MINTURN, Colorado - Town manager Jim White and fellow town of Minturn employees were gathered around White's computer Thursday, watching numbers on an auction clock scroll down to zero. When the clock ran out, "It was like New Year's Eve," White said.
The celebration - minus confetti and sparkling wine - was due to Eagle County submitting the apparent winning bid for a piece of U.S. Forest Service property in town. The property had been put up for auction last month by the General Services Administration, which handles sales and auctions for the federal government.
Town officials have long eyed the Forest Service property, known as the "Boneyard" for open space and park land. A town comprehensive plan lists the land as potential open space.
The problem for Minturn, as usual, is money - there simply wasn't enough to put in a credible bid for the property. Then, last year, Eagle County's Open Space Advisory Committee recommended that the county participate in the land's purchase. The Eagle County commissioners agreed, pledging to provide 90 percent of the purchase price.
When the feds put the land up for auction in December, the county put in a bid of $1.25 million. That bid stood for nearly three weeks before it was countered by a second bidder.
By Wednesday of this week, the bidding had hit $1.68 million, with the county holding the high bid. But some of those bids came after the auction had officially closed. Unlike commercial online auctions, federal auctions end when there hasn't been a bid for 24 hours. That's why White and his staff were gathered around his computer Thursday morning.
Despite holding the high bid, the county and Forest Service aren't yet ready to schedule a date at the closing table.
Kevin Warner, the "conveyance program manager" for the White River National Forest, said that agency will submit the bid to an appraiser. Within five days, the Forest Service has to report to the General Services Administration whether or not the high bid is sufficient to make a sale.
If the answer is "yes," the sale has to close within 30 days.
If the county and town do end up with the property, White said there are preliminary plans for features including a recreation path, picnic shelters, restrooms, and, perhaps, river access for disabled people or a boat launch.
That, though is about it. County open space coordinator Toby Sprunk there won't be ballfields or similar improvements because the land was purchased primarily with county open space money.
If the deal is consummated, Sprunk said it will represent a "huge open space victory" for the county.
"This is what people think of when they think of open space," Sprunk said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.