Big box debate continues in Eagle |

Big box debate continues in Eagle

Kathy Heicher
David L'Heureux/Special to the DailyAn elk herd beds down on property east of Eagle targeted for the Red Mountain Ranch development, a residential and commercial project that could include a 'big box' department store.

EAGLE – While a consultant talked economic facts, a doubting audience talked community character one night last week when the town of Eagle continued its review of the proposed Red Mountain Ranch development.Eagle Mayor John Stavney told the audience of more than 50 citizens that discussion of economic-related issues will continue at the Town Board’s next meeting, March 22. Review of various aspects of the project is expected to continue through April.Andy Knudtsen, a consultant with the Denver-based Economic and Planning Systems, presented an updated market and fiscal analysis for the Red Mountain Ranch project, which could include home and a big box department store. A group of developers headed by local businessman Merv Lapin is proposing a mixed-use project on 442 acres of land, immediately east of the current town boundary. A key component of the development would be up to 450,000 square feet of commercial space in a meadow, located between Interstate 70 and Highway 6. That amount of space is enough to accommodate big-box-store-type retail development.The Town Board had requested the updated study, noting that there has been extensive big-box development in Avon and Glenwood Springs since Lapin started marshaling his project through the review process several years ago.Spending money elsewhere

Knudtsen’s study addressed issues including market demand, net fiscal impact (including the cost of infrastructure improvements, such as a new I-70 interchange) and economic impacts on existing businesses in downtown Eagle.The study also examined numerous, commercial options, ranging from smaller-scale, commercial development and traditional malls, to big-box-dominated scenarios. Revenue and expense projections showed the town’s potential economic status through the year 2020.Knudtsen said market demand and total personal income figures could support an additional 300,000 square feet of new retail development. While national retailers are highly interested in the Eagle County market, he said, trade areas are difficult to identify because retailers define their trade areas differently. “The market is there … which poses the question, what does the town of Eagle want to look like?” said Knudtsen. He said large, anchor stores tend to draw in more commercial development, and generate revenues that the town can use to keep other shopping districts healthy.The consultant also said existing shopping patterns indicate that downvalley residents are spending a lot of their shopping money in Denver, Grand Junction, Avon and Glenwood Springs.Knudtsen’s financial projects suggested the town would see a $12 million general-fund surplus and a $6 million capital-fund surplus in 2020 with the development of the first two phases of Red Mountain Ranch. Without the Red Mountain Ranch project, his projections showed, there would be under-funding by $2.6 million in the general fund and $9.2 million in the capital fund by 2020.

Concerned citizensAudience members, generally indicating opposition to a big-box-type development in Eagle, continually interrupted Knudtsen’s presentation with questions and comments.”It’s scary. It sounds like it could really boom out of control if we allow it to come,” said Eagle resident Stephanie Samuelson.Cici Franklin, owner of the Kidtopia toy store in downtown Eagle, said her sales dropped drastically once the Super Wal-Mart in Avon opened.”I chose to be in Eagle. It is a great town. I like it the way it is,” said Franklin. “I would rather see elk or cattle grazing there.”Jan Rosenthal-Townsend, the owner of the Alpine Ambiance boutique in downtown Eagle, spoke of the need to keep Eagle’s historic downtown healthy.

“People are moving here for a reason. Is it because of quality shopping at big-box stores or quality of life?” she asked.Several audience members pressed Lapin for an answer on specifically which big-box retailer is interested in coming to Eagle. Lapin said that is a question he cannot answer at this time. Large retailers are generally reluctant to commit to a community until the appropriate zoning is in place.”We don’t even know if the project will have a big box,” said Lapin. He said the national retailers he has been talking to include Target, Costco, Best Buy, Borders, Sam’s and Kohl’s. Lapin also noted that if big-box retailer’s don’t come to Eagle, they probably will end up in Wolcott or Gypsum.”They will still have the same effect on smaller businesses,” he said.Ed Oyler, who grew up in Eagle and owns the BP gas station on Eagle’s I-70 spur road, said the big box will harm small stores.”I can’t see any good coming from big boxes, other than lots of little stores going out of business,” said Oyler, “Let’s dare to be different. Leave the boxes in Avon.”Vail, Colorado

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