Friday, May 23, 2008

North valley economy in jeopardy

The Wood River Economic Partnership board of directors includes Troy Ballard, entrepreneur; Doug Brown, Jane's/RSVP; Bob Corker, US Trust/Bank of America; Dick Fosbury, Galena Engineering; Bryan Furlong, First Bank of Idaho; Frank Halverson, Power Engineers; Rick Hickman, Sun Valley Co.; Steve Mills, Webb Landscaping; Eric Newman, entrepreneur; Tom Nickel, Sawtooth Club/Roosevelt Tavern; Eric Seder, Sun Valley Shutters and Shades; and John Sofro, John Alan Partners.


The Wood River Economic Partnership is a valley-wide, membership-supported organization that advocates and educates on behalf of the business community with respect to government, economic and civic issues that affect the ability of businesses to flourish in our region. WREP represents member businesses that employ approximately 2,500 local residents and their families.

One of WREP's top five priorities is promoting responsible development of hotels and other amenities to help maintain the "critical mass" of visitor spending and general economic activity needed to sustain the diversity and vibrancy that ultimately determine the quality of life achievable in our area. There are many indications that the sustainability of the north valley economy is in jeopardy:

· We all know of many Ketchum residents who have moved south in recent years or left the valley.

· An increasing proportion of housing in Ketchum and Sun Valley is for absentee homeowners who aren't here for most of the year.

· Retail businesses and restaurants are struggling and many have closed or moved south.

· Many remaining businesses have cut back hours of operation due to lack of available employees.

We all know that new hotels alone are not a panacea, but we strongly believe they are a critical part of revitalizing a lagging economy and building a sustainable future. With such promising initiatives as Sun Valley Co.'s gondola, symphony pavilion, new golf course, gun range and spa, the planned new facility for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, the Fourth Street redevelopment, the vitalization of the Ketchum CDC and a possible new nextStage Theatre, there is reason to be hopeful. However, these developments, without parallel development of modern, high-quality hotels will certainly not be enough to provide the boost that our local economy needs.

The three hotel projects currently in various preliminary stages of the approval process will provide for only 286 "hot beds," while we have lost around 500 hotel beds in the north valley in the last few years. Very little of the remaining stock of hotel beds is geared to attracting the type of customer who is typically choosing between the top resorts in the world. We are very impressed with the commitment of the prospective hotel developers to independent international marketing efforts, housing for employees, providing community-use facilities and willingness to take public concerns into account.

As hotel projects are proposed there are always legitimate concerns about design, height, mass and scale. That is inevitable. But there is a larger issue that affects all the stakeholders in the valley: What is going to happen if we don't upgrade our high-end visitor capacity as quickly as possible?

The fact is that we all have a strong self-interest in bringing these projects to our valley. Walk around downtown Ketchum and survey the vacant storefronts and condos. Talk to the merchants about their businesses. Ask your friends what they think about the quality of services and goods offered. The current situation is not good and the trend is toward an even less vital future for our community.

Business is the underlying basis for all of the lifestyle and recreation options that make our area so desirable. If Ketchum/Sun Valley continues to lose its restaurants and bars, grocery stores, drug stores, variety stores, and other goods and services providers necessary to compete with other resorts, we will inevitably slide into the second tier of desirability.

We urge you, our elected and appointed officials, to approve these projects while taking into account the legitimate concerns of all members of our community through the P&Z process. You have our support.

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