Friday, March 11, 2011

Ketchum wants more opinions on economy

Younger voices are needed, city says

Express Staff Writer

Andrew Syler isn't one of the usual faces seen at Ketchum's economic development meetings. The 25-year-old isn't a city councilman, planning and zoning commissioner or part of an economic nonprofit group, but he's exactly what the city was looking for Wednesday—an ordinary resident. The city held a meeting that evening at Hemingway Elementary School to gather the community's opinion on what it should do over the next decade to spark growth and build a more prosperous economy. The culled input will then be used in writing the Economic Development chapter of the city's comprehensive plan, laying out the roadmap for government decisions from now until 2020.

But participation has been hard to come by since the process began a few months ago, according to Lisa Horowitz, Ketchum's director of community and economic development. Wednesday attracted the usual candidates, but Syler was one of the few new faces.

The two-year sous chef at Sun Valley Resort's banquet kitchen came because he's at a decision point in his life and wants to know if there's a future here.

"I'm deciding if I'm going to move or stay here," said the former Florida resident.

He said he wants to start a restaurant but has doubts about doing it here.

"I think about it all the time, every day," he said. "I haven't gotten it all figured out yet. That's why I'm here."

He says he'd like to know where the city's going before setting his roots deep in Ketchum soil. And the city's fear of new competition is frankly off-putting, he said, referring to Ketchum restaurateurs banding together to prevent food vendors on the town square or a food-service business opening in the visitor center.


Syler's situation is one of the prime economic challenges identified in Monday's meeting. The 26 participants split into groups of four and each picked their three top initiatives to spur economic growth. One focus was attracting and retaining young professionals, which would diversify the aging population and tourist-based economy. Discussion of how to do so involved reducing the local cost of living by providing affordable housing to not only low-income earners but to those in the middle as well. Several groups centered on installing fiber optics and other infrastructure for ultra-high-speed Internet.

"We'd be the most wired ski town in the world," a participant said.

Syler said his dilemma isn't unusual. He said his friends, who are about the same age, told him they were going to come and had "a lot of complaints but didn't show up to vent their frustrations."

Hearing those voices is the challenge, Horowitz said.

"We want to have more input," she said, mentioning that the city faced the same obstacle a decade ago. "We're definitely taking the show on the road."

She said city officials might set up a booth in Atkinsons' Market to chat with shoppers and also post an online poll of what people think needs to be done.

Northwood Place now full

Northwood Place, Ketchum's only development consisting entirely of affordable housing, rented out its last apartment of 32, according to a Wednesday announcement by the Ketchum Community Development Corp. "We couldn't be happier with the speed they went," said Executive Director Jon Duval. The CDC planned the development on Saddle Road just north of the Wood River Community YMCA. The first couple of apartments were open to renters in October and the rest have progressively been finished since then. "This speaks highly for the second development," Duval said.

The CDC is planning a four-story affordable-apartment building at the corner of Washington Avenue and First Street.

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