In the years following the September 11 attacks, an economically depressed time, Earl Richmond saw an opportunity and moved his family from Breckenridge to Buena Vista to run Colorado Kayak Supply.
“We used to have our staff park in front of the store so it would look like there were five people on Main Street,” Richmond said in a Times interview last year.
Main Street doesn’t have that problem anymore. Now that BV’s old downtown is thriving, with nearly all of the buildings once boarded up now filled, where is the next part of town where businesses will crop up?
“Main Street continues to see growth and significant refurbishment to existing buildings, so I expect to see continued commercial growth in this area over the next few years,” said Bill Lockett, an agent with Collegiate Peaks Realty specializing in commercial real estate. “Additionally, there is quite a bit of activity in the industrial/commercial area of Gregg Drive at present and plans for larger scale commercial projects. This southwest area of town is the easiest area for town growth, so I expect to see much activity there in the near future.”
Dallas Campbell of Century 21 Summit Realty said that the best predictor of commercial growth is residential.
“Commercial in my opinion lags behind residential in demand,” he said. “When we came out of the recession, it was housing we first saw crop up.”
Banks in BV have a window into residential and commercial markets based on who comes in to request a loan.
“There’s far, far more demand for residential than commercial and small business (loans),” said Scott Erchul, president of High Country Bank’s Buena Vista branch. “(Commercial) just grows much slower than residential.”
That being said, Erchul does see growth in the commercial sector.
“It’s not huge, but it’s steadily increasing ... In the past two or three years I’ve been getting more and more inquiries from people trying to start up new businesses or existing businesses.”
Burke Kaiser, president of Collegiate Peaks Bank’s mountain region, said “In Buena Vista, it’s pretty clear the activity is going to be centered around downtown, East Main and South Main and from there out to the back roads of the prison. Those are the natural areas for growth.”
Kaiser said that the demand for loans tends to be for single family residential construction, but, while less numerous, “the commercial credits tend to be larger credits, so it tends to balance out.”
Prime areas to watch
Wendell Pryor, the director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corporation, pointed to “two or three areas” to watch for new commercial growth – the areas around Gregg Drive and Antero Circle.
“The medical center is going to be expanded,” Pryor said, as will Johnson Village, just south of town limits.
Bringing in businesses to fill that area is about “making yourself attractive as a community.
“If the business environment isn’t good, they aren’t going to locate here,” he said. “We’ve got to improve our image, improve our infrastructure.”
Other big barriers to businesses looking to expand into the area are the lack of affordable housing and an unreliable broadband network, Pryor said. He was one of several people who met with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner late last month to talk about rural issues.
Pryor, along with Central Colorado and Crestone Telecom CEO Ralph Abrams brought up the broadband issue, in which the county is subject to internet service outages due to a lack of redundant lines of communication in and out of the valley.
In late 2017, service outages hit the valley three times in a 4-month period.
“The rural broadband issue is critical to us. Anything at the federal level to improve the rural situation would be ideal, ” Pryor told Sen. Gardner.
“We have got to make sure we get CenturyLink and other larger companies to realize there are solutions they need to work on,” Gardner responded.
In September last year, Centurylink, the company that owns the fiber-optic network through which Chaffee County gets its internet, would be laying an additional, often-requested fiber line between BV and Gunnison as the road over Cottonwood Pass is closed for extensive reconstruction this year.
About affordable housing, he said “You can’t offer people jobs if they can’t find a place to live ... hopefully Collegiate Commons will address that.”
Opportunity zones target economically distressed areas
Pryor said that Gregg Drive and Antero Circle are included in the two opportunity zones in Chaffee County designated by the state as a feature of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act to incentivize growth in census tracts determined to be economically distressed. In March, 126 such zones were designated across Colorado. States were allowed to nominate one-fourth of the tracts that met the threshold of eligibility.
In Chaffee County, the two zones cover the part of the county north of Nathrop to the east and west of the highway. Those zones are contiguous with another opportunity zone that encompasses rural Lake County – the entirety of the county, aside from the immediate Leadville area, is included in the zone.
“Our goal is to support sustainable growth and quality jobs for all Coloradans. Opportunity Zones will help us attract investment in businesses, workforce, housing, and infrastructure where it is needed most,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper in a statement.
Businesses in the zones will be eligible for federal tax incentives on capital gains, with the intent being that those businesses will reinvest that money locally.
BV’s new, improved UDC is more ‘housing friendly’
The Buena Vista board of trustees passed an extensive rewrite of its Unified Development Code in March. That code, which lays out zoning regulations, takes effect in March. Town planner Mark Doering said that developers have been lining up, waiting for the new code.
In part, the new code shifts some of the review responsibilities from the board of trustees to town staff, taking several steps out of the process for certain desired types of development, such as accessory dwelling units.
Previously requiring a special use permit, which has to be approved by the board after a public hearing, is now use-by-right in certain zones.
This pulling back of red tape is a concerted move to encourage housing development in town.
“Obviously the UDC is our tool to help shape what some of those areas are,” said town administrator Phillip Puckett.
The downtown zone around Main Street will now allow more mixed commercial and residential uses, promoting greater density in that area. Caps on the distance a business front can be from the road along U.S. Highway 24 north of Main Street will go into effect, creating a more dense look to that commercial district as well.
BV explores southern route
Puckett, too, sees the areas around Gregg Drive and Antero Circle as the next part of town to grow. He said that the town is in talks with CDOT and with the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad “to prep for that possibility” of building a road crossing the highway directly between the two areas.
“We’re seeing a lot of good Main Street in-fill, but we’re also seeing a lot of our industrial businesses needing room to expand,” Puckett said. “We also feel like our airport is a future spot, almost as an incubator, especially for businesses that have an aviation component.”
There’s “a natural connection” between Gregg Drive and Antero Circle, Puckett said. “Having a flow there ... will spark growth.
As for the north side of town, Puckett said, “We’re anxious to see it fill in, but we’re not looking to change anything.”
Land Ark RV lands in town
One new business on the southern end of town, in Antero Circle, is Land Ark RV. The brainchild of Brian and Joni Buzarde, Land Ark is building what Brian describes as a crossover between an RV and a tiny house.
The wedge-shaped design of the Land Ark prototype Woody puts a modernist twist on a log cabin vibe and has been featured in the magazine Dwell and was the basis for the cover illustration of “Nomadic Homes,” a photo book of modern mobile homes from German publisher Taschen.
In April, the Buzardes relocated Land Ark from Utah to Buena Vista, where they are working to fill an order for 60 Woodys for a Glenwood Springs tiny home village. These 60 will be the first Woodys Land Ark has built, aside from the prototype which has served as the Buzardes’ home and perpetual beta test since 2011.
The first unit arrived in Glenwood Springs last Thursday, Brian said.
“We see most of our opportunity in the Rocky Mountains,” he said. The stylish, 240-square-foot, 30-foot long home is designed to be towed through all the ups and downs of an alpine climate.
In addition to mobile tiny homes, Buzarde said he hopes to build prefabricated homes on foundations somewhere in Buena Vista.
Land Ark was started in Utah because it was inexpensive, but the Buzardes, who have lived in RV parks in Basalt, Aspen and Marble, were attracted to BV because “it seems to be a lot less pretentious than some of those areas,” Brian said.
Collegiate Commons targets workforce
North of Antero Circle, Collegiate Commons, the 48-unit affordable housing complex by Denver developer Urban, Inc, is nearly complete, the culmination of a years-long effort.
“We want to get some buildings open before school starts,” said Urban, Inc principal Al Blum. The company already has a list of close to 20 applicants for apartments in the complex, which receives tax credits from the state, and Blum expects demand to be high when the company sets up a storefront location in Buena Vista.
Roofing is nearly complete on one of the two buildings in the $11 million complex and has begun on the second, and siding needs to be installed on both. Then, it’s on to construction on the interiors, said Sam Garcia, the project manager for Bryan Construction.
“We are still targeting an August completion,” he said. “That’s when we’ll be turning it over to the developer.”