Aspen searching for the $200K big idea |

Aspen searching for the $200K big idea

Carolyn SackariasonAspen CorrespondentGlenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado – The city’s “mining for ideas” initiative, in which an individual’s proposed special event or tourism-driven concept is awarded public money, has been narrowed down to about a dozen.The $200,000 effort is designed around the notion that a new event will attract tourists and boost the local economy, while possibly even creating repeat business from those who come to Aspen for the first time, fall in love with the resort and want to return either for vacation or permanently.”This is about creating a sustainable resort economy and the idea is long term, not short term,” said Mayor Mick Ireland. “Our money is about special events and the community should be involved and come forward with ideas about how to attract people to town.”Champions of each idea last week pitched their ideas to a committee that will recommend one or more to the Aspen City Council in January based on a set of established criteria. Committee members, who are representatives from the Aspen Chamber Resort Association (ACRA), the city of Aspen, the council and the city’s commercial core and lodging commission (CCLC), spent last Thursday and Friday listening to hours of sales pitches.About 30 ideas were submitted on the city’s website and were then whittled down to the ones that were most viable, said Nancy Lesley, the city’s special events director. (See sidebar.)The pursuit of the $200,000 that the council decided earlier this year to set aside as an “economic stimulus” has become a political money grab of sorts. Marketing experts and passionate promoters have been jockeying in front of the council since the money was appropriated.That’s partly why the council formed the committee, but even its members have a stake in the game.ACRA, which has suggested it receive the money so whatever effort can be parlayed into its larger marketing plan, has two members on the committee. ACRA also is pitching a holiday crafts fair.”Fundamentally, I believe putting it with a bigger plan to get heads in beds is best,” said ACRA President and CEO Debbie Braun, who added an event can be promoted through the chamber’s e-mail blasts, website, public relations and other marketing efforts. “Anything they can do we could help them do better.”The city has two representatives including Lesley, who is pitching two special event concepts. The CCLC has one member and there are two council representatives.Lesley said ultimately the committee will pick the best idea that achieves the desired end result – attracting tourists.”I want what’s good for Aspen,” she said. “It’s what’s best for the community and we have to be smart about it … We all want to see Aspen back on its feet.”Ireland said some key events that have put Aspen on the map and have been a huge draw for out-of-towners received start-up money from the city in their formative years. One example is the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, which is held in June and draws thousands of foodies, famous chefs and those in the industry.The city initially gave the event’s visionaries $5,000.”A lot of this stuff doesn’t require a lot of money … it’s about cultivating an idea,” he said. “It’s seed money that gets sprinkled around and we’ll see what sprouts up.”My theory is you have to plant a lot of seeds to see which ones come up and which ones wither.”

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