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December Retail Sales Down, Following Pandemic Year
December retail sales in Aspen plummeted by 37.3% to cap off a year that saw an overall decrease of 6.9% because of pandemic restrictions enacted to stem the spread of COVID-19 cases, the Aspen Times reported. The city Finance Department’s monthly tax consumption report also showed December accounted for $94.7 million in taxable sales. December 2019 saw $118.6 million in sales, according to older tax reports.
Overall accommodations, which also included short-term rentals at condos and private residences, amounted to $20.6 million in December, which was 43.7% lower than the $36.2 million generated in December 2019. Restaurants brought in $10.7 million, down 33% from $15.9 million in December 2019. The entire 2020 wasn’t nearly as bad as December, with $766.2 million in sales compared with $819.8 million in 2019.
City Names New Wheeler Opera House Director
After nine months without a dedicated leader, the Wheeler Opera House announced Lisa Rigsby Peterson as executive director of the iconic 132-year-old performance venue, the Aspen Daily News reported. Rigsby Peterson will join the Wheeler team after serving most recently as the founding executive director of Lone Tree Arts Center, located in the Denver suburb of the same name, for 11 years.
She was among more than 140 candidates vying for the position; her starting salary is $138,000. As part of her role, Rigsby Peterson will be responsible for the Wheeler’s reopening, refining programming to meet the needs of the community and overseeing capital improvements to the historic building.
Gondola Maintenance to Delay Summer Opening
Postseason maintenance on the Silver Queen Gondola at Aspen Mountain will push the gondola’s summer opening date to early July, the Aspen Times reported. Skico is replacing the haul rope (the cable that carries gondola cabs to the top of the mountain). The gondola project will likely begin with a few days of teardown shortly after Aspen Mountain’s April 18 closing date,
“Machine maintenance” on the towers and sheave trains that keep the cable on track could begin April 20 or 2. Normally, the gondola opens for the summer on Memorial Day weekend and continues weekend operations throughout the month of June. The haul rope replacement will begin around June 6 or 7 when the new haul rope arrives in two parts. Hikers can expect more traffic on the mountain and no access to top-of-mountain facilities at the Sundeck during the closure. There will be no public uploading or downloading on the gondola until July.
Hotel Jerome Names New General Manager
Patrick Davila is the new general manager of the historic Hotel Jerome, the Aspen Daily News reported. Davila most recently served as director of operations and interim general manager at Meadowood, a luxury resort in Napa Valley, Calif. He replaces longtime general manager Tony DeLucia, who retired from the helm of the hotel last June after more than three decades at the helm.
He is an inspired patron of the arts, having previously been involved with the production of three Broadway shows and the Napa Valley Film Festival, where he served as chairman. Prior to his time in Napa Valley, Davila held leadership positions with Alden Hotels in Houston, Patina Group in Los Angeles, Postrio in San Francisco and Restaurant Daniel and Café Boulud in New York.
Limelight Hotel Aspen to Close for Six-Month Renovation
The Limelight Aspen will close for renovations this spring, the Aspen Times reported. The flagship Limelight property (there are two others in Snowmass Village and Ketchum, Idaho) will undergo “top to bottom” renovations to all of the hotel’s public spaces as well as all 126 guestrooms and suites. A complete closure of the hotel begins April 11 with a goal to reopen around Thanksgiving. The hotel already closed online reservations for the Aspen location, so there are no guests to rebook.
Transit Center in the Works
The town of Snowmass Village is aiming to have its new transit center at the Snowmass Mall completed in time for ski season 2024, the Aspen Daily News reported. The facility’s initial cost is estimated to be around $12 million. The center would be used for both the Snowmass Village Shuttle as well as buses from the Roaring Fork Transit Authority (RFTA) and be located near the site of the current Lot 6.
The town will work in collaboration with Short Elliott Hendrickson Inc., an architectural, planning and engineering firm, and approximately $950,000 will be spent on design in 2021. Town staff will choose a contractor this year for the project, and that will allow for a more detailed construction management plan and budget to be created. Construction could commence after the end of the 2022 ski season, and the current plans call for the project to take approximately 617 days. The target for completion is the beginning of the 2024 ski season.
Thursday Night Concerts Cancelled Again
A longstanding Snowmass Village tradition of free summer concerts on Fanny Hill has been canceled for the second year in a row due to COVID-19 concerns, the Aspen Times reported.
The “Thursday Free Concerts” series typically draws large crowds to Fanny Hill for the weekly series. Given the high cost of the stage setup and still much uncertainty about how COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and event capacities will impact summer happenings, the town decided to take a much mellower approach to live music this summer, and is considering offering summer live music on both the Snowmass Mall and in Base Village through smaller performances.
New Middle Eastern Restaurant Opens in El Jebel
Lior Lilah, along with his wife Angie Torres and business partners Doina Musteata and Alexei Rotaru, recently opened their own Middle Eastern restaurant — Jaffa Kitchen — at 400 East Valley Road in El Jebel near City Market, the Aspen Daily News reported. Open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week, Jaffa Kitchen’s interior includes decorative hookahs, ornate drums and ornamental piping — a tribute to Jaffa Port along the Mediterranean Sea in Israel. Originally from Israel, Lilah also lived in France where he worked for years at a creperie in Paris. The menu includes shawarma, falafel, skewers and Middle Eastern salads.
Pan and Fork Construction to Begin
Basalt River Park has been a long time coming, but it’s moving ahead with hopes to finalize plans this spring and begin construction, the Aspen Times reported. The town acquired land along the river in 2011 when the owner of the Pan and Fork Mobile Home Park sold the property. The development received final approval in February 2020 for 24 residences, 11,500 square feet of commercial space, the 3,000-square-foot restaurant space and a 6,500-square-foot space that had been touted as the future home of a to-be-named nonprofit.
The first phase will feature a lot of important but relatively dull work — grading the site and putting in utilities and infrastructure. The public won’t be able to use the site in 2021 due to safety concerns. Work will be shelved during winter 2021-22 and resume next spring. That’s when amenities such as a band shell, the “great lawn,” bathrooms and amenities such as water misters will be installed.
Ascendigo Submits Plans for Camp
Ascendigo Autism Services has submitted plans to develop 126 acres in eastern Missouri Heights near El Jebel for a summer camp and year-round activities center for autistic children, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported. Ascendigo secured the property Oct. 1 from residential developers Janckila Construction, which was preparing to pull building permits for 15 homes to be built on the site. The site combines the White Cloud and Harmony Heights parcels, which had been platted for a total of 26 homes, but which sat undeveloped for 20 years.
Included in the development plan is a 6,800-square-foot base camp headquarters for reception, meals, education and training; an 8,500-square-foot lodge that can sleep as many as 24 campers and two staff; a staff lodge of 8,500 square feet for as many as 48 staff members; a 14,000-square-foot activity barn and therapy center; a caretaker home and accessory unit; a guest cabin; and, an equestrian center for Ascendigo’s equine therapy services.
Hanging Lake to Reopen to Visitors Post-Fire
Less than a year after the Grizzly Creek Fire scorched over 32,000 acres in Glenwood Canyon, Hanging Lake will reopen to visitors beginning May 1, the Aspen Daily News reported. The National Natural Landmark in Glenwood Canyon was largely spared during last summer’s fire, which also shut down Interstate 70 for nearly two weeks.
Visitors to Hanging Lake will still need to book their reservations ahead of time, online, at visitglenwood.com and will be able to do so beginning April 1. Tickets to hike Hanging Lake cost $12. The Hanging Lake shuttle, which previously transported visitors to Hanging Lake from the Hanging Lake Welcome Center in Glenwood Springs, will not run, at least for the time being. Visitors with a confirmed reservation will be allowed to park at the Hanging Lake exit and walk to the trailhead. It will be opening at limited capacity due to COVID-19 and visitors must comply with social distancing and other safety requirements.
Garfield County Pushing Making Solar Options Easier
Garfield County is launching a campaign, Solarize Garfield County, to boost local solar energy participation, the Aspen Daily News reported. The program contracts with a single solar company and gathers a pool of as many potential customers as possible during a limited period, easing the burden of entry to going solar while allowing the installer to achieve greater economies of scale. CLEER, the nonprofit that runs Garfield Clean Energy’s programs, has selected Active Energies Solar as the exclusive installer for the program.
Garfield Clean Energy, CLEER and partner utilities and businesses have helped county residents, businesses, schools and local governments install over 20 megawatts of solar to date, with Garfield County currently leading the state in solar capacity on publicly owned facilities. This new program creates an additional step forward in accelerating the growth of home-grown solar energy, while reducing the upfront cost and stimulating the economic development benefits of solar.
Pandora’s Expansion Conversations Continue
In a repudiation of the county staff’s recommendation to deny a SkiCo rezoning request for the Pandora’s ski area expansion project in favor of looking at the area comprehensively, the Pitkin County Planning & Zoning instead voted unanimously to allow a public hearing on a partial or full amendment to the East Aspen Master Plan, the Aspen Daily News reported. If passed it would rezone acreage from its current Rural & Remote and Agriculture Residential designations to Ski-Recreation.
The East Aspen Master Plan, which includes Pandora’s, was first adopted in Oct. 2003. The vote followed a 90-minute presentation led by David Corbin, SkiCo’s senior vice president of planning and development with support from President and CEO Mike Kaplan and attorney Tom Todd, the latter whose discussion about the history of Pitkin County’s Rural & Remote designation was deemed “persuasive” by at least two planning commissioners. Corbin suggested that SkiCo would forgo other uses in the ski recreation district, such as new residential and hospitality development, should Pandora’s be allowed to move forward with an amendment instead of a full master plan review.
RFTA Looking to Add Bike Solutions to Transportation
Integrating more electric-powered bikes into the regional transportation network is a concept gaining traction with the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Aspen Daily News reported. The entity’s board of directors supported the bus agency resuming its planning of a regional bike-share study that could run in the $200,000 to $250,000 range.
The study would include an in-depth look at the most efficient ways to connect riders in the short distances between RFTA buses and their final destinations through a “First and Last Mile Mobility Development Plan and Implementation Plan.” The multi-pronged study is aimed at enhancing the local connectivity to buses through eco-friendly means. Alternative transportation modes — as well as locales — would be studied, with bike-share among those ideas.