EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - It appears as though construction projects involving new houses, renovations and remodeling are on the rise in 2012 from a decline that goes back to 2004, while larger projects still remain scarce in the valley.
By the end of June, there had only been 203 building permits filed in unincorporated Eagle County, compared with the 710 filed in 2004. Likewise, permit values in 2004 grossed $216 million, while only $28 million has been brought in through June, according to data compiled by Eagle County. Yet the scale and expense of construction projects have relatively leveled off since 2010, and 2012 is on track to be comparable to the two previous years. In a slower economy, contractors said they still try to hire locally for projects.
"We're still surviving," said Eagle County Chief Building Official Dan Stanek.
Of these permits, the majority have been remodeling and renovation contracts for construction companies such as Evans Chaffee Construction Group.
Chris Evans, president of Evans Chaffee, reported that the company has between one-third and half the number of clients it had in 2008, yet Evans has seen an upsurge in remodels and renovations compared with the year before.
"Typically, there are, in my opinion, a greater number of smaller projects - renovation and remodels - than there have been in the past," Evans said. "But those projects also come with a relatively lower price in terms of dollar volume and size of the project as a whole."
The real estate market is also bouncing back in 2012.
Barbara Scrivens, vice president of Ron Byrne and Associates Real Estate, said the market is turning around this year, although she said there has not been much fluctuation in the high-end, luxury market in recent years.
"The real estate market has had its best start since 2008," she said. "We're in comeback mode right now."
Byrne's current construction project is a $19.5 million, 10,500-square-foot house on Forest Road. It features seven bedrooms, a three-car garage, full gym and a spa. The mansion was built without a specific buyer lined up on confidence that the market is strong enough to make a sale when it is finished.
Yet the large-scale projects that anchor many local contractors are still scarce in the valley, companies such as Evans Chaffee said.
"In the past, we've been involved in condo projects and similar size projects," Evans said. "But they just aren't happening now. ... The market isn't there right now. My gut feeling is that we need to get past this presidential election before anything really significant happens."
The few big projects in the valley right now are being funded by Vail Resorts and the federal government and look to employ local businesses.
About half of the new gondola from Vail Village to Mid-Vail is being manufactured in Grand Junction by Leitner-Poma, while the cabins and other portions are being constructed in Europe. When it is completed, it will be the fastest gondola of its kind in the world.
"We're thrilled not only to have the opportunity to work with Vail once again but also to bring such a tremendous advancement in lift technology to the industry in North America," said Rick Spear, president at Leitner-Poma of America Inc.
A new high-altitude training facility for military and search and rescue helicopter pilots has been the dream of Col. Joel Best for the past two decades and has been overseen by Lt. Col. Josh Day and Maj. Tony Somogyi since 2004. The new facility has employed close to 400 people.
Eight of the 16 subcontractors are local companies, and the general contractor, Hensel Phelps Construction Co., is a national construction company based in Greeley that moved HAATS workers into the Gypsum community for the duration of the project.
"This is the only project we have going on here in the Vail Valley," Hensel Phelps Superintendent Jason Munoz said. "We're all pretty happy up here."
Intern Stephen Kasica can be reached at 970-777-3190.