The public may have to wait up to two months to know the total value of the taxpayer-funded incentives that are being used to lure Delta Air Lines back to the Aspen market.
The airline and the Aspen Skiing Co. announced Wednesday that Delta will begin operating daily flights to and from Atlanta, and Saturday-only flights from Minneapolis, on Dec. 21. The air service will last at least through March 30, and the airline will determine whether to keep going in future winters and summers once the flights begin. Delta had a presence here from 2006 to 2010 before pulling out of the market.
Over the last few months, officials with the city of Aspen, the town of Snowmass Village, Pitkin County and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, along with SkiCo, agreed that bringing more air service to the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport is a priority worth supporting with tax dollars.
While the Delta deal has materialized as the manifestation of that goal, the total dollar amount that some of the jurisdictions will be contributing remains hazy, even to the officials in charge of approving the expenditures. The amounts are said to be similar to a nearly half-million dollar, one-time incentive package given to American Airlines to start flying here in 2011.
In Snowmass Village, which has a 2.5 percent sales tax to support tourism promotion efforts, the marketing advisory board is still determining what the town’s contribution will be, according to tourism director Yan Baczkowski. The amount is not likely to be finalized and voted on until the next marketing board meeting, which is in two months, he said.
Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Boineau said the Town Council at one point met in executive session to discuss the deal with Delta, but he said he couldn’t recall what dollar figures were discussed. He said there was some concern expressed by council members about spending public dollars and what benefits would be returned to the town’s coffers.
Boineau added that he saw no reason why the public contribution to the air service couldn’t be disclosed now that the Delta has agreed to fly here.
Aspen City Council met in executive session on July 8 to discuss negotiations with Delta, according to community relations director Mitzi Rapkin. The reason for the closed door meeting, as allowed by state law, was “determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations, developing strategy for negotiations and instructing negotiators,” Rapkin wrote in an email.
Council will vote on the city’s portion of the incentive package at its Aug. 12 meeting, Rapkin said.
Two Pitkin County commissioners were unclear as to what the county’s contribution would be, although Commissioner Michael Owsley said it would be “a minor part.” He recalled discussing the matter in executive session perhaps 10 days ago, but wasn’t sure. He also thought that any county dollars going toward an incentive package would be coming from an enterprise fund managed by the airport, not the government’s general fund.
Commission Chair George Newman said he recalled a more general discussion months ago, when the county agreed to partner with other agencies to bring another airline to Aspen. He said he expects county administrators will come forward with a more refined proposal soon, which would be voted on in public.
ACRA President Debbie Braun said the chamber, which is supported by a lodging tax, would give $75,000 toward the Delta effort.
SkiCo vice president David Perry, who was the lead negotiator for the community with Delta, said fully disclosing the incentive package the airline is getting doesn’t help the town and the resort’s competitive position. The information is valuable to other resorts, he said, which could use it to outpace Aspen in its efforts at bolstering air service.
Still, Perry said he had “no issue with public contributions coming out at the right time,” which would be when they are voted on and approved publicly, he said. SkiCo is presumably also participating in the incentive package, but since the company is a private business, it does not have to disclose what it is paying.
When American Airlines agreed to serve the Aspen airport in the summer of 2011, with flights beginning that December, public agencies put together an incentive package worth $425,000 — $275,000 in marketing and promotional support, and $150,000 in cash. The cash came from the city of Aspen, which gave $50,000; $25,000 from ACRA and $75,000 from the town of Snowmass Village. ACRA put in $125,000 in marketing for American over two years and the town of Snowmass Village contributed $150,000 for promotion.
Marketing support includes advertising campaigns, as well as “familiarization” tours, where travel agents and writers are given complimentary trips in hopes that they will promote the resort and the new air connections to others.
When the American deal was announced, the city’s financial contribution was disclosed on the same day.
Aspen Mayor Steve Skadron said the incentive package Delta is getting is in line with what American received two years ago.
Anthony Black, a spokesman for Delta, said in an email that the company doesn’t comment on the details of its service agreements, but he said he is confident that “all contractual conditions will have been met in advance of our in-service date in December.”