A first CAST meeting for many of those representing the towns of Telluride and Mountain Village, hearing that they are not alone in their struggles was the proverbial breath of fresh air.
"I learned I wanted to be more involved," said Telluride Town Councilmember Andrea Benda. "There was so much good practical information and networking." Citing the opportunities for connecting with "really good people, those in the trenches" who manage and work in towns like Telluride, Benda found herself with a renewed enthusiasm and resolve for tackling some of Telluride's trickier issues.
While the visit to Telluride, with everything from its dramatic landscape to its extreme mountain skiing to its historic-district town, thrilled many first-time CAST visitors, to hear local government's staff and elected officials tell it, they were at least as pleased with what CAST was able to offer them.
"The presentation on downtown and the discussion that followed were excellent," said Telluride Councilmember Jill Masters, adding that hearing a downtown-Aspen retail analysis and of that city's experience with the highs and lows of its commercial district was invaluable.
Telluride Town Councilmember Stu Fraser was similarly impressed. "The most beneficial part was the realization that everything we're going through, they are too," he said. In its ongoing struggles with issues that include "growth, tourism, housing, government, private business and other issues," Telluride/Mountain Village are not alone.
Resort communities, while filled with cosmopolitan and worldly visitors, often suffer from isolation and myopia. And we all need to be able to talk with our peers to share our experiences and discuss what did or did not work, how it could have been different and why.
The Friday sessions ranged from the practical to the visionary. Starting with an examination of the success of efforts at revitalization of resorts' downtown areas, and segueing into an exchange about the concept of "benchmarking," to measure change, the group ultimately embarked on a frank discussion of the relationship between resort towns and their ski companies. The benefits of informal feedback on other issues also bolstered local elected officials in better understanding the context of their work.
Mountain Village Town Manger Kathy Mahoney, a seasoned ski town resident and staff person with decades of experience under her belt, walked away from the meeting expressing how helpful the discussions had been. "It's great to know that other communities are dealing with the same issues," she said, noting that she had gleaned information that would definitely help in future discussions with her boards.
After the meeting, Benda spoke glowingly of conversations with her ski-town compatriots about local contention about how best to handle the future of Telluride's Valley Floor framework. They expressed amazement that anyone would "want to go to court when the town had negotiated a potential settlement that achieved 91 percent" preservation, she reported. "They told me, 'No one gets that,'" Benda said, calling it "balm to my spirit" to hear a reinforcement of the town's position from its ski-town peers.
Mountain Village Town Councilmember Rube Felicelli concurred with Benda, adding that the CAST discussions gave him "lots to work with, much to think about."
During the exchange on ski company/town relations, town officials from Snowmass and Breckenridge related how they had established improved communication with their ski company counterparts. The mood in the room was thoughtful and buoyant as others considered applying the concepts in their towns.
Steamboat Springs' representative pleaded for advice on how to deal with an owner who views the resort as a cash cow to fund other projects. CAST members, many of whom had been through similar experiences, offered their support and advice.
"The ski area discussion was a good jumping off place for Telluride," said Masters. "We need to remember that we're a ski town."
What next for the Telluride region? "The content of the workshops was extraordinarily valuable," said Benda, noting that council had enthusiastically considered some of the information and options at its meeting on Tuesday. "The cogent materials are good for the Telluride Business Task force.
"It's also nice to hear people not from our little valley talk about things," she added.
Former Telluride Mayor, former Telluride Town Planner and Telluride Watch correspondent, Amy Levek also presented a workshop on the challenges of downtown ski town retail at the CAST meeting.