Beaver Creek ambiance exported to the ‘Butte’ |

Beaver Creek ambiance exported to the ‘Butte’

Shannon Armstrong

It’s been a long time coming, and for some holdouts in Crested Butte, the redevelopment planned there may still be too much too soon.

But the majority of people in Crested Butte are likely to see Beaver Creek developers Ed O’Brien, Dan Fitchett and Rich Barnes as their knights in shining armor, helping to sweep this sleepy, little mountain town into the 21st century of ski resorts.

With the recent sale of the long time family-owned and operated resort, most residents in the Gunnison Valley feel it’s about time and are cautiously optimistic that finally, Crested Butte will get a much needed financial shot in the arm.

Eagle Resort Development, the Beaver Creek-based company run by O’Brien, Fitchett and Barnes, has extensive plans for the town of Mt. Crested Butte.

In June the group will break ground on the WestWall Lodge. The $47 million, 44-unit condominium development will sit at the bottom of the T-Bar Hill at the base of Mt. Crested Butte, affording some of the most dramatic scenery in the area.

“Mt. Crested Butte will literally jut up right out the front door of the lodge, but no matter where you look, there’s no getting away from spectacular views in every direction,” O’Brien says. “The pristine scenery and wide open spaces of the East River drainage are some of the most awe-inspiring vistas anywhere in the Rocky Mountains.”

The horseshoe-shaped lodge will have a new chairlift operating out of the center of the structure, replacing the old T-Bar lift, O’Brien says. The WestWall Lodge is named after the famous West Wall of the 12,162-foot Crested Butte, home to some of the longest, steepest skiing and snowboarding terrain in North America.

Eagle Resort Development has a track record in building luxury lodges in the mountains. The Elk Horn Lodge in Beaver Creek is one of Fitchett’s most well-known developments. The $44 million, 52-unit lodge in Beaver Creek is a log building built in the style of the National Park cabins, which can be seen throughout much of Beaver Creek and Bachelor Gulch.

The WestWall Lodge in Crested Butte will be a timber structure to reflect the mining history and architectural feel of Crested Butte, O’Brien says

“The culture and charm of Crested Butte is very important and something we’ll take pride in helping to preserve,” says O’Brien.

Development tea

O’Brien, who has lived in Vail for several years, has a more intimate experience with Crested Butte. Although Vail is his home, in the early 1970s he developed a condominium complex in Mt. Crested Butte and taught his daughters to ski there when they were 4 and 5.

More recently, O’Brien worked in Crested Butte as the executive vice president of real estate development. Prior to that, he was consultant for the resort when it established a real estate and marketing group.

O’Brien served as the chief financial officer for Vail Resorts for many years and was responsible for the company’s role in the completion, finance and leasing of the retail core of Beaver Creek Village. O’Brien was also among the leaders of Vail Resorts’ effort to create, develop and finance Bachelor Gulch Village.

When asked how he sees the Beaver Creek image fitting into Crested Butte, O’Brien says, “Crested Butte has incredible uniqueness, beauty and solitude and the spirit of the town of Crested Butte will always be that of an 1800s mining community.”

“It would be a crime to destroy it – and that’s not going to happen,” O’Brien says.

Overnight guests demand a Beaver Creek-quality product and he thinks the WestWall Lodge will fulfill this high-end demand, O’Brien adds.

“I think we can improve the perception of Crested Butte as a true destination resort,” he says.

Barnes, who’s from North Carolina, began visiting Vail in 1989 on business and liked it so much he moved here. “I came to Colorado for the lifestyle and the opportunities. I wanted to live in the West and especially the Rocky Mountains,” Barnes says.

He joined Eagle Resorts Development as a partner this past January with 14 years of real estate experience, primarily in resort development. In the past, Barnes has coordinated real estate developments in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and various places in Colorado. He was responsible for marketing and sales of the Cordillera Valley Club.

He has also been a member of the Eagle County Planning Commission, the Vail Board of Realtors, Rotary International and Habitat for Humanity.

Fitchett, who says he first came to Colorado 15 years ago because he liked the weather, the outdoors and the lifestyle, has been actively involved in the Vail Valley real estate industry. He was involved in strategic planning for Bachelor Gulch, among other activities in that neighborhood and nearby Arrowhead.

Fitchett formed Eagle Resorts Development in March of 2000 and formed another partnership with Hines Interest to develop the 300-home River Valley

See Crested Butte, page B11

Ranch, near Aspen. He’s served locally on the Vail Board of Realtors Ethics Committee and the Eagle County Leadership Coalition. Fitchett is also a member of Colorado Ski Country U.S.A. and has been involved with various investments on the Front Range.

Boom and balance

After the sale of the resort, both the town of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte are enjoying the feeling of a new birth of sorts. The optimism felt in town is palpable and for the first time in many years people are looking to the future with new eyes and fresh ideas.

Real estate sales are setting all-time records and many would-be sellers have taken properties off the market, preferring to take the wait-and-see approach.

Virtually over night, the real estate industry in Crested Butte “woke up.”

“From looking at activity and talking with brokers, it’s a hot market right now,” says Jim MacAllister, president of the Gunnison Country Association of Realtors. One report shows a 72 percent increase over sales from the same two-month period just a year ago.

The hope is that Crested Butte balance its past with the new development while managing the growing pains that accompany such a boom, locals say.

“Crested Butte has long been known as an environmentally conscious community that’s highly protective of and sensitive to its mountain surroundings,” longtime Crested Butte resident Mary Mike Haley says.

“There is a very strong sentiment that growth and development should happen with environmental impacts considered first and foremost. This is the way things have been done here for many years and we believe we can welcome the changes and still do it right,” she says.

“I’m glad to hear that Ed O’Brien and his group plan to preserve the charm and history of our town in their WestWall Lodge.”

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