Friday, April 8, 2011

Open for business


As I have stated in public meetings numerous times, Ketchum businesses are suffering from the twin perils of slack demand and shortage of capital. In combination, these perils become a deadly disease. Your city government is fighting this by working to expand our visitor-based economy and encourage inflows of investment capital.

The proposed new Starbucks Café, to be located on Ketchum Town Square in the former Mountain West Bank building now owned by the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency, is a very good example of a small step in the right direction. If they are selected pursuant to the URA board's process, the café's owners—members of our local community—have committed to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars of their private capital into this new business. They will employ local contractors to build out the space, and hire local workers to staff it.

The property will be leased at market rates, with the URA paying only to repair/upgrade deficiencies in the building's electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems, and to remove the tint from the windows. All remaining improvements and modifications will be the responsibility of the tenant.

When private donors contributed $460,000 to partner with Ketchum to create Town Square, they envisioned that the amenity of food service would eventually be included to attract more folks to the heart of the city and increase vibrancy. In turn, a vibrant plaza serves as a needed stimulus to surrounding businesses. The Starbucks Café fulfills this vision and allows the city to steer clear of the difficulties of having to deal with food vendors operating seasonally from carts or stands.

Moreover, Starbucks would share this building with a new visitor center, staffed by the Sun Valley Chamber of Commerce. The café would help drive tourists to the visitor center where people can get information, learn about all aspects of our community, purchase tickets to events and, yes, even get help making dining reservations at surrounding restaurants.

And yet, from many local businesspeople we hear angry cries of "unfair," "illegal" and "just plain wrong." Their claim that no public building should accommodate a private commercial use is, in this case, erroneous. This property is not a public building, and, in fact, Idaho law prohibits URA's from owning or operating public buildings.

They also argue that any business in this building, being co-located with the visitor center, will benefit by having some competitive advantage over similar businesses elsewhere in town. I agree—location makes a difference. Question: Is it better public policy to protect every existing business from potential competitive pressures, or to try to stimulate business conditions for all?

We cannot grow unless we welcome to town new businesses, along with the money and jobs they bring. We need to do this with a smile and a handshake. Your local government is doing its best to create opportunities to make us more attractive to visitors. I personally applaud the Starbucks group for their willingness to work collaboratively to help us create a more vibrant city center. Ketchum will be very fortunate when more companies join Starbucks in expressing such confidence in our community. Our economic future depends upon it.

Larry Helzel is a Ketchum city councilman and a board member of the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency.

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