Downvalley neighbors compete, cooperate
Vail, CO Colorado
EAGLE COUNTY ” There was a time when Mary Jo Gerard’s mom, a teacher, would have to watch what she said in front of her Gypsum school class. Parents were waiting for her to reveal a preference for her hometown of Eagle.
Only seven miles separate the two downvalley towns; but back then residents thought Eagle and Gypsum were worlds apart.
“There was definitely a ‘we’re better than you are’ rivalry,” said Gerard, who has lived in Gypsum for the past 46 years.
Gerard said she doesn’t know if that rivalry still exists. Funneling high school students from both towns into a single school, Eagle Valley High, may have quelled the competition between teens. But ask residents and town officials from each town what they think and plenty notice some significant differences ” especially when it comes to how each town has chosen to grow.
“I think typically Gypsum is more aggressive, more business friendly … much more business friendly than say, Eagle,” said Anita Denboske, a Gypsum resident and owner of Active Communications, which has a store in Gypsum.
Gypsum is a lot more open to growth, said Kimberly Takata, an Eagle Ranch resident and owner of Kimberly’s Ceramic Barn in downtown Eagle. But she’s glad Eagle residents and leaders are more cautious when dealing with developers.
“I’m from California, where it is wall-to-wall housing or businesses ” and a lot of the places end up empty,” Takata said.
Eagle and Gypsum residents may have different ideas about what’s good for their town, and what’s a threat to their community. But with the prospect of big-box retailers wooing both towns ” and playing one off the other ” the towns are learning to work together.
When Costco opened in October, Peter Struve felt it.
By December, business had gone down by double digits at Mac’s Liquors, the Gypsum liquor store Struve owns. The mega-box immediately lured customers to its own discount liquor shop.
But business is rebounding, Struve said. And, while having national retailers in town may challenge his business, Struve, who also lives in Gypsum, sees Costco as an amenity.
“As a community, I think it has been very positive,” he said. “It’s allowed us to have more resources and to get more things.”
When Gypsum hired Town Manager Jeff Shroll in 1994, his job was to help the town get more business. At the time, the town collected only about $100,000 annually in sales taxes. Gypsum was so eager for business those days that when Columbine Market, Gypsum’s grocery store, opened in 1997, the grand opening drew crowds, Shroll said.
“You’d have thought we were handing out free cars,” he said.
Around the same time, the town annexed the Eagle County Regional Airport, and that and the surrounding area is where Gypsum gets most of its sales tax revenue ” $3.1 million in 2006.
While commercial development has allowed Gypsum to strengthen its financial situation, the town still lacks a central business core ” in essence, a place for the community to shop, eat and gather.
“We don’t have a main street,” Denboske said. “We don’t have a cohesive town center kind of thing.”
Denboske would like a cohesive town center kind of thing, though. The area around Columbine Market grocery store ” which sits across from Eagle Valley High School and near the post office ” would be an ideal gathering place for the town, she said.
That concept seems particularly important as the town grows ” Gypsum has about 6,000 residents right now.
Bringing big business to town has helped the town’s budget, but it has hurt the Gypsum community a bit, Denboske said.
“Gypsum has work to do as far as defining itself better, or it’s going to end up with everybody who wants in getting in,” she said.
Eagle Mayor Jon Stavney says the town’s reputation as unfriendly to developers likely dates back to the 1970s. That’s when developer Fred Kummer, owner of the Adam’s Mark hotels, decided he was ready to build on thousands of acres on Brush Creek south of town.
His initial plan was to build the Adam’s Rib ski resort and a golf course resort community. Many Eagle residents weren’t impressed; and neither was a series of town boards.
The project, which was planned for outside the town’s boundaries, didn’t fit with the town’s future growth plans. Few wanted a ritzy, gated community taking over a huge chunk of the Brush Creek Valley.
After a three-decade battle, Kummer sold off his East and West Creek properties to State Parks. Two years ago, he did get county approval for his Adam’s Rib Ranch project, a 99-unit gated golf course community, on main Brush Creek.
But by then, Eagle had said yes to several housing developments, including Eagle Ranch ” a development of 1,290 homes with a small commercial district. Eagle’s population now numbers almost 6,000 ” up from 4,526 in the 2000 Census.
Both Eagle and Gypsum serve as bedroom communities for jobs in upvalley resorts.
Still, Eagle has a well-defined main street business district where a new, $3 million streetscape project was recently completed. As the county seat, Eagle also has government offices including the county, the town, the school district, and U.S. Forest Service.
“I think the historical perspective of Eagle being ‘a difficult place to do business’ is residual from the 30-year battle with Adam’s Rib, and no longer has any merit, especially in light of what has been done on Broadway,” says Stavney.
He says the town has a progressive planning philosophy, and high standards for development. Stavney cites the town’s open space program, and the Town Board’s implementation of impact fees, and affordable housing program, and the trails plan as reflecting citizen’s values.
“Sometimes the gatekeeping function of town staff and the Town Board with regards to developments makes for unhappy customers,” Stavney says. Still, he says, many of the towns’ amenities are the result of that gatekeeping.
“I’m proud of Eagle’s record with regard to progressive planning efforts, and high standards for development,” says Stavney.
Still, Eagle residents, new and old, want to preserve its small town character. That concern for community ” in particular, its traditional downtown business core on Broadway ” often trumps the town’s financial goals.
“Eagle gets quite a bit of pressure from constituents to slow down growth,” said longtime resident and former mayor Roxie Deane. “We get a lot of NIMBYs here. I may be one of them.”
Still, the town’s commercial base isn’t bringing in enough sales tax to pay for all the things Eagle’s larger populace wants and needs ” like roads that can handle the traffic, for starters, Deane said.
Eagle collected about $770,000 in sales tax revenue in 1995 ” compared with the $100,000 in sales tax that Gypsum collected in 1994. Last year, in 2006, Eagle collected about $2.9 million in sales tax.
Commercial development in surrounding communities can impede Eagle’s sales tax collections when the town’s residents opt for the big boxes down the road when they can’t find what they need in town, Deane said.
“If we say no to the big boxes, they’ll just go to Edwards or Glenwood,” she said. “Eagle has got to be able to take care of itself ” not depend on other communities.”
The town’s resistance to development ” particularly commercial development ” worries Jay Willoughby, who argues that Eagle can’t live on residential growth alone.
After attending a few meetings about Eagle River Station, the commercial and residential project planned for Eagle’s eastern end, near I-70, Willoughby and a few other residents created a group called Eye on Eagle.
“A lot of the opinions I hear are based more on emotion than fact,” he said.
He said a retail development project along Eagle’s I-70 corridor ” perhaps similar to that being proposed by the developers of Eagle River Station ” could help pad the town’s coffers, and wouldn’t necessarily hurt Eagle’s fragile downtown businesses.
And between the two towns, big box development is a better fit for Eagle than Gypsum, Willoughby said.
“They call I-70 the river of revenue,” he said.
Sharing recreation facilities makes sense, Shroll said. The Gypsum Recreation Center, with its indoor pool and workout equipment, has members from Gypsum and Eagle. Eagle has an indoor ice rink and an outdoor pool which draws users from both towns.
When it comes to business, though, the two towns are undoubtedly competitors. Eagle draws residents from both communities with its much larger selection of restaurants.
Gypsum has airport-related businesses, a car dealership, and Costco ” which has affected businesses in Eagle, too.
Despite having different goals, different residents and different philosophies, the towns’ sales-tax sharing agreement is an example of how both of the town’s leaders are willing to work together on regional problems, Shroll said.
Essentially, Eagle gets a small piece of the sales tax revenue when Gypsum approves commercial projects by the airport; and Gypsum gets an equal piece of the sales tax revenue gathered from any future projects Eagle approves along I-70.
But even sales tax-sharing agreements aren’t the financial solution some might think.
Under terms of Gypsum’s agreement with Costco, for the first three years the town rebates 38 percent of the sales tax generated by the store, not to exceed 4.2 million.
Additionally Gypsum has sales tax dedications to fulfill, including the Gypsum Rec Center debt, the town hall debt, law enforcement costs and parks and recreation costs.
So, for example, out of $100 in sales tax from Costco, $83 is already allocated prior to the application of the revenue sharing agreement. As a result, Eagle’s share of the $100 is $6.80. In the first three months Costco was opened, Eagle collected $36,700, said Willy Powell, Eagle town manager.
That collection will double once Costco’s agreement expires with the Gypsum, in four or five years.