Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Focus on recreation, not hotel cold war

By SEAN HIGGINS, a resident of Ketchum

At the Ketchum City Council meeting and public hearing July 28, one of the developers stressed the idea that our valley is competing with other destination resorts for a piece of the tourism pie. He went on to say that his proposed boutique spa-hotel is necessary because it is the "latest and greatest," and that it would put Ketchum a leg-up on the competition. While it is true that we are competing with other resorts in the attraction of tourism, the proposed plan at Warm Springs goes about it the wrong way. Since the end of the silver boom in the late 1800s, recreation has been the driving force behind our valley's economy. People come to our valley for its recreation. They come for the mountains, the rivers, the golf courses and the open spaces. They come to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, a life that I have become all too familiar with after two years in Denver. People do not come for the hotels. When people hear "boutique-spa" they do not think "Ketchum, Idaho." Sun Valley Ventures ... I hate to break your heart ... but when people want big, obtrusive, extravagant hotels, with big, obtrusive, extravagant parking garages, they go to Las Vegas. Bunny Hilton from Beverly Hills doesn't need to travel a thousand miles to get a manicure. So why are the developers telling us that in order to survive, we need to take part in a hotel building contest? Is it because they really know what's best for the community? Or could there be some other strange, hidden motive? Hmmm ... I wonder what that motive could be?

As a community, we need to avoid the hotel cold war. Instead, we need to focus on recreation. I have lived here my entire life. I am a product of the community; a product of the mountains, the rivers, the open spaces and all the many different forms of recreation. I have seen the valley expand and change. I have seen new banks, restaurants and businesses. I have seen a countless amount of new homes built, and I have even seen new hotels built. One thing I haven't seen, however, is an expansion in the city of Ketchum's recreation capacity. Call me crazy, but I am pretty sure that those two soccer fields at Atkinson Park are the same ones that I learned the game on. (Councilwoman) Terry Tracy, the former recreation director, could verify this. I'm also pretty sure we have had the same number of baseball fields, golf courses and tennis courts for that same amount of time, and, no, the Valley Club, Thunder Springs and Sage Willow do not count. I am talking about affordable, active municipal recreation. Not million-dollar, country-club recreation; not private, exclusive, members-only recreation. I am talking about go-out-with-your-family, lose-20-golf-balls and shoot-an-82-on-nine-holes-and-still-have-a-great-time recreation. This is what we need to protect!

I hate to say it, but I am one of the few local boys who still think this place is great. And while the youth contingent may not concern you at the moment, Father Time will eventually put the power into our hands. Sadly, most of my peers don't think this place holds a candle to Jackson, or to Vail or to Snowbird ... and guess what: It's not because they can't find a good boutique-spa to hang out in. The reason is actually all about recreation. Vail has its amazing white-water kayak park, Snowbird has all kinds of surrounding municipal golf courses, and Jackson is just plain sick. (Not to mention the fabulous Wilson Beach.) So how do we go about keeping our valley great? We need to mobilize! Too many people have been scared into complacency by the ever-looming threat of big, bad "Plan B" (which, I have been told by the wise, is nothing more than a scare tactic).

Even worse, other people have actually bought into the developer's sales pitch. Strangely enough, these people actually believe that a paved "nature trail" through 48 "luxury cabins" complete with a tadpole exhibit sounds like a great time. Well, don't be so blind! The city's comprehensive plan has ways to protect us from this future. There are current policies, in action, which mandate that the project must "actively pursue active recreational or useable open space for the Warm Springs neighborhood, particularly on flat, undeveloped land in central Warm Springs." And also the project must "maintain public use of semi-private recreational facilities" (Ketchum Comprehensive Plan. Chapter 4.9.A: Policy 4.9.A.6). The City Council pointed out that for the proposal to comply with the (plan), there must not be "any net loss of recreation."

Now, Mr. Dean will tell you that the "nature walk" and tadpole pond will more than compensate for the loss of recreation due to the demolition of the golf course. I'm not even a golfer, but I see no possible way that anyone would rack up a greater amount of recreating from a paved nature path and a tadpole pond than from one of the weekly scrambles at "The Jewel." Besides, Warm Springs already has some little trout ponds, two of them, just around the bend and they were stocked with over a thousand trout the other day. But you probably didn't know that did you, Mr. Dean?

And fear not, keepers of The Jewel, we can enjoy more protection from that great document that is the Ketchum Comprehensive Plan. Policy 4.9.A.2 states that the city is compelled to "monitor tourist and commercial traffic generated by the ski base area and the various commercial uses in the area to ensure traffic does not negatively impact the neighborhood." All you "Warm Sprinqers," remember the joy you experienced in July when you were forced to take the most obscure detour known to man. Well, get used to it because the construction isn't scheduled to be finished until 2012. All of you up-streamers better stock up on supplies because the commute just got longer, not to mention more dangerous. Bikers, pedestrians and kids, you better watch your backs and look both ways before you cross the street. Does this sound like the direction we want our community to take? If not, let's change its course. I say we put the U.S.S. Warm Springs into the biggest iceberg of public disapproval we can find! Maybe then the crew at Sun Valley Ventures will abandon ship.

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