Crested Butte’s big mistake was secrecy

Some residents of Crested Butte are rightfully indignant that the town council secretively struck a handshake deal with Bud Light to turn their charming ski hamlet into a living beer commercial.

If there’s no such thing as bad publicity, then town leaders should feel no shame in pimping the town to a corporate Goliath. The revelation that Bud Light is transforming Crested Butte into a fantasy town called Whatever is making headlines everywhere. Apparently you can buy this kind of exposure.

The company has agreed to pay the town $250,000 to fence off its main street, paint the town blue and bring in more than 1,000 revelers for three days beginning Sept. 5. It’s all part of an online and television campaign “Are you up for Whatever?” that originated during the Super Bowl.

Many residents are not up for Whatever, including former U.S. Sen. Tim Wirth, who summed up widely held grievances in a letter to the town council.

“The town government is not elected to turn the town into a weekend beer hall, using public resources and public property,” Wirth wrote. “Nor is it elected to carry on secret, behind-the-scenes negotiations, waiting until commitments are a fait accompli before informing town residents.”

It’s hard to decide what’s worse: The fact that town leaders co-opted the community’s well-established penchant for homespun fun, or the fact that they negotiated in secret.

We vote for secrecy. The public’s business should be conducted in public. Town officials can attempt to justify the need for secrecy as a means of nailing down a lucrative event, but the price is a lack of trust.

We have no problem with Crested Butte town officials choosing a course of action. They may not be elected specifically (as Wirth condemned) to turn the town into a beer hall. But they are elected to consider such propositions and decide what’s in the town’s best interest.

Maybe this is a great idea. Residents may very well conclude at the end of the three-day party that things went well. Merchants and hoteliers may be satisfied — even ecstatic — with register receipts. The Bud Light campaign may even have a carry-over effect into the ski season.

Even if all those things came to pass, any economic gains from turning Crested Butte into a commercial set will be greatly diminished if residents feel used. The town was already famous for the goofy charm of its residents and their zesty support of local events. It’s one of the reasons Bud Light was interested in the town takeover.

The idea that town leaders were willing to capitalize on that without consulting the very people who make Crested Butte special is hard to swallow.

So, the town that looks like the backdrop for a Coors ad but traffics readily in handcrafted microbrews will become ground zero for an extended Bud Light beer bash.

Maybe the town should take advantage of the crush of interest by erecting a billboard near the town entrance: “Now accepting applications for corporate sponsorship of Memorial Day 2015.”


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