FULL DISCLAIMER: I live near Wagner Park in the center of Aspen. I love Wagner Park. My dog and I have played ball in Wagner Park almost every day for 11 years. I believe that open spaces should be cherished and protected. I want to save Wagner Park.
I have lost complete confidence in our elected officials and the City of Aspen to make well informed and reasonable decisions, especially concerning Wagner Park. They always seem to sell out to the highest bidder. My Mom & Dad taught me to stick-up for myself, but warned me not to be a complainer. Every once in a while those two traits come to loggerheads. I don't want to sound like a complainer....but here's my take.
SNOW POLO. What the f*#k is Snow Polo? It's a made up sport. In Aspen, it's a bunch of marketers trying to draw the seemingly upscale polo crowd to town in December (not exactly off season) . I've attended the snow polo matches several times... in Wagner Park, Rio Grande Park and Marolt Open Space. Does Aspen really benefit from Snow Polo in the center of town? What does Snow Polo bring to Aspen? The crowd that attends breaks down as follows, A few rich older guys who are passionate about their expensive hobby. Two Ralph Lauren male models...you know the guys...Nacho and Nick. A few super hot chicks. The rest is a pack of freeloaders and hangers on who can drink almost anybody under the table...especially at a posh sponsored bar. A couple of years ago you may recall the White House wedding crashers were in town for Snow Polo and left a trail of unpaid bills behind them.
Wagner Park has never recovered from the last Snow Polo event held there in 2009. The turf was decimated...and no one disputes that. When there was a lot of snow around here, before climate change, my dog and I found frozen horse turds in Rio Grande Park for months. Hey...I'm not putting down Snow Polo...it works great at Marolt Open Space...except for one problem. Everyone was too drunk to drive home...oh yeah, and one of the horses had to be put down.
PARKING STRUCTURE. There has been a lot of talk on & off about digging a parking structure under Wagner Park. I will lay down in front of the bulldozers before that happens. We already have a parking sturcture that nobody uses. It's "off the beaten track"...fully...wait for it... 2 blocks from the center of town. You want a parking structure? Go to Vail. And if you're a tea partier...go to Vail too.
X GAMES CONCERTS. Have you been to X Games? I have. It's not exactly a tame crowd. The town is packed, in fact its over packed. One motel room easily sleeps 8 to 10 extreme sports fans. A condo secured on VRBO can sleep 40-50 party mongers. Lots of kids sleep in their vans...or just pass out face down in a pool of their own vomit. Yeah, I've been to X Games. I love music. I especially love outdoor concerts. But a plan that calls for 6 foot chain link fences, 8 days of road closures, huge spot lights and 50 extra security guards seems a bit extreme.
Sure Disney...throw a show. Bring in the Beatles.
Remember the last Winter concerts we had in Wagner Park in 2006 ? it was a near riot. The band was pelted off the stage with ice balls thrown in a drunken fury by many of our "guests". So many people got wasted, that it looked like a battle field. Oh yeah... the weather cooperated by giving us a sleet storm the night of the show.
We did get one concession from ESPN this time around...a 10 x 10 detox tent. The line for that will be staggering. I've heard it's sold out.
FOOD & WINE: Wagner Park closes down for 3+ months in preparation for this bacchanal. The streets are closed for 2 weeks. Sure, its a good time...I know. Many Aspenites feel F & W is a "great event" for the town. Maybe it is? I won't argue against that. Is it good for the park?? Do we really need to "sell out" the park for more than 3 plus months for 2 days of F & W. You would think there could be some sort of a compromise reached and F & W could be facilitated on the cement...where it belongs. Watching 70 year olds stumble home in a drunken stupor is not new for me. It's just not a pretty sight in the light of day.
USA PRO CHALLENGE: Hey, I like the bike race. It's a good time. I'm even OK with subsidizing it within reason. Do I think the entire town should be shut down for 2 days? No I don't!!! You sure wouldn't want to get sick...or have a baby...or plan to fly or drive in or out of Aspen on those days. Sorry.... the road is closed.
I keep hearing about how USA Pro puts Aspen on the "international stage" and of the millions of dollars in p.r. value we get from the USA Pro Challenge. This past Summer I missed the USA Pro Challenge. Ironically, on day 1, the HUGE first stage..."live" from Aspen, I happened to walk into the Trek Superstore in Solana Beach, California. It's the #1 Trek bicycle dealer in the USA. They had a TV playing in the store...but it was not tuned into NBC Sports and the USA Pro Challenge. I asked the clerk " hey, who won the first stage of the USA Pro?". He looked at me blank faced...he didn't even know the race was happening. I think the bike race is very cool...but does the entire town need to be closed down...I think not.
Do I sound cynical? Do I sound angry? F#*k it...those are two of my best qualities.
ACRA. I laughed out loud at the recent article in the Aspen Daily News about ACRA's marketing budget. ACRA gets an extra $1.9 million over and above their operating budget each year. The "extra" money is earmarked for marketing and originates from the lodging tax that was increased to 1.5% in 2010. According to the ADN, ACRA spent $350K on advertising and $210K on p.r. last year. That leaves $1.34 million for travel and entertainment.
Niiiiiiice!!! Boondoggles for journalists? Trips to NYC and California and Australia and South America for staff? Awesome!!! What is ACRA's marketing campaign? Do we even have a slogan or a tag line for Aspen?? Like... Virginia is for Lover's...that kind of thing. ACRA describes their success in nebulous terms and with projected and formulaic calculations about the actual reach. Conclusions like " lots of eyeballs", "targeted story angles" and we had a "very strong summer" would not cut it in the real world.
Lower occupancy rates...albeit higher average room rates does not translate into success as far as I'm concerned. Placement in USA Today...wow??? I know a lot of people in the Forbes 400...not one of them reads USA today. You can get a free USA today at any Hampton Inn. ACRA's website set a new record in August with 75 ,000 visits??? Are those unique visits or page views? Either way, is that even impressive??? Not in my world it isn't. Do they even know who their customers are? Has ACRA targeted legitimate potential customers? They seem to be going for "broad" coverage. Thats one of the dumbest things I've ever heard of, especially with today's targeted ads. Do they even look at the data and analyse it?
As a former member of ACRA, it appears to me that ACRA is most interested in ACRA. They are desk protectors who often put their own selfish goals ahead of their members. Every year they pat themselves on the back for a "successful" marketing program that yields very few tangible results. Yet Aspen City Council continues to nod their heads and rubber stamp ACRA's marketing contract. If they put that thing out for competitive bids...I'd be willing to bet that Aspen could get twice the marketing coverage for half the price. Who wants to bet?
So that's it. That's my take. Soon, Aspen Mountain will be open and I can re-focus on skiing and other recreational activities instead of all the transparent political bullsh*t that has been part of everyday life here in Aspen for more than 50 years.
Why do I care so much?? I'd be better off if I didn't.