Friday, December 30, 2011

Differing views kept Ketchum debates lively

Voters decided not to upend form of government, mayor’s office


By REBECCA MEANY
Express Staff Writer

Architect Mark Thompson adjusts a model of the new visitor center in September in Ketchum’s Town Square. Thompson, who works for Susan Desko, principal architect on the building’s renovation, was one of many volunteers who contributed to the project. Photo by Mountain Express

Several issues that had been simmering in Ketchum for years found resolution in 2011. Residents voted down a proposal to change the form of government, the final piece of Town Square was completed, an agreement for a new Warm Springs Ranch Resort was inked and the city embarked on an update to its 2001 comprehensive plan.

Some of the issues stirred hope, some aroused aggravation and many proved that Ketchum residents are moved to action when they feel important issues need an advocate.

City retained form of government

An initiative petition launched by Ketchum resident Anne Corrock generated discussion and controversy as 233 people signed on to an effort to change the form of government from a strong-mayor to a council-manager system. The idea initially arose more than two years ago but failed to gain traction.

This summer, Corrock led an initiative petition drive that placed the matter on the November ballot, arguing that the council-manager form would make Ketchum's government more professional and more efficient.

Some opponents, including Councilman Larry Helzel, said politics was the primary motivator. He called the effort a "very thinly disguised recall." Corrock was involved in an effort to recall Mayor Randy Hall in 2008.

Ketchum voters rejected the idea. Because the "no" vote rendered the election of council candidates null and void, the current council and mayor kept their seats. Ketchum will hold another election in May to vote on the seats held by Helzel and Curtis Kemp.

Visitor center, Starbucks opened

The purchase of a former bank building on the corner of East Avenue and Sun Valley Road four years ago set in motion a plan that culminated in a grand reopening Nov. 11 of a new visitor center.

After short stints in various buildings, the visitor center found its permanent location in the building, which was renovated with the help of dozens of volunteers and in-kind and cash donations.

The remodeled building put a modern twist on the visitor center experience, but left some Chamber of Commerce members feeling sidelined as technology trumped traditional methods of information dissemination.

Sharing the space is a Starbucks franchise, which opened after months of often acrimonious debate about whether the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency-owned, and taxpayer funded, building should rent space to a private enterprise.

Some Ketchum residents and business owners supported a nationally known business operating in the building, helping to draw people in to the visitor center. Others, however, objected to what they saw as an unfair selection process and contract agreement between the URA and franchise owners. They argued that the building was bought for the public and should benefit everyone, not just Starbucks' owners.

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Comp plan launched

The city began a process of public outreach, research and analysis that will result in a new comprehensive plan—a document that guides the city's land use, development and infrastructure, and confirms its values and vision.

"Planning Our Common Future," Ketchum's comprehensive plan update process, kicked off in October, with more than 200 people present at a town hall meeting.

"The future isn't something that happens to you," Chris Gates, executive director of PACE, Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement, said at the meeting. "The future is something you create. Decide who you want to be, then go get it."

The city hopes the process will be complete next year or early 2013.

Marketing Alliance turns 1

A new structure, a revised strategy and a rocky economy presented the Sun Valley Marketing Alliance with a handful of challenges in its first full year of operations.

This summer, the alliance hired Arlene Schieven, former vice president of marketing for Tourism Whistler, as its new president and chief marketing officer.

As the organization focused on marketing rather than business advocacy, and a labor-light, media-heavy approach to spending, it also had to contend with funding worries.

Sun Valley and Ketchum each contributed $400,000 last year, but Sun Valley lowered its amount this fiscal year. That set off a round of accusations between the cities, and raised doubt as to the long-term funding supplies for the alliance.

In the meantime, some members voiced surprise and dissatisfaction at what they said is a lack of effective representation. Others said the new approach is a good one, and fellow members should give it more time to show results.

Alliance leaders counted among the group's successes events like the Ride Sun Valley Bike Festival as well as increased presence on social media sites.

Hotel sector saw movement

The city approved a revised plan for Warm Springs Ranch Resort, a project years in the making, and the remaking.

"This project is a game changer for the community," Mayor Randy Hall said.

The initial project was approved in 2009, but the economy stalled and so did the project.

After downsizing the plan and gaining concessions from the city, developers will build a 500,000-square-foot project instead of the original one of 750,000 square feet.

The Knob Hill Inn, an existing boutique hotel, was put up for auction last summer. Investor group KHI, including members with local connections, renovated the inn and held a reopening before Christmas.

The hotel projects mean an increase in guestrooms, which many people see as vital to increasing tourism—the lifeblood of the economy—in the Ketchum-Sun Valley area.

"This is the exact kind of thing that we need in Idaho," said Gov. Butch Otter while he was in town for a Capital for a Day event.

Rebecca Meany: rmeany@mtexpress.com




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