MINTURN, Colorado - Town officials celebrated a February agreement with the developers of the Battle Mountain resort that freed up more than $4 million for civic improvements. Now, the list of ideas is starting to become a list of plans.The money comes from an $11.6 million escrow fund established by the Ginn Co. when it received initial approval for a private ski resort at Battle Mountain. That money was expected to be used to establish a town scholarship fund, build a recreation center and a long list of town improvements. Since the fund was established, the resort project has been taken over by Lubert Adler - the private equity company that financed the proposed resort - and Crave Real Estate, which has taken over the developer's role.Since Ginn left in 2009, the resort project has tackled a combination of an international economic slump, a lawsuit challenging the town's 2008 annexation of the property and other hurdles. Crave representative Dave Kleinkopf in February told the Minturn Town Council that it could be 2018 before any work is done at the nearly 5,000-acre site.And the $11.6 million sat in the bank.So Crave and the town started work on an agreement to free up the money. The result, announced last month, split the escrow fund between the town and Crave. The development company got $7.4 million in the deal - to be repaid when work starts at the resort. Crave will use that money to help fight the annexation lawsuit and secure needed approvals from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Minturn has a long list, too, and town officials are working to pare the list down to what's possible.
First on the list is a town scholarship fund, using $350,000 of escrow money. Town manager Jim White said the plan is to invest the original amount and then use the interest to provide scholarships, both to college-bound high school seniors and residents who want to further their education at Colorado Mountain College. The scholarship fund will probably be available for students going to college this fall. But after that, the list gets more complicated.The next likely project is the possible purchase from the U.S. Forest Service of 4 acres of land along the Eagle River. Minturn Town Council member George Brodin said the framework of a deal is in place. But that deal involves receiving approval from the Eagle County Open Space Advisory Committee and, ultimately, the Eagle County commissioners to use county open space funds for the bulk of the $2.3 million purchase.Brodin said if the purchase happens, the property will provide access to the river for local residents. The town might also put up restrooms and, perhaps, a parking lot big enough for cyclists who want to ride up Battle Mountain.If approved by the commissioners, that open space could be open to residents this year.The deal with the county is what White called "leveraging" a relatively modest investment into a bigger project.
Town officials hope to do the same thing in a partnership with Ski & Snowboard Club Vail. That group wants to build a "human performance center" at Maloit Park, near the Vail Ski & Snowboard Academy. If it was just for athletes, the center could be about 5,000 square feet. But, White said, if the town and Battle Mountain helped create a facility of 8,000 or 9,000 square feet, town residents could use it, too.Again, a lot has to happen, but White said work could start next summer.Work could also start in the next year or two on sidewalk and other improvements downtown and updating the town's water-treatment plan.The town has also created a handful of committees to look at other ways to use the money.Brodin is on a committee that will try to find a way to build a trail between Dowd Junction and downtown Minturn on property owned by the Union Pacific Railroad. All railroad companies are known to protect their property rights, but Brodin and other town officials will travel to Union Pacific headquarters in Omaha, Neb., to get a face-to-face meeting with whomever they need to talk to.Brodin, who's lived in Minturn about 30 years, said he's excited about the opportunities the town has with this money. And, he said, he's happy to use what's available now, instead of waiting for the entire amount years down the road."Hey, some money is better than no money," he said.