Should city enable local businesses?
Editor's note: This is last of a five-part questionnaire for the six candidates vying for the two open seats on Aspen City Council held by incumbents Art Daily and Ann Mullins. Aspen residents should receive their mail ballots this week. Election Day is May 2.
Today's question: As a member of City Council, how would you make Aspen more affordable for mom-and-pop or startup businesses? Or do you prefer to let the free market decide?
I'm so glad you asked as this is kind of my day job! I believe Aspen's biggest constraint, its lack of affordable space, is actually our greatest opportunity. The future of retail will be different than the past. Aspen is in a unique position, driven by necessity, to innovate in the retail, service, hospitality and outdoor industries. We do not need a big-government program. Rather, we need clear-eyed leadership to set the table for Aspen to lead and return character in the next century.
This would include:
1. Remove regulatory barriers and provide incentives for small and local business.
2. Promote collaborative spaces in which businesses share infrastructure and create community through experience building.
3. Enable the use of underutilized public spaces for use as startup locations for small and entrepreneurial businesses.
4. Reclaim some of the roughly 40 percent of our public lands given to cars for use as landing spots for new small businesses, parks and places for community collisions.
5. Convene a public/private partnerships to create space for creative businesses to thrive. This may include government funding or space, though not necessarily, but should not be government run. Hawker centers and co-ops are good models to consider.
It can be argued that actions of City Council have created barriers to entry for small businesses. The community benefits from mitigation imposed upon developments. Workforce housing being one of them. Public amenities to private developments make the core more pedestrian friendly but they also increase the cost and drive rents up. We as a town have decided that this is what we want from developers. The downside is that rents are high.
Laws are supposed to treat all equally. Should we have different laws for small businesses? Mom-and-pop or startup small businesses survive when income exceeds expenses. Rent is a major expense. Rents are lower outside the core. Those are facts. Does Aspen want to subsidize small businesses by creating a program like workforce housing for businesses? Blaming landlords and the free market does not consider all things that make doing business in Aspen so expensive. The question is a good one that requires more than 200 words. It requires a broader community discussion.
I along with City Council have addressed this in the rewrite of the land-use code. We have included a requirement for second-tier spaces, those spaces that are less accessible visually, usually not fronted on the street, spaces that will command less rent than prime locations. We have also limited residential development in our downtown zones to create more opportunity for commercial uses. And we have limited specialty stores to just a few zones and revised the uses allowed in commercial zones to focus on desired uses. With these regulations in place the opportunities for mom-and-pops and startups should increase downtown. If in a few years we haven't achieved what we were hoping for the city could look into additional ways to support small businesses, look to other cities that have had success and find a program that might be appropriate for Aspen. The goal is to encourage a diverse and balanced mix of uses downtown, and I think we will see success in this in the next few years due to our new land-use code.
Don't we have to let the free (well, expensive) market decide? It's a free country. I miss McDonald's. Did we drive them away?
Ultimately, the free market will decide the future of retail in Aspen and beyond. All the government can do is to assist, not just mom-and-pops and startups, but all businesses in our valley. As a member of City Council, I will advocate for action on many fronts that have been talked about for years yet little has been done. I will support the creation of shared work space, business incubator programs and collectives. With the city and perhaps Aspen Chamber Resort Association involvement teaming up with the private sector resources in our community, this is easily achievable. I will lead the discussions on incentivizing "affordable" commercial spaces through design programs and zoning improvements. I will support amendments to our codes and permit/process efficiencies to help the small-business owner have an easier time getting up and going or maintaining existing space. I am dedicated to helping to solve other associated issues, as well, like housing and health care and day care. I believe in an Aspen that works together, plays together, supports one another and succeeds together. There are many avenues of support for business that can range from simple connectivity and networking to creating place and affordability programs. I think the city should be an active player in helping individuals succeed and securing the economic sustainability for our community.
I believe that our optional Essential Business Overlay program, which is in place today in the service-commercial-industrial and neighborhood-commercial zone districts, provides an opportunity for the landowner to enjoy more flexibility in permitted uses in whatever area may be chosen for the overlay. In collaboration with the city, the landowner might even establish subsidized incubator commercial spaces in the overlay area, the underlying purpose being to create more affordable business opportunities. Going forward I support programs that further our longtime local businesses, such as a legacy business program.