,” she explained, and are usually located below or above street level.
Garrow pointed to restaurants like Ryno’s Pub & Pizzeria, La Creperie du Village, Cache Cache and L’Hostaria as examples.
“We’re looking at how can the (land-use) code, without prescribing (building) ownership or rent control, create opportunities for local businesses to gain a foothold in Aspen,” Garrow said. “We have some of these (second-tier) spaces, and part of what council has focused on is how we keep these spaces.”
Preserving the second-tier spaces that exist and somehow incentivizing local businesses to occupy them is one part of the plan.
The city’s goal also is to create more of these second-tier spaces, Garrow said, and to figure out what kinds of incentives it can craft into the new land-use code for developers to design these spaces.
“NOT ALL CHAINS ARE CREATED EQUAL”
“One of the things the council originally looked at was what if we did chain (business) regulations,” Garrow said.
Garrow said it became clear that “not all chains are equal and that there are many chains that exist in Aspen that did serve locals.”
She listed the Gap clothing retailer, McDonald’s, Ace Hardware and the gas stations as examples.
“It became very clear that simply having a chain ban or specific regulations around chains was not necessarily going to reach that council goal in ensuring space and opportunities for local businesses and businesses offering essential needs,” Garrow said.
This realization prompted city officials to explore design and space elements to help meet the need.
In terms of area, it’s the county’s smallest conservation deal ever. In terms of location, it’s one of the county’s rarest acquisitions.