THE BUZZ: The Faces of Blair

By on July 28, 2015

If Blair Place residents are forced from the valley, just who do we stand to lose?

Matt Grabowski and Renee Knutson on the porch of their Blair Place Apartment. The couple says their future in the valley is uncertain when their lease expires in May and their rent takes a sharp rise. Photo: Robyn Vincent

Matt Grabowski and Renee Knutson on the porch of their Blair Place Apartment. The couple says their future in the valley is uncertain come May when their lease expires. (Photo: Robyn Vincent)

This week’s installment broaches personal territory as the author highlights one of the first people she met in Jackson, an exuberant valley cheerleader, who, along with his wife, are reevaluating their place here after Blair Place Apartments’ announcement to raise rent more than 40 percent.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – When I moved to the valley seven years ago, there were a few folks that, unbeknownst to them, helped convince me to stay. Fervent advocates of Jackson who fostered my undying love for this place through their earnest warmth and tales of local people, culture and history. Struggling to plant my roots during those first few years, I would often see Matt Grabowski at small dinner parties.

“Robyn! What’s up, lady?” Grabowski would say as he raised his hand to high five me. A warm embrace always followed.

As we drank wine and broke bread, Grabowski would detail, with a booming voice and the animated gestures to match, some of the wondrous little gems that distinguished the valley: its vibrant snow and skate culture; the patchwork of aging ski bums who eventually carved important roles in the public and private sectors; inspired mountain characters and a familial community vibe.

For a couple months, I found myself sharing a Rafter J condo with Grabowski and a few others. The moment he draped a Wyoming flag on the living room wall remains etched in my mind.

“I really like Jackson,” I mused, “but I don’t know that I align myself with the rest of Wyoming.”

Grabowski’s thoughtful response embodied his approach to new ideas and people different than him: “Wyoming is your home, too, not just Jackson,” he said. “You have to embrace all of it if you want to live here.”

And so I did. I began celebrating and exploring everything that makes us prideful and frustrated with Jackson Hole and the Equality State. Now, a major source of frustration comes from the idea of losing folks like Grabowski.

While I no longer run in the same social circle as Grabowski, when I learned that him and his wife, Renee Knutson, are Blair Place residents, I had to pay them a visit. I arrived to Grabowski and Knutson’s third floor apartment to learn that the high five and warm embrace are still mainstay, but the former radio personality’s enthusiasm and vigor wasn’t there.

“I always felt like this town was going to chase me out,” Grabowski admitted as I sat down on his living room couch. “It feels more and more like working class people are not welcome here anymore.”

Recently securing a job with UPS, Grabowski has worn various hats during his 11-year stint in the valley. He was a key member of The Boardroom’s staff back when founder Marc Loebe was still running the show. He DJed as “Terminator Matt” on KMTN during the radio station’s heyday. He’s guided for Jack Dennis and tuned at Teton Village. The list goes on.

Knutson is the lead teacher for third, fourth and fifth graders at Joy Summer Camp, where children there work closely with nonprofit organizations like Friends of Pathways and the Good Samaritan Mission to cultivate a sense of community involvement and philanthropy. In the winter she teaches an after-school program for the Presbyterian Church, volunteers as a ski host for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and nannies for the children of a high school teacher.

“At camp we teach kids not only how to treat each other, but how to value the community they live in,” Knutson explained. “Community is about looking out for each other and helping each other become better, but when a few people decide that [community] is not a worthy investment, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.”

Grabowski, Knutson, and Jorge Moreno, another Blair resident profiled last week, say they realize rent increases are inevitable, particularly in a market like Jackson where a lack of housing has forced community members of all stripes to camp, live out of their cars, or simply move away.

However, the three Blair residents, and numerous others who asked not to be named for fear of backlash from their landlords, question a 40 percent rent hike, that means rent on a two-bedroom apartment will rise from $1250 to $1800.

Blair’s owners have attributed their own set of escalating costs, including a 150 percent increase in maintenance fees, as some of the reasons behind a steep rise in rent. But Grabowski has trouble computing that figure. He says that snow plowing last winter, for example, at the 294-unit complex was inconsistent, leaving residents to sometimes navigate walkways with precarious ice and snow.

When contacted for comment, Blair owner Todd Oliver declined to elaborate. “Given the treatment that Blair Place has received in the press, we are not making any further comments,” he said in an email.  “I will relay to you that the information you provided about there not being any snow removal last year is false.”

If the couple manages to stay at Blair Place, Grabowski said he would hope to see at least a few improvements alongside a raise in rent. “Can we get better working appliances, designated parking spots, a fresh coat of paint on the walls even?” he asked.

Some point to the idea that folks who can no longer afford to live in Jackson have the option to move to Alpine or Victor. But Knutson said she wonders how that will reshape the culture and feel of Jackson.

“There is a detachment that happens when you don’t live where you work; it unravels the whole community aspect of a town, which has always been part of Jackson’s beauty,” said Knutson, who, along with Grabowksi, has lived in places where she commuted long hours to work. “I lived in Avon, Colorado, and traveled to Vail every day to work my 60-hour work week,” she said. “The only people I ever met were the people I worked with … I would work, go home and do it all over again. There was never a sense of community.

“Even with a 20,000-plus population, this area still has a small-town feel,” Knutson continued, “because there is that sense that we are in it together. But if we take the ‘together’ part away, what is left?”

Email Robyn Vincent at [email protected]

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Planet Jackson Hole


About Robyn Vincent

Robyn is the editor of Planet Jackson Hole and Jackson Hole Snowboarder Magazine. When she's not sweating deadlines, she likes to travel the world with her notebook and camera in hand. Follow her on Twitter @TheNomadicHeart

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