Putting out the unwelcome mat
Ghost towns still happen.
They donít get as much press or discussion
as growing towns, because few people are left to complain when towns shrink.
Rural areas know about shrinkage. Ask
Salmon and Cascade, where lumber mills closed. Ask Kellogg and Wallace, where
mines closed. Ask the handful of people left in any one of dozens of shrunken
farm towns in Idaho what happened when the railroad stopped coming through or
when agribusiness ran out family farms.
Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue have been
In 1936, Averell Harriman and Union
Pacific Railroad breathed new life into the dead mining towns when they created
Sun Valley by building a hotel and a ski lift on land that was once a ranch. It
was the beginning of a thriving sports and hospitality industry.
Lucky or not, itís a good bet that even in
1936, not everyone was cheering. No doubt there was a complainer somewhere who
wanted to freeze the valley in time to preserve the dusty Western ambiance of
empty buildings and empty streets.
Yet, only ghost towns are frozen in time,
and without renewal, even they eventually turn to dust.
The present situation in the Wood River
Valley is puzzling. No farm would dry up its own wells. No ranch would starve
its own livestock.
Yet, Sun Valley is sitting by quietly, and
Ketchum is actively discouraging development of replacement units for the 320
hotel rooms the valley has lost over the last several years.
Without specific ordinances to help new
hotels balance the cost of operations with high land values and development
restrictions, Ketchum and Sun Valley are in danger of drying up its own wells.
Ketchum put out the unwelcome mat for
hotels and extinguished the light in the window last month when it sent a Main
Street hotel proposal, which had been unanimously approved by the Planning and
Zoning Commission, back to the drawing board. Unswayed by economic and design
arguments, the council told developers to conform to height limits, or donít
The council gave little thought to the
serious possibility that the cityís own ordinances may make it impossible to
build financially viable new hotels.
Itís time for the city to think about
itóbefore it dries up its own wells and finds them impossible to restore.