Originally published July 14, 2014 in The Aspen Daily News

Annual Bash for the Buddies raises more than $800,000

As storm clouds moved over Shadow Mountain Thursday afternoon, nearly 400 people made their way into a large white tent at Marolt Open Space for the annual Bash for the Buddies fundraising event.

A woman on stilts and a man in a stuffed horse costume greeted guests as they passed their car keys off to the valet. Inside the tent, a man wearing a long coat, Stetson hat and carrying what looked like a rifle primed the crowd.

“You can’t just look at the pretty girls,” the announcer said referring to the cocktail servers wearing short western dresses distributing shots. “It’s time to put your name to the paper and buy something.”

The announcer was referring to the more than 100 products scattered across rows of tables in the center of one of the tents. Each item on display had a sheet of paper with the product’s retail value at the top and a list of prices with blank lines next to them for people to place bids in a silent auction.

“Your name doesn’t sign itself,” the announcer said.

Within an hour of the event’s opening, five people had placed a bid for a Stella McCartney pink leather clutch that retailed for $895.

“It’s beautiful,” said one woman wearing a floor-length dress to her friend in a bustier and high-heels.

A few rows over, a crowd surrounded a table with five 2-foot-tall, fiberglass dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were created by the renowned Chinese artist Sui Jianguo. Three people had bid up to $2,600 for the pink dinosaur. Nearby, another crowd surrounded a display showcasing about 30 Hermes diamond-encrusted watches.

The Hermes watches weren’t up for auction, they were just a sponsor, explained Chelsea Dillon, the event’s party planner.

In the next room, a bartender and longtime Aspen local poured whiskey over ice. It was the man’s 12th year working at the Bash for the Buddies party.

“This is one of the smaller ones,” he said as he looked across 40 white dinner tables at a band setting up their instruments on stage.

From 20 to 1,000

In 1973, Aspenite Gregg Anderson started a nonprofit under the name “The Aspen Big Brother Big Sister Program.” The organization’s goal was to create mentor partnerships with Aspen youth, and it began by pairing around 20 adults with children. There was no staff, no formal organization and no budget.

In the past 41 years, however, the organization has grown.

The nonprofit’s name was changed to The Buddy Program, and last year the program served 973 youth and their families with 125 adult mentors. Some high-school age buddies also serve as mentors to younger kids.

The nonprofit’s success is largely due to the amount of money organizers raise during a race held every Fourth of July and the annual Bash for the Buddies summer party.

In 2012 — the most recent year The Buddy Program’s tax documents were available — the Bash for the Buddies brought in $720,179 and the Fourth of July race raised $69,478. The party raised about 39 percent of its revenue during the live and silent auctions.

Although numbers haven’t been finalized yet, The Buddy Program Executive Director David Houggy said Thursday’s event raised between $800,000 and $900,000.

Most of The Buddy Program’s revenue goes back into throwing parties, paying salaries and funding operational costs, according to the organization’s 2012 tax documents.

That year, the race and Buddy Bash collectively cost $387,911 and Houggy earned $92,001 excluding any annual bonuses, while the former director Catherine Provine, who resigned from the position in February that year, made $23,788. The biggest operational expense was paying the nonprofit’s 22 additional employees — 11 who were full time. Their salaries collectively cost the nonprofit $518,750.

Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News Tina Staley and Gael Neeson, both of Aspen, bid on a vintage bicycle in the silent auction at the Bash for the Buddies at the Marolt Open Space on Thursday evening. More than 100 products were auctioned for the annual fundraising event.

The majority of the budget goes to paying its employees, because each staffer serves as a case manager who does more than just match adult mentors with youth, Houggy explained. Each case manager checks in with about 30 to 40 youth — also known as “buddies” — and they follow up with each family an average of 24 times a year to ensure the buddy is performing well in school and is living in a healthy, nurturing environment. If the youth is having problems at home or at school, the case manager will arrange for counseling.

“It’s social services basically,” Houggy said.

That personal attention case managers give to the youth is why Houggy thinks the average buddy is partnered with an adult mentor for 4.4 years. The average at the nationwide nonprofit Big Brothers, Big Sisters is under two years, according to Houggy.

Meanwhile, in 2012 the nonprofit ran a $74,854 deficit (total expenses were $1.06 million, and the organization raised $986,870 in revenues). The nonprofit had an operating deficit last year as well, Houggy said. Despite operating at a loss, by the end of the year, the nonprofit’s total net assets were $1.59 million due to an endowment fund.

“Because we have this fund, we are able to continue to invest in our programs and the youth of our valley on a consistent basis, and take a longer-term approach to our finances,” Houggy wrote in an e-mail. “This is particularly important because unlike some nonprofits we have no earned income (i.e., ticket sales, product revenue) and count on donations and grants for all of our support, and we provide all of our services to our nearly 1,000 families completely free of charge.”

For the children

In 2012, only about 4.5 percent of the nonprofit’s revenue went directly to youth.

The organization raised $986,870 in total revenues that year — of which $50,500 came from government grants — but only $44,861 was distributed directly to local children. The Buddy Program gave out $34,900 in scholarships to 16 students, which averages out to about $2,181 per student. The program also distributed $9,961 to 116 students for what the tax documents defined as “extra curricular assistance for buddies.”

This year, Houggy said The Buddy Program awarded $38,600 to 34 high school seniors who participated in the program. Seven students who received scholarships were the first generation in their families to attend college, he said. Scholarship amounts range from $250 to $4,000.

Part of the reason the percentage is low is because the program’s goal is to provide case workers to manage relationships between the adult mentors, youth and their families, Houggy said.

“We don’t give out cash,” he said. “We’re providing services.”

The price of premium seats

As the silent auction ended on Thursday, people made their way into the dining room where two buffet lines served food from the Hickory House and Caribou Catering.

This year, a premium “Honky-Tonkin’ Host Table” with 12 seats went for $25,000 — or about $2,083 a person. There was also a $15,000 “Wild West Table,” a $12,000 “Cowboy Table” and a $1,000 table with preferred seating for one.

The nonprofit sold 19 tables — half of which were bought as entire tables and the other half were tables filled with individual attendees, according to Houggy. He didn’t have a final count of how much money was made on table sales alone, he said.

As people found their seats, the bar closed and an auctioneer took the stage to begin the party’s live auction.

“We do a lot for these kids,” the auctioneer reminded the audience.

During the half-hour live auction, a Los Cabos vacation was auctioned off for $35,000 after a four-night trip to New York featuring a private tour of the Whitney Museum of American Art with artist Jeff Koons sold for $9,000. The live auction culminated with a “Give to Give” paddle-raising event, where bidders raised their paddle to donate random amounts of money to the program.

After the last bid, the auctioneer thanked the audience, the bar reopened and a band took the stage. At around 11 p.m. they finished their set to cheers from the small crowd that remained. Before ending the night, the band came back on stage to play one more song — Journey’s rock-and-roll classic “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Originally publish Feb. 14, 2013 in The Aspen Daily News

The medical director for ESPN’s X Games has been the subject of a gross negligence and medical malpractice investigation by the Medical Board of California since July.

Dr. David Chao, an orthopedic surgeon based in San Diego who specializes in sports medicine, has been a member of the X Games medical staff since 1997, ESPN acknowledged in a statement this week. He has served as the chief medical officer at more than 24 ESPN X Games in both the winter and summer, according to his online resume. ESPN could not confirm how many seasons he has served in the position.

Chao was on scene after the snowmobile crash that led to the death of Caleb Moore in last month’s X Games at Buttermilk. Chao also serves as the head team physician for the San Diego Chargers NFL football team.

In July, the California medical board accused Chao of gross negligence on a hip surgery he performed in 2007, negligent acts in three additional surgeries, and failure to maintain accurate medical records. The case will go to a hearing, which hasn’t yet been scheduled, according to a clerk at the state board. If found guilty, Chao faces having his medical license revoked permanently, suspended for up to a year or he could be placed on probation.

An ESPN representative said this week that the company is aware of the state board’s case against Chao and is monitoring the investigation. ESPN declined any further comment on Chao’s situation.

ESPN representatives did not answer questions asking for clarifications about the details of Chao’s job as chief medical officer, what specific protocols are used in responding to accidents or what Chao’s involvement was in responding to Moore’s crash. A photo from the Jan. 24 snowmobile freestyle competition, when Moore crashed and suffered injuries that resulted in his death, shows Chao standing behind a procession that is leading Moore off the course following his crash.

Chao did not return calls seeking comment.

Moore, whose 450-pound snowmobile fell on top of him while he was attempting a back flip, was later placed in an ambulance and transported to Aspen Valley Hospital, where doctors discovered bleeding around his heart. He was airlifted to St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction, where he developed an unspecified brain complication. Moore, 25, of Krum, Texas, passed away in the hospital on Jan. 31.

Chris Council/Aspen Daily News Caleb Moore is escorted off the snow at the X Games after having an accident during the snowmobile freestyle competition. Directly behind Moore is Dr. David Chao (wearing glasses), the chief medical officer for ESPN’s X Games. Moore passed away the following week as result of injuries sustained during the crash.

ESPN said in a statement that there have been “limited serious injuries” in the X Games’ 18-year history, where thousands of athletes have taken part in extreme competitions. The company, according to its statement, has had a medical team on site at all of the competitions since 1995, which includes a crew of emergency medical technicians, orthopedic surgeons, sports medicine professionals trained for action sports injuries, and security. ESPN refines the team to meet the demands of the events after each X Games, according to the statement.

As a surgeon, being sued can be an occupational hazard, said Nancy Berlinger, a research scholar on health care policy and ethics at The Hastings Center, a nonpartisan institution dedicated to bioethics. Still, the fact that the state board is calling for Chao’s medical license to be revoked is significant, because not all doctors who are sued have such an action taken against them, she said.

“It would appear that for this kind of action to be contemplated, there is a basic question about safety being raised and whether the person would be able to practice in a way that would not harm patients,” Berlinger said. “When you see a pattern of allegations brought against someone because they practice in a less than safe way … it raises alarm bells.”

In fiscal year 2012, the California medical board revoked 18 medical licenses out of 185 court cases that accused physicians of negligence, according to a board report.

Meanwhile, at a press conference before the Super Bowl, NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith called for Chao to be replaced as the Chargers’ team physician due to the state medical board’s investigation. Chao remains employed by the Chargers.

Since 1998, there have been at least 23 charges of medical malpractice or negligence filed against Chao, according to San Diego County court records.

In the past two years, Chao has lost two medical malpractice civil lawsuits, which resulted in $7.4 million in rewards paid to the victims. The cases are part of California court records.

Last year the state board publicly reprimanded Chao, within the medical community, for failing to disclose that he had been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol in 2007, according to state board records. Chao was ordered to enroll in an ethics program and a course in medical record-keeping, which he currently is fighting in court.

Meanwhile, ESPN announced this week that the snowmobile freestyle event has been removed from the European Winter X Games event next month in Tignes, France. The company said it is conducting a “thorough review” of last month’s X Games in Aspen.

Originally published July 24, 2014 in The Aspen Daily News

Army chief speaks at Security Forum

The state of the international political landscape is more unpredictable and uncertain now than it has been in 38 years.

That’s according to Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the United States Army chief of staff, who spoke at the opening session of the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday evening.

Odierno answered questions from The New York Times reporter David E. Sanger about the U.S.’s national security, international politics and the future of the Army.

The state of world politics has come to a head in recent weeks with crises breaking out in the Ukraine, Israel, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan seemingly all at once.

“Since 2012, the world has not become a safer place,” Odierno said.

Odierno attributed the recent surge in violence to the fact that many of the countries facing upheaval are tied together politically.

Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, U.S. Army chief of staff, kicked off the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday evening with “This We’ll Defend,” where he discussed the global scene and the role of the Army in dealing with threats.Most of the problems in Iraq that occurred since the U.S. pulled out troops stemmed from a lack of leadership. The leaders were replaced and that led Iraqi soldiers to question their purpose, causing some to defect. That essentially opened the door for the extremist group, known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, (ISIS), he said.

“The lesson I learned was that military power cannot solve problems alone,” Odierno said.

As for the crisis in Syria, that would have happened no matter what the U.S. had done, he said.

Odierno said the U.S. should pay close attention to the crisis in Ukraine and support the National Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

“Militarily, it’s a bit of a wake up call for NATO,” Odierno said.

Still, he said the U.S. should be careful before getting involved, because the issue is complex.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s budget sequestration of 2013 has threatened to cut the size of the current Army. If personnel is cut further, Odierno will have to reevaluate the nation’s current strategy, he said.

Ultimately, Odierno doesn’t want to see a draft occur, but that could be triggered by a budget shortfall, he said. The Army today is more capable than the Army in the past because soldiers are better trained and serve longer than previous generations, which makes them more experienced, Odierno said.

“I think it’s worth the investment,” Odierno said of the voluntary Army.

Originally published July 27, 2014 in The Aspen Daily News

Richard Ledgett speaks at 2014 The Aspen Security Forum

Nations around the world need to come together and establish international standards that regulate cyber attacks, said Richard Ledgett, deputy director for the National Security Agency at The Aspen Security Forum on Saturday.

There currently aren’t international norms governing cyber warfare, which could include attacks on public infrastructure like power plants. That is a dangerous situation, Ledgett said.

“It’s a very, very rich cyber threat environment,” he said.

During Saturday’s session at the Aspen Meadows campus titled “Security Challenges in the Ever-Evolving Cyber Realm,” Ledgett answered questions on the state of the NSA and the future of cyber threats from The New York Times reporter David E. Sanger.

China poses the greatest threat to the United States, in part because the Chinese government discloses intelligence collected by the government to commercial enterprises. The NSA doesn’t do that, Ledgett noted.

The NSA has been under heightened criticism from the public since Edward Snowden leaked classified documents more than a year ago to the press.

Dorothy M. Atkins/Aspen Daily News Richard Ledgett, deputy director of the National Security Agency (right), answers questions from The New York Times reporter David E. Sanger (left) during the Aspen Security Forum.

Since then, the NSA has seen “dozens of terrorists” use published information to change their cyber attack tactics, Ledgett said.

“When people say there are no damages with the disclosures, they are categorically wrong,” he said. “Our hope is that they’re not catastrophically wrong.”

Snowden had access to approximately 1.6 million classified documents, but it’s still unclear how many documents he extracted, Ledgett said.

Snowden used an inexpensive web crawler to scrape the government’s database. That wouldn’t happen today, Ledgett said, declining to elaborate on the technology the NSA is using to combat a similar attack.

“There are a lot of good lessons there,” Ledgett said.

As time passes, the information Snowden extracted becomes less relevant, because the NSA keeps adjusting its system in response to the leak, he said. That’s one reason why talking about Snowden and his actions are becoming more irrelevant.

“I would much prefer talking about things moving forward than talk about Edward Snowden,” Ledgett said.

When asked how the U.S. government can combat cyber attacks from teenagers and criminal groups, who naturally resist conforming to government policies, Ledgett responded, “The same way you eat an elephant. One bite at a time.”

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on Monday, August 18, 2014

Although Aspen local Tejay van Garderen is the favorite to win this year’s USA Pro Challenge, anyone could ultimately take the podium.

That’s the message top cyclists gave the public during a press conference on Sunday marking the start of the 2014 USA Pro Challenge. The seven-day race takes the peloton of professional cyclists across more than 500 miles and up 40,000 feet of mountainous Colorado terrain.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to predict who will win the race, because the pro challenge has such variety in its stages and that can favor different athletes on different legs, said Tom Danielson, a 36-year-old American cyclist, who recently won the Tour of Utah. The seven- stage race is made up of circuit races, time trials and point-to-point races over Colorado passes.

Van Garderen won the race last year and is favored to win this year. Still, van Garderen agreed with Danielson.

“Any day could be decisive,” van Garderen said.

Race organizers need to partner with professional cyclists to create race courses, said Jens Voigt, a 42-year-old professional cyclist from Germany. Voigt is the oldest man competing professionally and plans to retire after this season.

Races that cover extreme distances aren’t necessarily fun to watch or to compete in, because they can be too long before the race becomes competitive, he said.

“The commentators don’t know what to say, because nothing happens,” Voigt joked.

“We can only go so hard, for so long,” said Michael Rogers, a pro cyclist from Australia. Rogers added that he doesn’t want professional cycling to become like test cricket, where matches can last up to five days.

The pro challenge does a good job of keeping the stages short, challenging and different each day, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, van Garderen said he’s happy the race is starting in Aspen.

“It’s pretty cool to start in your hometown,” he said.

Van Garderen has been home for about two weeks. Before that, he was traveling after competing in the Tour de France where he took fifth place. Since he’s been home, he’s been training.

Shawn Hunter, CEO of the pro challenge, said Aspen essentially serves as an anchor for the race and will host stages in the future.

“You can pretty much count Aspen as being in every iteration,” he said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 16, 2014

$5 million endowment would be first in the 49-year history of local nonprofit

Mountain Rescue Aspen (MRA) launched a campaign to raise a $5 million endowment this week in an effort to secure the organization’s financial future.

MRA is made up of about 50 volunteer members, who are trained to perform technical rescues in the backcountry. The organization is an arm of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, and is called on in search, rescue and recovery situations.

Since the all-volunteer organization officially started in 1965, it hasn’t had an endowment, said Doug Paley, vice president of MRA. An endowment would provide funding for four items essential to the organization, he said.

First, it would pay for insurance if members get injured during a rescue and it would provide a member’s family with benefits in the case of a death.

There’s an inherent risk associated in performing backcountry rescues, and that’s why it’s important that MRA members have financial backing in the worst case scenario, Paley said.

“The most important thing for us is to protect our members,” Paley said. “And we just haven’t had the funds to take care of them in the past.”

The point is particularly timely this summer, Paley noted. On Aug. 6, two MRA members were hospitalized after a climber triggered a rock slide that sent trash-can-sized boulders down on them while they were recovering a body near Capitol Peak.

“It would provide [members] with protection that mirrors the risk they take,” he said of the endowment’s insurance fund.

Funding also would go toward enhancing training. In order to perform rescues, members have to be trained in a variety of disciplines, including areas like emergency medicine, trigonometry and advanced rock climbing techniques, Paley said.

“What we deal with is incredibly sophisticated,” he said. “It’s not cookie cutter — we’re solving problems based on what the environment offers us.”

After taking the logo off the exterior, Mountain Rescue Aspen  members this week pack up the contents of the cabin on Main Street that has been their headquarters since 1965. The volunteer search and rescue organization is moving to a new headquarters on Highway 82 near the airport, and is launching a campaign to raise a $5 million endowment.

Those training courses take a lot of time, effort and expertise. An endowment would not only help pay for those courses, but it also would help pay for new gear that members use during rescues.

The endowment would help fund public education efforts on how best to prepare for traveling in the backcountry. MRA offers avalanche awareness courses in the winter and distributes pamphlets with tips on traveling in the backcountry.

“We really believe that through public awareness and education, we can prevent a lot of problems,” Paley said.

Finally, it would pay the utility bills at the new MRA headquarters along Highway 82 near the airport. MRA has operated out of a 3,500-square-foot cabin off of Main Street since 1965, and in recent years the organization raised $5 million to pay for the land and construction of the new facility, which includes a 45-foot-tall training tower. The new 13,000-square-foot headquarters also will serve as a functional dispatch center, incident command post and emergency management location as a back-up for the sheriff’s office.

“We are very much dependent on this to support our operation, which is minimal” in terms of its expenses, Paley said.

He noted that the nonprofit’s bylaws explicitly state that the organization cannot have any salaried employees. That rule is unlikely to change, he added.

The organization will hold its first fundraiser on Sept. 1 during the opening of the nonprofit’s new headquarters.

MRA leases its current space on Main Street from the city. The lease will end in October. The organization held its last meeting there last Monday. After the lease ends, city officials are considering temporarily moving municipal offices to the old MRA headquarters, but the issue will go before Aspen City Council before a final decision is made, according to Barry Crook, assistant city manager.

People interested in making a donation to MRA can email support@mountainrescueaspen.org or contact Paley directly at (970) 710-1044.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 15, 2014

Until about a week ago, I never considered traveling to the Pennsylvania countryside for a vacation.

I had only visited the state once before on an eighth grade class field trip to Philadelphia. It was January and I distinctly remember how in awe I was of Independence Hall — where I incorrectly assumed the movie “1776” was filmed — and how unimpressed I was of the Liberty Bell.

Since, I considered the trip satisfying enough to check off Pennsylvania on my bucket list of places to visit and figured any further curiosity about the area could easily be satisfied by watching an episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” In short, I never expected to visit the state again.

Those plans changed about six months ago when a close friend I met while living in Aspen in my early 20s announced her engagement to a Pittsburgh local. The wedding would take place in August in her home state of Pennsylvania, naturally.

While I was happy for my friend’s newfound love, I was less than thrilled about the idea of traveling to Pittsburgh for a wedding. A place known as the Steel City doesn’t exactly ring “destination wedding” in my mind, I thought.

But, the main thing about weddings is that the event is not about you, unless of course you’re the one getting hitched. So I sucked it up, booked my ticket and planned to experience Pennsylvania for the first time since I was 13.

The wedding was held at the Oak Lodge in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, which is about an hour drive southeast of Pittsburgh. The highlands are located in the Allegheny Mountains, which have the highest peaks in Pennsylvania.

To my surprise, the Laurel Highlands have a lot of similar outdoor activities that Coloradoans love. The area is popular for hiking, mountain biking, hunting, trout fishing, wildlife viewing and leaf peeping. There are even a few ski hills in the area — although they resemble Fanny Hill more than Ridge of Bell.

The lodge where the wedding took place is on 800 acres surrounded by farms and agriculture and includes a tavern, 18th century village, log chapel and reception hall.

To get there, party-goers took a 20 minute shuttle through Pennsylvania’s rolling hills. As I looked out the window, I was surprised by how lush and pristine the area was. It reminded me of an article I recently read in the New York Times. The story, titled “Neighbors Say Barn Weddings Raise a Rumpus,” said the number of weddings taking place in rustic areas like barns are on the rise much to the chagrin of neighbors.

The modest log chapel was in the middle of a dense forest. The venue had a warm, comforting vibe as if we were traveling to a chapel where characters in fairytales and Disney movies wed.

The owners also produce bottles of maple syrup on the property — something I didn’t actually witness firsthand during the wedding, but I could believe based on the surroundings.

The day following the wedding, we ate brunch at the nearby Stone Tavern and Restaurant, where a fresh arugula salmon salad cost a mere $12. My friends and I noted, the benefit of having a wedding in the middle of nowhere is how affordable the food and lodging tends to be.

As I learned more about the area and the trails I could be exploring, I realized I should have taken a longer vacation. I had only given myself enough time to go to the wedding and have lunch before I had to get back to the airport. Even so, the experience – lovely, affordable and truly ideal – was enough to make me want me to visit again.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News August 15, 2014

Study to serve as baseline data if drilling occurs

A new study released Thursday indicates that water in the area surrounding the Thompson Divide is uncontaminated by chemicals.

The data is intended to serve as a baseline for future studies if oil and gas companies develop in the Thompson Divide. The Thompson Divide encompasses 221,000 acres of relatively pristine federal land outside of Carbondale where oil and gas companies are making moves to drill. The study was performed by the Roaring Fork Conservancy, analyzed by Dr. Robert Moran of Golden and commissioned by the Thompson Divide Coalition, a nonprofit made up of a range of stakeholders in the area.

The samples were taken around the Fourmile Creek and Thompson Creek watersheds. The first samples were taken between September 2009 and August 2010 and a second sampling was taken last year between February and October.

The samples indicate that the water in the area is cold and highly oxygenated, with minimal amounts of sediment and low concentrations of dissolved chemicals.

“In short, the water quality of both studies show that they are very high quality waters,” Moran said. “There is no evidence of industrial development at all either organic or inorganic.”

It’s unusual for communities to collect water quality data before development occurs in an area, Moran said. Typically, oil and gas companies will test waters surrounding oil and gas wells after drilling has already begun, he said.

“There’s a general trend in the conduction of water sampling, and it is for industry to be collecting their own samples,” Moran said. “That creates a lot of dissent among groups.”

The study, which is funded by the coalition, can be useful in the future if development occurs, he said.

Zane Kessler, executive director of the Thompson Divide Coalition, hopes the baseline study will serve as a disincentive for oil and gas companies to develop in the area, he said.

“We are working as hard as possible to prevent oil and gas development,” Kessler said.

In April, the Bureau of Land Management announced it would grant a two-year extension on 25 leases in the Thompson Divide area as the federal agency drafts an environmental impact statement to address National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) deficiencies identified by the Interior Board of Land Appeals for 65 leases on the Western Slope.

Two oil and gas companies — SG Interests and Ursa Resources Group — have pending development proposals that will not be analyzed by the Forest Service and BLM until the EIS is completed. Continuing the suspension of the leases pauses the 10-year deadline leaseholders have to begin developing the sites.

“The [Thompson Divide Coalition] is making sure the BLM considers these findings in their review,” Kessler said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 15, 2014

A developer who has invested in a dozen commercial properties in downtown Aspen is hoping his tenants will pay higher lease rates to rent his commercial spaces, Randy Gold, an appraiser for Aspen Appraisal Group, said Thursday at a real estate symposium.

Since 2010, developer Mark Hunt invested approximately $80 million into 12 commercial properties, which add up to about 100,000 square feet of space in Aspen, according to Gold.

“It’s hard to talk about commercial sales without talking about Mark Hunt,” Gold said during the Aspen/Snowmass State of the Real Estate and Tourism Economy Symposium presented by B.J. Adams & Co.

“He probably would agree he overpaid for everything he bought,” Gold said.

Gold added that Hunt probably will be in Aspen for the longterm and in 5-10 years his purchases will likely have been very smart plays.

One way commercial buildings are valued is by using an equation called the capitalization rate, which is the ratio of the amount of net income a building generates divided by the sale price of the building. The capitalization rate for commercial buildings in Aspen has trended down over the past few years and it is currently around 4 to 6 percent, Gold said. That is an extremely low value, he noted, adding that the more investors pay for buildings, the higher rents they need to charge.

Generally, if a business were paying $200 per square foot for a 1,500-square-foot space, it would have to make $3 million or more in gross sales for it to be a prudent decision, he said.

“These are huge rents,” Gold said.

Michael Adams, President of BJ Adams and Company, takes a historical look at the trends of real estate inventory and sales during the State of the Aspen/Snowmass Real Estate Market at the Aspen Institute on Thursday afternoon.

He speculated that most businesses paying that kind of rent are not generating the sales to justify it. Despite that, Aspen’s commercial buildings are likely a good investment in part because business owners don’t necessarily make the right decisions.

“There are a lot of tenants that don’t make prudent decisions,” he said.

That’s particularly true in Aspen, because the resort town has a history of attracting international luxury brands like Dolce & Gabbana and Prada, which can afford to take a loss for a few years in exchange for having a store-front in Aspen. If a business moves out, another one can replace it, he added.

“There’s always someone in line,” Gold said after his presentation. “We’ve always had that phenomenon.”

Gold noted the businesses that can afford to take the loss are not local “mom and pop shops.”

He added that about 45 percent of commercial real estate in downtown Aspen is controlled by five owners, which makes the market stable.

As for the residential market, more multimillion-dollar, single-family homes are likely to come on the market in the next few months, because buyers have purchased 70 vacant properties in the past three years and some are going to be developed by speculators into single-family homes. There are usually only about one to three single-family home sales above $20 million a year in Aspen, Gold noted.

B.J. Adams noted at the beginning of Thursday’s symposium that the event was created four years ago in response to the Great Recession, which hit the local real estate economy particularly hard. The symposium was created in an effort to contribute to the community’s understanding of the local real estate economy.

“We were flying so high in ’08, we didn’t see the recession coming,” Adams said.

Originally published in The Aspen Daily News on August 14, 2014

Shawn Hunter, the CEO and executive director of the USA Pro Challenge, said he plans to keep the bike race in Aspen in future years.

He made that announcement on Wednesday during the Aspen Business Luncheon.

Aspen has hosted at least one stage of the seven-day bike race since the series began four years ago. That will likely continue because of how successful it has been in the past, Hunter said.

He also noted that race organizers don’t plan to move the series outside of the state.

“The race will always be based in Colorado,” Hunter said.

This year, the Pro Challenge runs from Aug. 18-24 and begins with a circuit race around Aspen and Snowmass on Monday. The second stage, on Tuesday, takes cyclists from downtown Aspen to Basalt, via Highway 82 and Two Rivers Road, then through Carbondale, via Catherine Store Road and Highway 133, and over both McClure and Pearl passes to Crested Butte. The race takes the peloton of professional cyclists across more than 500 miles and up 40,000 feet of mountainous Colorado terrain over seven days.

The race will air on NBC Sports, and past races have been shown on the station in more than 180 countries and territories, Hunter said. Meanwhile, the race’s website has attracted 290,000 online viewers who average 109-minute sessions, which is more than most sites, he said, adding that the race advertises the towns and mountains in Colorado.

“What this is is a 30-hour television commercial for Colorado,” Hunter said, adding that the bike race is organized by a private company.

Shawn Hunter, co-chairman and CEO of the USA Pro Challenge, discusses a variety of aspects of the race and impacts it has in Aspen and all of Colorado, during the Aspen Business Luncheon at the Mountain Chalet on Wednesday afternoon.

The event couldn’t happen without the help of towns like Aspen, which provide about 800 rooms to host racers and organizers each year, Hunter said. Collectively, host cities also provide the race with about 4,000 volunteers. The race is a “controlled circus,” Hunter joked.

“When we roll into town we wreak havoc,” he said.

The fact that the towns participate in the race is why it has been so successful, Hunter said.

This year, about 30 communities made bids for 11 spots. In July, Aspen City Council approved spending $215,000 to fund the local portion of the race. The city’s contribution makes up a majority of the event’s $400,000 total cost to the local community for items such as logistics, security, and room and board for racers and event officials.

The accommodations Aspen and Snowmass offer racers are better than most of the places top cyclists stay in when they compete in the Tour de France, Hunter said.

“They don’t get the treatment there they get here,” he said.

After Hunter’s presentation on the race, he answered questions from the audience about the event.

Chris Klug, a professional athlete and founder of the Chris Klug Foundation, asked Hunter why the Pro Challenge is successful when the Coors International Bicycle Classic ended after eight years.

The Coors Classic was a stage race that started in 1980 and had cyclists compete in states including Colorado, Nevada, California, Wyoming and Hawaii. Hunter said the Coors Classic ended in 1988 because it relied on one company to sponsor it — Coors Brewing Co. The Pro Challenge has multiple sponsors.

Sponsors this year include Colorado Tourism, Coca-Cola, United Healthcare insurance company, Lexus, FirstBank and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.