Friday, July 22, 2011

Mountain Town News


Jackson studies how to improve retail vibrancy

JACKSON, Wyo. --- With the municipal budget pinched by continued declines in sales tax revenues, leaders in Jackson are talking about potential regulations to limit new banks, art galleries and real estate shops at ground-floor locations in the town's prime shopping area.

Real estate offices and banks do not collect sales taxes. Galleries do—but there's a loophole, in that if the piece of art is shipped to another location, the local tax can sometimes be avoided.

Gallery owners polled by the Jackson Hole News&Guide disagree. One gallery owner reported collecting $40,000 in sales taxes last year. Terry Ray, owner of West Lives On Gallery, said Jackson is an art destination that produces high-end tourism.

The overall goal, said Jackson Planning Director Tyler Sinclair, is to produce a more vibrant downtown.

"We want to have ground-floor businesses that promote a lights-on, inviting environment," he told the newspapers. "That means looking at how buildings can be inviting to the public, and the design of the first floor is important to that. Retail uses are much more inviting."

Among ski towns, Vail was the first to put the skids on real-estate offices. That was in the 1970s. Existing offices were grandfathered in. In the last decade, Aspen, Crested Butte, Park City and others have studied limits on real estate offices. However, not all have moved forward with the idea.

McCall, Idaho, in 2006 banned new medical, law, engineering and real estate offices from ground-level locations, but not banks.

"During the real estate boom, downtown filled with lots of real estate offices, and people just didn't want to go there," said Michelle Groenevelt, McCall's community development director. "The purpose of the ordinance was to create a more vibrant downtown with curb appeal."

The ordinance seems to be working, she told the News&Guide.

Affordable housing on the Aspen agenda

ASPEN, Colo. -- Affordable housing continues to be front and center in Aspen. The number of bids for existing deed-restricted units has dropped from the boom years, but there's no evidence that many lower-income workers are forsaking the local housing for free-market housing located down-valley in Basalt, reports The Aspen Times.

For example, a one-bedroom, one-bath unit with a price of $159,177 attracted 39 prospective buyers. Units are sold in a lottery system.

City officials are trying to gauge interest in the second phase of Burlingame Ranch, one of Aspen's largest affordable housing projects. The first phase included 91 homes. Another 167 are planned in coming phases.

Meanwhile, a developer who had won approval for a lodge within the city in 2006 instead wants to build a private-market affordable housing complex. However, even though the housing complex is smaller in bulk, neighbors have objected to the size of the complex proposed by Steve Stunda.

Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland said he believes the neighborhood would be strengthened by the inclusion of workers in the area, unlike units for fractional or other part-time residents.

"I prefer having people around ... and I tell you what, it's great," he said.

In what amounted to a straw poll, a majority of council members endorsed the compromise that was struck between the developer and the neighbors, reports The Times.

SmartWool offices to remain in Steamboat

STEAMBAOT SPRINGS, Colo. -- SmartWool has become a favorite of outdoors people. The firm is headquartered in Steamboat Springs, though it was long ago sold to a larger company, Timberland, which in turn was recently gulped by an even larger company, apparel giant VF Corp.

So what would happen to the hometown company? It turns out that SmartWool will keep its headquarters at the little-used airport on a mesa above Steamboat Springs through at least 2022, and it will double its space.

Crested Butte looks at law to limit idling

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. -- Like Ketchum, Aspen and many other resort communities, Crested Butte is considering a law prohibiting the extended idling of internal-combustion vehicles.

The council is scheduled to take up the issue this week, but the proposed ordinance looks extremely weak.

"It's a statement ordinance," Councilman Jim Schmidt told the Crested Butte News. "It says this is what we would like to see. I can't see it being enforced at all unless a situation is egregious."

Peak2Peak a big hit in Whistler summers

WHISTLER, B.C. -- With the thrilling, acrophobia-inducing Peak2Peak gondola leading the way, summer business continues to improve at Whistler. Business volume at the gondola has picked up 50 percent since it opened three years ago.

Summer now accounts for 15 percent of the total annual revenues of the ski area operator, Whistler Blackcomb. More broadly in the resort community, advance bookings for lodging were up 16 percent during July, reports Pique Newsmagazine.

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