Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ketchum leaders worked just as well at local lodge

Clear vision and focus on things that need to be done in the face of the nation's worst economy since the Great Depression were top of mind as the Ketchum City Council and Mayor Randy Hall met in an open retreat at the Warm Springs Lodge on Monday to set out the city's priorities for the coming year.

Previously, such meetings were held elsewhere. Elected officials in Ketchum and Sun Valley extolled the virtues of getting away from the stresses of their respective city halls to discuss where and how to lead.

The appeal of out-of-town retreats is obvious. Yet, they deprived the public of hearing firsthand the thought processes of elected leaders who shape daily life in their communities.

They put the origins of the local public agenda for the coming year behind a curtain.

It turns out that a day in Warm Springs Lodge at the base of Baldy can be as relaxed and productive as somewhere else.

A handful of people watched as the council, the mayor, the community development director and the city manager put together a list of priorities for the coming year, kicked around ideas and discussed the state of the city with members of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

City leaders settled on a short list of priorities that are straightforward and forward-looking.

The mayor and council want to focus on improving the base tourism economy by supporting continued marketing, development of new hotels and development of an attractive downtown center that may include improvements on the plaza across from Atkinsons' Market—if and when the city can find the money.

They also want to take steps to try to attract new clean and green businesses to Ketchum in order to leave the town less vulnerable to future economic downturns in tourism and construction.

They are painfully aware of the image and the safety problems presented by a number of empty commercial buildings and want to work with building owners to see that they don't become eyesores or hazards.

P&Z commissioners are looking at the downturn in construction as an opportunity for the city to reinvent itself with an emphasis on energy conservation in new and remodeled buildings—and even solar power generation—by creating incentives in the form of increased densities or fee waivers. They want the city to plan now to face spiking energy costs in the future and to protect the area's clean air and water.

By the end of the meeting, even one of the city's strongest critics was moved to say, "The city should do this more often."

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