Mountain Town News: What deals will come from Sun Valley gathering? |

Mountain Town News: What deals will come from Sun Valley gathering?

SUN VALLEY, Idaho — If past is prologue, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg will be among the titans of the new American economy in Sun Valley next week to compare notes and perhaps strike new deals at the annual conference hosted by Allen & Co.

Several years ago at the conference, Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the world’s second wealthiest person, behind only Bill Gates, forged a purchase of the ailing Washington Post. Other big deals have also been shaped in hallway conversations.

Among the politicians invited to attend this year is Colorado Gov. John HIckenlooper, known as a business friendly governor with possible presidential aspirations.

The press is barred from the sessions. Even so, many major news organizations send reporters to note who is seen talking with who when they venture into public during the four-day conference.

Last year, the average nightly rate for a terrace suite at the Sun Valley Lodge, where the conference held, was $529, noted the Wall Street Journal. It also noted that 9 Gulfstream G650 jets were among those parked at the local airport during the 2015 event. Those jets go for $65 million each.

Big thoughts as Isaacson wraps up Ideas Fest stint

ASPEN, Colo. — The Aspen Ideas Festival wrapped up last Saturday after its now customary 10-day run. Under a big, white tent, Katie Kouric interviewed New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and David Brooks about the cultural divide reflected in the election of Donald Trump but also, in a lighter moment, inquiring about their favorite vacation spots.

Friedman, although a frequent Aspen visitor, confided that he loved Yellowstone National Park and had only been there days before.

The festival was launched in 2004 after former Time magazine editor Walter Isaacson took over management of the Aspen Institute. The institute was launched in Aspen in 1950 but long ago moved operations to metropolitan Washington D.C. Looking around for a big idea, Isaacson came up with the festival built around ideas. With his enormous Rolodex of contacts paired with the equally enchanting beauty of Aspen at the start of summer.

It can seem as if all the big players in Washington D.C. and New York city are in Aspen for the festival, sprinkled with entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley—and well, just interesting people from all over.

“Guess we’re in Aspen. There’s Andrea Mitchel with General…” said one participant last week, as the NBC news correspondent casually walked by talking with somebody who has been in the news — a lot — lately.

That morning, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, thought to be preparing to make a run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, had spoke, a view of the Maroon Bells in the background. The next noon, U.S. Senator Cory Booker — although considered an up-and-comer in the Democratic Party — was at the institute to answer questions from Amy Walters, a steady presence on the cable TV shows. Mitch Landrieu, the mayor of New Orleans, had stopped by to explain his thinking on the dismantling of statutes honoring Confederate leaders in the Civil War.

Isaacson talked about his newest book, about Leonardo da Vinci, to be issued in October. It’s the latest in a sting of books he’s written while still having a day job at the Aspen institute. How do you mange to do it? “We don’t own a television,” he answered, an odd answer for someone who once oversaw CNN’s news department.

Isaacson is returning to New Orleans, where he grew up, to become a professor at Tulane University. As for the Aspen Institute, he said he believes surely there is somebody out there with new and better ideas. But to the extent that the Ideas Festival has succeeded, he attributed to Aspen itself, what he called the “secret sauce. “

“You get people in this mountain (town) and they are elevated in their thinking … it’s not like going to something in Davos or in New York. We’ve not yet cracked the code of how you would replace Aspen in Akron (Ohio) or Columbus (Ohio). I would like to see a way of taking Aspen (Ideas Festival) and making it part of American society, making it part of the world.)

But in returning to his old hometown, Isaacson also spoke to the need to reconnect, helping bridge the nation’s cultural divide. He said he believes that tension can be partly explained by how advantaged people have left their communities while the disadvantaged have stayed home, with fewer job prospects and less engagement in the information world.

“I think the divide between people who left their community and the people who stay should narrow,” he said. That reconnection of communities on the local level must happen “if we’re going to cure ourselves.”

Ranch in cowboy state marketed to Chinese

THAYNE, Wyo. — Can über-wealthy Chinese be persuaded to buy ranches in the Rocky Mountains? A Texas-based marketing firm is confident enough of Chinese interest that it included a 299-acre ranch in a portfolio of 18 properties directed to wealthy Chinese.

Laura Brady, founder of Concierge, the marketing firm, told the Jackson Hole News&Guide that lots of space, clean air and amenities like swimming pools and tennis courts grab attention among wealthy Chinese. “Those are aspects not available in in China. It’s such a populated area,” she said.

Being sold at auction, the ranch was expected by one real estate professional to fetch between $20 million and $26 million. But will it sell to a Chinese buyer? Bruce Simon, a real estate agent in Jackson, said he believed that the property is too distant from Jackson, about 50 miles.

The News&Guide points out that Chinese investments in U.S. real estate were negligible until 2010. That changed. From 2013 through 2016, Chinese topped foreign buyers, according to the National Association of Realtors.

Durango looking into a homeless campground

DURANGO, Colo. — Durango city officials have started talking about building a permanent campground for the homeless.

The ambition is inspired by a campground in Las Cruces, N.M. called Camp Hope. Opened six years ago, it has permanent bathrooms and showering facilities in an area proximate to services for the homeless. The permanence gives local officials the ability to better address fire and safety concerns.

The Durango Telegraph says that Camp Hope is cited as a success because a large number of homeless residents at the campground have transitioned to permanent housing. That said, the cost housing in the New Mexico city is far less than that in Durango.

Durango municipal officials estimate the campground would cost $250,000 to build on the city-owned land and $60,000 annually to operate and maintain.

La Plata County already has a campground in Durango with 25 campsites and 33 individuals living there. The campground is supervised by four hosts. Unlike what is proposed, however, the campsites are temporary in nature, leaving both safety and sanitary issues to be resolved.

I-70 toll lanes proclaimed a success; more are planned

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — It works! That’s the conclusion of the Colorado Department of transportation two years after it put into place new tolling lanes on Interstate 70 between metropolitan Denver and the mountain resorts.

Citing a recent C-DOT report, the Vail Daily reports that use of the express lane more than doubled during its second winter season. About 8 percent of peak-day traffic used the lane when it was open. Those motorists paid an average of $5 to $6 to move a little bit faster through the 13-mile segment.

Traffic congeals on winter and summer weekends. The trip from Summit County to Denver, which is about 75 miles and normally a little more than an hour, could take four hours if attempted during a Sunday afternoon.

There are several pinch points. One of them is at the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnel under the Continental Divide, where the highway is constricted to two lanes. Another narrowing is found in the Idaho Springs area, where three lanes narrow to two. A central problem is at Idaho Springs itself, an old mining town built long before interstate highways were contemplated. Space is tight. Expanding the footprint of the highway would have had devastating consequences for the town.

In response, CDOT plowed $70 million into modification of the east-bound lanes in order to squeeze in a narrow toll lane. The intent is to add capacity to the highway by giving some drivers faster speeds, but in turn allowing everybody to go faster. Megan Castle, a spokeswoman for C-DOT, told the Vail Daily that the added lane has reduced overall travel times in the three lanes weekend and holidays afternoons anywhere from 26 to 52 percent.

Traffic moved faster even as overall number of vehicles on the corridor increased about 9 percent last winter.

Castle said the express lane will lose its advantage if more than 10 percent of drivers choose to use it. If that happens, then tolls will be increased for the lane, in what is called variable pricing. The maximum charge would be $30.

With this success, several similar projects are planned to speed traffic on I-70 during peak times.

Margaret Bowes, director of the I-70 Coalition, a non-profit group of local governments and business interests, told the Vail Daily that a similar express lane in the west-bound lanes is being discussed to pick up the pace on Saturday mornings and other times when it seems like half of Denver is trying to get to the mountains.

Yet another idea being discussed is a third lane to the top of Floyd Hill. If these are completed, then I-70 will be three-laned from Denver to Frisco – except for the tunnels at the Continental Divide. Adding capacity there will cost a lot more money yet.

Park City says stay the course on federal lands

PARK CITY, Utah — Park City’s elected officials have adopted a resolution that says federal lands in Utah and other states should remain in federal lands, not transferred to state governments or sold.

The Park Records notes that the resolution was not controversial in Park City, but is a polarizing topic in Utah, where state leaders have led the current argument for trimming federal land assets. The resolution describes public lands as “the backbone” of the outdoor recreational industry and declares that lose of access to those lands “would have damaging consequences for Park City’s economy and harm the health and welfare of residents and visitors.”

Ironically, Park City has no federal lands within its borders. The land there almost entirely was patented, or made private through federal laws, during the mining era of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Allen Best is based in Denver

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