Economy, feds slow Battle Mountain plan
August 4, 2013
What is it?
The Battle Mountain proposal includes a private ski area and more than 1,700 homes. It once included a private golf course and large lodge, but those plans have been shelved.
MINTURN — People looking into their crystal balls in 2007 saw big things for Minturn. By 2013, work and pre-sales would have been well-underway on a private ski resort on Battle Mountain, south of town. That old crystal ball was wrong.
Following a change in ownership and a world economic slump, there's no building going on at Battle Mountain. Work continues, but in offices, not job sites, and it's anyone's guess when the bulldozers might roll.
Dave Kleinkopf, the project manager of the Battle Mountain project, said the current focus is working with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on plans to clean up parts of the 4,300-acre property.
Some of that property, which once held the Eagle Mine, has been declared a federal "Superfund" site, and the cleanup is subject to close federal and state oversight.
Hurdles to clear
Those agreements have to be finalized before work can begin to expand Bolts Lake, which will store water for both the resort and the town. The lake isn't part of the Superfund property, Kleinkopf said, but dirt from the expansion will be used in the cleanup. Where that dirt goes has to be determined before any digging can begin.
Kleinkopf said work on those approvals is moving along, but was delayed because a different federal employee is now in charge of the work.
Minturn Town Council member Earle Bidez said he's been told that a final agreement might be in place sometime around the end of this year.
But doing virtually anything involving the federal government is time-consuming, so "we're just keeping our heads down, getting work done," Kleinkopf said.
Beyond the work on environmental cleanup is the matter of some pending litigation disputing ownership of the property. Kleinkopf called the litigation "nuisance suits," and said he expects Battle Mountain to prevail.
Once those problems are solved, the project has to go back to Minturn town officials to have a revised development plan approved.
The original approval called for a golf course and large lodge at the project, but those ideas were nixed after ownership of the project reverted in 2009 from original developer Bobby Ginn to Lubert Adler, the lender.
Waiting on the market
Then there's the matter of market conditions. Representatives of Crave Real Estate, a company part-owned by Lubert Adler, said in 2009 that building wouldn't start until the market for high-end resort real estate showed more life.
While Kleinkopf said the market is improving from the bottom of the market in 2009, it will still be "a few years" before Crave invests the millions needed to make the project a reality.
And the timing of resort construction could affect some other work in town.
Minturn Town Manager Jim White said the Colorado Department of Transportation has plans to re-pave U.S. Highway 24 through town, from Dowd Junction to Maloit Park, in 2015 or 2016.
While the state agency would do the road work, the town would probably use the time to re-do sidewalks and take care of other work along the highway.
The importance of timing
That would be a great time for the Battle Mountain project to lay underground utility lines, White said. If work at Battle Mountain starts later than that, the streets would have to be dug up again.
That would be more than inconvenient. Bidez said that a 2012 agreement between the town and developers that freed up about $4 million for the town to use would be tapped for sidewalk, trail and other work related to the Battle Mountain project.
The problem, Bidez said, is that the money from the 2012 agreement can only be spent once, and the developer won't be liable for any future spending.
But if the timing doesn't work, it doesn't work — "You want to be sure you can sell your houses if you're the developer," Bidez said.
Despite those concerns a few years down the road, Bidez said he continues to support the project.
"The town of Minturn will be fine without this project, even if it goes another 20 years, Bidez said. "But we'd be better off with it."
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 and firstname.lastname@example.org.