Don’t emulate Aspen
Don’t regulate business to
death, Frick says
Part 1 in series of 2
By GREGORY FOLEY
Express Staff Writer
Ketchum and Sun Valley
administrators could foster vitality in the local economy if they learn
from the mistakes of Aspen, Colo., a specialist in resort development
economics said this week.
Ford Frick, managing director
of Denver-based BBC Research and Consulting, addresses a group of
Wood River Valley elected officials and business operators gathered at
the Sun Valley Lodge. Frick used a study of retail activity in Aspen,
Colo. to explain the challenges of maintaining a healthy resort economy.
Express photo by David N. Seelig
Ford Frick, managing director of
Denver-based resort consultant BBC Research and Consulting, told a crowd
of Wood River Valley elected officials and business operators that
Ketchum has the basic elements to be a successful resort for the long
term, but must allow for changes to occur.
"(Ketchum) is a smile with some
missing teeth all the way through it," Frick said.
Frick’s comments came Wednesday,
Feb. 4, during the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau’s annual
"Economic Outlook Breakfast," held at the Sun Valley Lodge.
In addressing the issue of how to
ensure mountain resort towns stay economically viable and competitive,
Frick noted that many established communities have recently sought to
revamp their commercial cores to compete with a new Goliath in the ski
industry: planned resort villages designed almost exclusively for
Frick, who is currently working as
a consultant to the city of Aspen, talked at length about the renowned
ski resort’s struggle to maintain a healthy business environment amid
soaring real-estate prices and declining destination-skier visits.
The central Colorado city has been
contending with commercial-space lease rates of $90 to $140 per square
foot, a high number of commercial real-estate vacancies and an overall
loss of business diversity.
Frick said a decline in economic
vitality in the Aspen downtown core has been exacerbated by the success
of the residential real-estate market, which has changed the
demographics of the city and forced some residents to relocate to
"A real estate economy uses—or
doesn’t use—a downtown much differently than one that caters to
destination guests," Frick said, noting that some retail businesses have
followed residents who have migrated down the Roaring Fork Valley—an
approximately 50-mile corridor with Aspen and Glenwood Springs at each
Other factors contributing to
Aspen’s faltering retail economy include growth in non-retail business
and strict city regulations that prohibit businesses from effectively
displaying their signs and products.
"Aspen is regulated to death," he
Specifically, Frick said, the city
has placed such restrictive regulations on signs that many visitors have
difficulty finding specific locations and are often not attracted to
"It is acceptable to let people
know where they’re going," he said.
In addition, Frick said, city
government has restricted redevelopment of certain key parcels in the
commercial core by enforcing view ordinances that guarantee scenic
mountain views to some property owners. Subsequently, several valuable
properties developed with small structures are not being used
"Height, density: These are good
things," he said.
As a result of the numerous
factors plaguing business in Aspen, Frick said, the city has lost its
"messy vitality"—the unpolished vibrancy of people socializing and doing
business in a lively, free-market atmosphere.
Barbara Vanderpool, of
Ketchum-based Vanderpool Properties, poses a question to resort
consultant Ford Frick at the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors
Bureau’s annual "Economic Outlook Breakfast." Express photo by David
Long considered a model of
mountain-resort success, Aspen has undergone a profound evolution in the
last 15 years. Many older businesses in the 1990s gave way to global
retail chains, such as Benetton, Banana Republic and Gucci. However, in
recent years, many of the big-name vendors have closed their Aspen
stores and left empty retail spaces behind.
The challenge faced by Aspen
officials and residents to revitalize their downtown is by no means
unique, Frick said.
"This is going on everywhere."
Snowmass Village, Colo., South
Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Mammoth Lakes, Calif., have all recently taken
measures to redevelop their commercial cores, Frick said.
Other resort cities, such as
Breckenridge, Colo., and Vail, Colo., have sought to add specific
elements—such as gondolas, tourist attractions or lodging—to improve
their competitive standing.
As for Ketchum, Frick said the
city seems to exhibit an "attractive looseness" in its regulation of
business activity—providing for more "messy vitality" than what is found
At the same time, Frick suggested,
Ketchum would likely benefit if administrators and residents cooperated
to encourage a moderately managed evolution of the business district.
(Part 2 of the series Wednesday,
Feb. 11, will review Frick’s recommendations for revitalizing downtown