Talking Shop: Ron Jones of Cooper Creek Square
Ryan Summerlin February 27, 2014
Ron Jones, managing partner, Cooper Creek Square, Winter Park. Investment interests in two other businesses.
How did you get started in business? I moved to Winter Park after researching all major Colorado ski resorts, in 1975, with the hope to build a downtown in a major ski resort. I didn’t come to be a ski bum but rather to pursue a business dream. After several very fun but unprofitable years as co-owner of Dr. Generosity’s Restaurant and Medicine Bar, I spent two years obtaining my law degree and then practiced law for two more years in Winter Park. One of my clients was willing to work with me in the development of my Cooper Creek plan and the last 30 years have been spent in trying to offer the best experience possible.
Business mission statement: To provide a quality downtown experience in Winter Park
Success in the mission: The plan to build a downtown is a work in progress. I am very proud of what we have accomplished, but the critical mass and implementation of the Pedestrian Oriented Core of the Winter Park Master Plan has stalled after the first phase for economic and political reasons. I am too far along in my career to undertake any new construction but will cooperate with younger people with fresh energy to eventually see this dream become a reality.
What can government here to do to help?
“The fighting, both publicly and privately between Fraser and Winter Park, needs to stop immediately. We are one community with the accident of two towns. The towns should merge as soon as possible.”
Challenges to the mission: Numerous economic, political and demographic issues
How do you cope with Grand County’s seasonal surge? It is simply part of the equation. You have to recognize that it exists and plan and budget for it. In the 1980s, we adjusted our rent schedules to provide that 72 percent of the annual rent is paid during ski season when most of the business is transacted. However, summer continues to become stronger and stronger through the efforts of the town and chamber.
What do you think is the biggest business barrier in Grand County? Lack of real vision and capital. Private capital will only be attracted if we provide a business and political environment that encourages capital investment. In order to have this happen, our community and local government need to become aggressive to offer business and tax subsidies throughout the towns and county. As a community, we need to understand that incentives that attract business are an investment in the future and those new businesses will create a fresh stream of sales and property tax revenues that allow us to continue to market and build infrastructure. I believe that these subsidies should be universally available in towns and throughout the county and not directed to a particular area or project that our elected officials choose. The most harmful policy to development that many of our local government entities embrace is aversion to debt to promote economic expansion. Running debt-free is a noble goal for a family collecting a salary. No successful corporation makes a profit without using reasonable and prudent debt to finance expansion. Debt should not pay for operations. Debt should be used to pay for capital expenditures and investment in economic expansion. This is a capital expenditure from which a return should be expected. Our local governments should be run like a business and should be in a positive partnership with the private sector to promote economic expansion similar to LODO, Belmar, Stapleton, Lionshead and a host of other public/ private economic stimulus developments. Such encouragement should clearly take into account creating benefits for long-term local businesses that have supported our community over the years.
What do you think is your biggest business barrier on a state and/or national level? Our economy is very closely tied to the national and regional economy. First we must realize that we have three distinct economies in Grand County: tourism, real estate, and agriculture. Agriculture stands alone with its own issues. Real estate boomed through the 2000s without a commensurate boom in tourism. The real estate economy has been fueled by second home and condo development, but many of those properties sit empty large portions of the year. The local tourism economy was relatively flat through the 2000s and increases in this sector are very closely tied to weather and consumer spending, which increases or decreases with consumer confidence.
What can government here do to help? In addition to commercial development incentives, continue to fund projects that make our tourism economy work more smoothly. In spite of solid efforts by our local transportation operator, we simply are woefully behind every other resort in transportation. Fraser, Winter Park and Grand County need to immediately finish whatever transportation planning that has been started and create a transportation district so we can join other resort communities in the 21st Century. I believe that frequently our local governments focus too much on why things won’t work or worry too much that the other governmental agencies aren’t paying their share. Transportation needs to be addressed NOW. We need to raise the money through bonds and get a decent system in place. Lastly, the fighting, both publicly and privately between Fraser and Winter Park needs to stop immediately. We are one community with the accident of two towns. The towns should merge as soon as possible. A study was done on this a few years back and for some reason didn’t go forward. Whatever the reason, it was a bad one. We are wasting millions of dollars over time having separate infrastructures and staff for communities which each have very few permanent residents. There are clearly vested interests being protected in this merger not going forward and as citizens of the Fraser Valley, we should insist that this merger happen. A major flaw in our system is that a great number of people in the business community live in the unincorporated areas of the Fraser Valley and have no effective voice in how our local governments are run. The two towns will go to great lengths to justify their separate existence, but any rational independent person will conclude that continued existence of two separate towns is sheer folly. We are simply one community with like interests and needs.
How does your business give back to the community? Any way we can. We support most charitable causes and the Grand Foundation. We are very proud of creating a “place to be” in Winter Park. Places such as the Aspen Mall, Pearl Street Mall are the activity center of those communities. The Cooper Creek Mall complete with our Music on the Mall, carriage rides and summer events has become an activity center, along with Hideaway Park, for visitors and locals alike.
Give examples of how you are environmentally responsible. Cooper Creek has actively participated in recycling for years in spite of problems with many people using our containers free of charge without our consent — a real problem to ask our tenants to pay for community recycling. Cooper Creek has done energy audits and changed out inefficient lighting and boilers to save energy. At Miller Storage in Tabernash, we voluntarily converted all of our outside lighting to “down lights” to preserve the night sky.
How do you support other local businesses? We work collectively with other neighboring businesses in South Downtown Winter Park to improve the neighborhood.
How do you feel about direct competition? Competition is healthy. We have very limited offerings in the Fraser Valley and we need to work together to ensure that our guests get the best possible experience. With the emergence of a quality commercial experience at Winter Park Resort, it is important that the downtown and the resort village work together to make sure that the guest is familiar with both experiences.
How do you market yourself? Cooper Creek has an independent promo association that was formed in the 1980s collectively by the landlord and tenants. We have a full-time, professional marketing director and we spend a substantial amount of money on events, promotions and advertising.
What’s the main thing you have you learned in your years in business? To conduct all dealings fairly and with integrity. Our tenants are all small business people and most are family-owned. The success of these businesses determine the financial viability of the families that own them. We aren’t dealing with big, national corporations that are simply trying to maximize profits in the Winter Park operation. If Cooper Creek family-owned businesses don’t do enough business to make a reasonable profit, then that family will have issues buying groceries or paying their mortgage. This is a huge responsibility to provide the best possible environment for our 29 tenants. Additionally, I have learned to listen, learn about and trust those people I work with. It is essential to surround oneself with very smart, very talented people and then give them the space and trust to do their jobs.
Where do you go for help when you need it? I have a group of employees and friends that I trust very much, and I try not to let my inherent stubbornness keep me from turning to them for counsel.
Who is your biggest business influence/mentor? My Father. He taught me to be fair, ethical and work hard for what I want.
What do you think is the most significant economic driver in Grand County? The tourism and real estate industries
If you could go back in time and start up your business venture all over again, what would you do differently? Choose a different location with a better overall economy, but only from a business perspective. Steamboat, Breckenridge, Vail and Aspen have far outpaced Winter Park in economic development over the past 40 years. However, from a personal level, I wouldn’t change a thing. The Fraser Valley has the best people in the world and the environment to raise a family is second-to-none. We make choices in life, and I will take family and personal happiness over business every time.
What’s the best compliment you received from a client/customer/guest? Over 30 years, unfortunately, businesses have failed in Cooper Creek, just as small businesses do all over the country. With only two exceptions, the owners of these businesses have universally thanked me for being fair in the way we wound up our dealings.
What do you consider to be your biggest mistake in business? Not understanding the economics of shopping centers before Cooper Creek was built. I learned through the school of hard knocks, in a hurry. Not far behind was believing that owning a bar and restaurant in a ski town in the ‘70s was all about fun and partying. I was young and foolish.
Is their any certain trend you’ve noticed in consumer habits lately? People are spending a bit more.
What are some tricks such as signs or window displays that you’ve noticed work in attracting customers to your front door? Businesses simply have to have an attractive, quality front door presentation including a sign. If you present a cheap presentation, the customer will not come in.
What organization(s) is (are) most useful to business owners? Lions Club, Rotary, Grand Foundation, East Grand School District, Chamber and similar organizations in that they create a great community environment in which to live and work
If you could give advice to a young entrepreneur, what would it be? Find a mentor and role model and listen. Don’t assume you know it all already. Be honest, work hard, respect others. Most importantly, remember that family and friends are always more important than business. When you have been dead and gone for 50 years, few will remember your business accomplishments but the impact you had on people, particularly, your children are your real legacy.