By Allen Best
Tour de France … in Colorado
VAIL, Colo. – After an absence of 23 years, major bicycling will return to Colorado next August. The Quiznos Pro Challenge will draw 120 professional bicycle racers, including many from the Tour de France, for a 600-mile multi-stage race.
And this excites the bicycling mayors of both Aspen and Vail, both of them stops along the race. Salida, Crested Butte, Avon, Steamboat Springs and Breckenridge are also on the race course.
Lance Armstrong, who now has a second home in Aspen, lent support to the race, which will be the fourth largest in the world.
“This is a great place to ride bicycles, and it’s been absent from the high-end pro cycling agenda since the Coors Classic ended in the 1980s,” said Steve Wood, a former member of the U.S. national cycling team who now lives in the Vail area.
After Aspen, racers will compete in Vail, which at one time hosted time trials in the Red Zinger Classic and then the Coors Classic, which ended in 1988.
“It was a huge event,” remembers Vail Mayor Dick Cleveland. “It brought thousands of people to Vail. The streets were jammed with local and international guests,” he said.
Dimensions of the race are suggested by the lodging needs. To participate, Aspen had to agree to donate 400 lodging rooms for free or discounted rates for use by racers, support staff, race officials and media.
How will the lodges sort this out? Warren King, general manager of the Aspen Square Condominium Hotel, said some sort of revenue-sharing plan is needed, to see that hotels providing free rooms are compensated.
Race organizers tell the Vail Daily that they expect the race will attract avocational riders, who want to test themselves on the roads where the pros have been riding.
“They want to do the climbs the pros are doing. They want to ride them because when you do, it gives you more respect for what the pros are doing,” explained Sean Petty, chief operating officer of USA Cycling.
Voters OK pot shops
MINTURN, Colo. – While the towns of Vail and Avon have shut their doors to marijuana dispensaries, 60 percent of voters in nearby Minturn last week voted that the town council could not enact a ban. This opens the door for the town to begin drawing up regulations governing where and how such dispensaries could be operated.
One of those residents who voted to open the door to marijuana dispensaries, Courtney Gregory, 33, dismissed the idea that marijuana shops will hurt Minturn’s character. “You get a contact buzz just driving through the town anyway,” he said.
But apparently, not all town council members think the issue is over with. Jerry Bumgarner, a councilman, said that the town’s business license requires the business to comply with federal laws. Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. law, he pointed out, although the Obama administration announced it would not enforce it – setting off the rapid spread of marijuana medical dispensaries in Colorado, California and Montana, among other states.
Elsewhere in Eagle County, voters said existing medical marijuana dispensaries should be allowed to stay. There are five, reports the Vail Daily.
JACKSON, Wyo. – The high-end real estate market has returned to Jackson Hole. The Hole Report reported more closed sales of $3 million or more in nine months of this year than all of 2008 and 2009 combined.
“Sales numbers and prices have clearly rebounded, particularly at the high end,” writes business analyst Jonathan Schechter. But across the pass in Teton County, Idaho, in and around the towns of Victor and Driggs, the real estate market remains torpid.
Examining the economy more broadly, Schechter reports that sales tax revenues in Jackson Hole remain flat – better than was the case a year ago. While construction remains thin, other sectors of the economy are doing better.
Fortress cedes majority interest
WHISTLER, B.C. – It appears that the Whistler-Blackcomb ski area is now publicly held. Citing reporting by Bloomberg, Pique explains that $300 million has apparently been raised to service the debt of the Fortress Investment Group.
What this means is that Intrawest – and Fortress – no longer own majority interest in Whistler. A quarter is owned by Nippon Cable. The other 75 percent is owned by Whistler Blackcomb Holdings, of which Fortress owns about 34 percent.
In becoming a publicly owned ski area, Whistler/Blackcomb now joins the string of six ski areas held by Vail Resorts, which is publicly held.
Fortress acquired $1.6 billion in debt in 2006 in purchasing Intrawest at the height of the real estate boom. For the last year, it has been spinning off ski areas – including Colorado’s Copper Mountain – in order to pay off its debt.
Resorts boost lodging taxes
BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. – With the real estate market still anemic, voters in three resort communities in the Rocky Mountains voted by wide margins to increase lodging taxes in order to boost tourism marketing.
In Breckenridge, 71 percent of voters approved a lodging tax increase, while in Aspen it was 63 percent. In Wyoming, Jackson and Teton County voters favored a tax with a 60 percent plurality.
The tax generated the most discussion in Jackson Hole. Voters there had abolished a marketing tax in 1994. At the time, the boom in real-estate construction had already gotten underway, and many people blamed tourism for worsening traffic congestion and an overheated economy.
This time, there were similar warnings about deteriorating quality of life. But the valley has lost 2,000 jobs since the end of 2007, the Jackson Hole News&Guide notes.
The 2 percent tax is expected to raise $2.1 million for promotions. But local projects, including pathways and mass transit, will get another $1.4 million per year.
Kari Cooper, of the Jackson Hole Air Improvement Resources, said the Wyoming resort has failed to have a coordinated marketing campaign like other resort towns such as Aspen and Park City. “We’ve been behind for a very long time,” she said.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide, in an editorial, cautioned that the vote did not give the tourism industry carte blanche. “Those who campaigned for the tax need to stick to their promise and promote winter and early summer, and they need to hire local professionals to craft any new marketing effort,” the newspaper said.
$50 million expansion approved
ASPEN, Colo. – Voters approved $50 million in bonds for expansion of the Aspen Valley Hospital. Unlike the town’s lodging tax vote, this one was close: 52 percent in favor, and 48 percent opposed.
The Aspen Times reports that hospital officials ultimately hope to expand the hospital in three phases, yielding a total size of 215,000 square feet, during the next seven years. That total cost is estimated at $120 million – using cash on hand and with up to $60 million in philanthropy.