In order for Aspen to have a sustainable economy, the city needs to remove bureaucracy from its public process and deregulate the local lodging industry, according to a new economic sustainability study.
The study was presented by Debbie Braun, president of the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA), and Donnie Lee, The Gant manager, at the annual Aspen business luncheon, which was hosted by ACRA and the city of Aspen, on Thursday. The report was created by an ACRA subcommittee and was based off of a similar one done in 2002.
Since the first report was published, Aspen residents have not seen an increase in their inflation-adjusted income or in the number of jobs available locally, the study says. There also has been nearly no retail sales growth since the 1990s, once revenues are adjusted for inflation, and over the past 20 years the highest lodging occupancy levels occurred in the late ’90s.
“It is not a sustainable foundation for the kind of community we aspire to be,” Braun said.
To combat those downward economic trends, the report suggests that the city of Aspen streamline the process for people who are starting a new business, which the council currently has as a top-10 goal for 2013. The study also suggests that the city remove development restrictions and mitigation requirements on the renovation of lodging and condominium units. Those regulations have become confusing and contradictory over the years as different City Councils add new rules. The study does not articulate what restrictions and requirements should be removed.
“We need a commitment to unraveling these restrictions, reevaluating the level of mitigation requirements and allowing owners a cost-effective means of accomplishing unit improvements,” the study says.
Mayor Mick Ireland, who opened the luncheon with a short speech, argued against removing government regulations on development. Deregulation could lead to the gentrification of neighborhoods, he said. That’s what happened in the West End, where empty high-end homes have driven out a local population, Ireland said.
“Is this what we want to do with the remainder of the community?” Ireland asked.
For Ireland, the biggest challenges Aspen will face in the future is how to combat climate change and maintain both a bed base and local community, he said.
Some of the things the city has done right over the past few years includes ensuring the USA Pro Challenge bike race will stop in Aspen, passing a lodging tax to pay for marketing the resort and approving the Aspen Art Museum, he said.
“We’ve had a lot of things go right, which is easy to overlook,” Ireland added.
The study also says the local government should commit to expanding the airport to attract more airline services to the valley, and a development plan should be made for the Lift 1A neighborhood at the base of Aspen Mountain in order to make the resort economy sustainable.