Business community leaders feeling positive about 2014

by Curtis Wackerle, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Aspen’s business community leaders are looking at 2014 with a sense that maybe, just maybe, things have turned around and the good times are on their way back, according to comments at Tuesday morning’s Aspen Chamber Resort Association board meeting.

Representatives of the retail and lodging sectors reported a strong holiday season, as well as 2013 numbers that were on par or close to the halcyon days of 2007 and 2008 — the high-water mark in terms of revenue for many businesses.

Noting that spring bookings are up at The Gant, where he is the general manager, ACRA board chair Donnie Lee said he is hearing from his friends in the restaurant business that “people are buying wine again” — and not just the inexpensive bottles.

At Stay Aspen Snowmass, which acts as a central reservations agency for numerous local lodges, the first two weeks in January are normally the busiest of the year. Those two weeks this year were the busiest they’ve been since 2009, according to Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich.

“It looks like we’re in for a strong finish” to the ski season, Tomcich said.

He cautioned, however, that when year-over-year numbers look good compared to the last few years, the bar is set low. There are still gaps where plenty more rooms could be sold, he said.

Dwayne Romero, an Aspen City Councilman who also is the president of Related Colorado which is developing Snowmass Base Village, said there could be as many as 200 new units at the base of the mountain in a 24-month time frame. The partially built project has been stalled since the recession hit, but where unfinished construction now sits, plans call for a new Limelight Hotel, a sister building with free-market condos and the second building of the Viceroy Snowmass resort.

The hotel side of the existing Viceroy also saw its best month of December since it opened five years ago, Romero added.

Aspen Skiing Co. vice president David Perry told the board not to underestimate the importance of building out Base Village to the valley’s economic engine.

In addition, pass sales for the June Food & Wine Classic are 10 percent ahead of last year at this point, ACRA events manager Julie Hardman said.

“It’s going to be a spring sellout” for Food & Wine this year, she said.