local weather Click for Sun Valley, Idaho Forecast
 front page
 public meetings

 previous edition

 express jobs
 about us
 advertising info
 classifieds info
 internet info
 sun valley central
 sun valley guide
 real estate guide
 sv catalogs
Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
208.726.8060 Voice
208.726.2329 Fax

Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

Friday — February 6, 2004


Resort consultant:
Don’t emulate Aspen

Don’t regulate business to death, Frick says

Part 1 in series of 2

Express Staff Writer

Ketchum and Sun Valley administrators could foster vitality in the local economy if they learn from the mistakes of Aspen, Colo., a specialist in resort development economics said this week.

Ford Frick, managing director of Denver-based BBC Research and Consulting, addresses a group of Wood River Valley elected officials and business operators gathered at the Sun Valley Lodge. Frick used a study of retail activity in Aspen, Colo. to explain the challenges of maintaining a healthy resort economy. Express photo by David N. Seelig

Ford Frick, managing director of Denver-based resort consultant BBC Research and Consulting, told a crowd of Wood River Valley elected officials and business operators that Ketchum has the basic elements to be a successful resort for the long term, but must allow for changes to occur.

"(Ketchum) is a smile with some missing teeth all the way through it," Frick said.

Frick’s comments came Wednesday, Feb. 4, during the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau’s annual "Economic Outlook Breakfast," held at the Sun Valley Lodge.

In addressing the issue of how to ensure mountain resort towns stay economically viable and competitive, Frick noted that many established communities have recently sought to revamp their commercial cores to compete with a new Goliath in the ski industry: planned resort villages designed almost exclusively for tourism.

Frick, who is currently working as a consultant to the city of Aspen, talked at length about the renowned ski resort’s struggle to maintain a healthy business environment amid soaring real-estate prices and declining destination-skier visits.

The central Colorado city has been contending with commercial-space lease rates of $90 to $140 per square foot, a high number of commercial real-estate vacancies and an overall loss of business diversity.

Frick said a decline in economic vitality in the Aspen downtown core has been exacerbated by the success of the residential real-estate market, which has changed the demographics of the city and forced some residents to relocate to less-expensive areas.

"A real estate economy uses—or doesn’t use—a downtown much differently than one that caters to destination guests," Frick said, noting that some retail businesses have followed residents who have migrated down the Roaring Fork Valley—an approximately 50-mile corridor with Aspen and Glenwood Springs at each end.

Other factors contributing to Aspen’s faltering retail economy include growth in non-retail business and strict city regulations that prohibit businesses from effectively displaying their signs and products.

"Aspen is regulated to death," he quipped.

Specifically, Frick said, the city has placed such restrictive regulations on signs that many visitors have difficulty finding specific locations and are often not attracted to businesses.

"It is acceptable to let people know where they’re going," he said.

In addition, Frick said, city government has restricted redevelopment of certain key parcels in the commercial core by enforcing view ordinances that guarantee scenic mountain views to some property owners. Subsequently, several valuable properties developed with small structures are not being used effectively.

"Height, density: These are good things," he said.

As a result of the numerous factors plaguing business in Aspen, Frick said, the city has lost its "messy vitality"—the unpolished vibrancy of people socializing and doing business in a lively, free-market atmosphere.

Barbara Vanderpool, of Ketchum-based Vanderpool Properties, poses a question to resort consultant Ford Frick at the Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau’s annual "Economic Outlook Breakfast." Express photo by David N. Seelig

Long considered a model of mountain-resort success, Aspen has undergone a profound evolution in the last 15 years. Many older businesses in the 1990s gave way to global retail chains, such as Benetton, Banana Republic and Gucci. However, in recent years, many of the big-name vendors have closed their Aspen stores and left empty retail spaces behind.

The challenge faced by Aspen officials and residents to revitalize their downtown is by no means unique, Frick said.

"This is going on everywhere."

Snowmass Village, Colo., South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and Mammoth Lakes, Calif., have all recently taken measures to redevelop their commercial cores, Frick said.

Other resort cities, such as Breckenridge, Colo., and Vail, Colo., have sought to add specific elements—such as gondolas, tourist attractions or lodging—to improve their competitive standing.

As for Ketchum, Frick said the city seems to exhibit an "attractive looseness" in its regulation of business activity—providing for more "messy vitality" than what is found in Aspen.

At the same time, Frick suggested, Ketchum would likely benefit if administrators and residents cooperated to encourage a moderately managed evolution of the business district.

(Part 2 of the series Wednesday, Feb. 11, will review Frick’s recommendations for revitalizing downtown areas.)


City of Ketchum

Formula Sports


Edmark GM Superstore : Nampa, Idaho

Premier Resorts Sun Valley

High Country Property Rentals

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.