On a recent spiritual trip to Las Vegas, I noticed a prominent Trump hotel mixed in with the other resorts. Seeing as Aspen is a bit of Vegas in the mountains, it made me wonder what it would be like to have a Trump hotel here.
Close your eyes and visualize Wagner Park and the view of Aspen Mountain from town as it is now. Now take a deep breath, swallow hard, and picture a Trump hotel with a big backlit sign at the head of Aspen’s Central Park. Imagine an over-the-top garish lobby: gold fixtures, red carpet and wall-to-wall pink marble, the kind that looks like salami, perhaps even a fleet of gold Escalades speeding around town. That scenario was a very real possibility. There was a time, not so long ago, when Donald Trump had Aspen by the balls.
It’s common local knowledge that Trump was in negotiations for several years with the owners of the Mountain Chalet, the old Grand Aspen and the St. Regis. If our previously playboy president had had his way, one or all of those would be Trump properties. It’s best to let the personal anecdotes of interactions with Donald Trump in Aspen — and there are many — be left alone to their owners. Let them incubate in Aspen’s fertile petri dish of lore. One thing’s for sure, though, Trump was outmaneuvered on the slopes by his wife and in the Pitkin County Courthouse by another developer.
If Aspen’s proven one thing, time and again, it’s that we’ll gladly do anything for money. If there was a Trump hotel here, you better believe that it would employ a bunch of people, some who may even be undocumented. I, for one, would be there providing my services, schlepping away just like all the rest of us in the service industry.
Hypothetically, what would a Trump hotel have meant for Aspen’s reputation? The mere mention is provocative. My thoughts are that it would actually be somewhat of a success, selling out during busy times just like everywhere else. Would a Trump hotel in Aspen really be any more outlandish than the Koch brothers’ mansion, Prince Bandar’s lavish estate, Kenneth Lay’s former houses here, or any one of the multitudes of conservative palaces built here? Personally, these days I tense up at the mere sight of a red baseball hat.
The part that makes me feel some sense of relief that there’s not a Trump hotel here is that it would be a constant target for hysteria, outrage and, ultimately, creatively bankrupt vandals. There are still locals hung up on the Aspen Art Museum, for god’s sake. The hotel would be under a constant barrage of some sort. The police would be spending a lot of time there filling out reports. That would ultimately be a stain on our brand. A Trump hotel here would make us the butt of even more jokes, resentment, and mentally unhealthy community dialogue than we are already subject to. People who live in Aspen generally love Aspen. Go 15 minutes away and the relationship becomes a little more complicated.
If there was a prospective site for a Trump hotel, my thoughts are that Snowmass — Aspen’s cantankerous conservative uncle — actually might not be a bad location. It’s entirely possible that either “The Donald” or his sons will, at some time in the future, seek out a location for a hotel here or in Snowmass.
If you thought people were freaking out about the Gorsuch Haus and the Lift One Lodge, just imagine what the local political landscape would be like if there was a Trump hotel being proposed here now. There are only 2,522 reasons for me to believe that a Trump hotel in Aspen would be popular: That’s how many people here voted for him.
In retrospect, my brief fateful interactions with Donald Trump left an impression. I was a lowly limousine driver whose orbit collided with his ever so briefly. Thankfully, it was before the internet, when you experienced things in person or maybe not at all. I’m lucky to have met him from a unique Aspen happenstance point of view. My lasting image: locking eyes with him in the rear-view mirror as he put up the privacy partition between us.
As history and fate would have it, Aspen is a silver town. Donald Trump is more of a gold guy. Maybe that’s the simple reason he never succeeded here.