The ‘Next Aspen’: Part II

By David Frey, 12-30-07

A pageant of Western small-town politics plays out in front of the American flag draped across the American Legion hall. Center stage are the developers: the savvy investor, the respected local architect with solid green credentials. Their backdrop, a series of slick poster boards outlining plans to convert 77 acres on the edge of Ketchum, Idaho from a defunct golf course into a five-star hotel and housing development.
Stage left sit the planning and zoning commissioners, who moved the meeting from City Hall to this wood-paneled meeting room to allow for over 100 town residents to fill the space to standing-room only. Audience members take their turn to speak, one by one. They are, like the town itself, split down the middle on the project.

I am driving across the Rockies in search of the “next Aspen,” whatever that means. “Aspenization” is seen as either a blessing or a curse in ski towns. Ketchum, it’s both.

Pam Colesworthy confesses, she’s on the fence. “Change happens,” she says. “We can either wither and die – and that is change. Or we can say we want to revive and become the hip, cool Ketchum we remember.”

This town of 3,226 has suffered the woes of resort towns without enjoying the economic boom. Climbing real estate prices have driven many of the town’s workers south, to places like Hailey, 12 miles away, where an estimated 80 percent of Ketchum’s workers live. Some, mostly immigrant workers, including many from South America, bus 1 ½ hours each way from Twin Falls. 

Well-heeled part-timers have made Ketchum their getaway. Tom Hanks. Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Las Vegas casino developer Steve Wynn.

Still, this town at the foot of the Sun Valley resort has avoided much of the glitz that has defined other resorts. It clings to a funky, middle-of-nowhere quality that attracted many here in the first place. Main Street still hosts locals’ watering holes and homey bookstores, not oxygen bars or fur shops. You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Gap. Besides the downtown Starbucks – which many locals avoided for years out of principle – major chains are just about nonexistent.

Link to article, Part II and others