Gilman as Minturn’s new dawn?
MINTURN – Most people standing at the overlook atop Battle Mountain between Minturn and Red Cliff gazing at the remnants of the Eagle Zinc Mine see an industrial mess left by nearly 100 years of mining.Four months ago Florida developer Bobby Ginn looked over the same area and saw a development opportunity that he’s says is worth better than $1 billion and will include a golf course, lake, private ski hill and exclusive slopeside homes. Ginn paid $32.75 million for the 5,400-acre property and envisions a ski lift connecting riverside golf course properties south of Minturn to the top of Battle Mountain, within a mile of Vail’s Blue Sky Basin. He’s also planning lots of slopeside homes.To realize that vision he will have to overcome a number of obstacles, including turning land the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers polluted into luxury homes and portions of a golf course as well as finding enough water for the development. All that will take time and money, while the specifics of what will be built, by Ginn’s admission, won’t be known for some months.On top of that he will have to overcome a political and public relations challenge. He wants his development to be annexed by tiny Minturn – a town that so far has resisted development and change. Last fall voters in Minturn rejected a 32-acre recreational vehicle park on town land. Many of those opposing the RV park – which was meant to boost tourist-starved local businesses – said they didn’t want the town to change.Ginn’s plan certainly represents an economic mismatch. Minturn’s annual town budget is $1.25 million and the town has 11 full-time employees. Ginn’s company has 1,500 employees and its 2004 sales were $1.25 billion – 1,000 times that of Minturn’s budget.The economic impact of the pending development in Minturn is already spreading into the area. Ginn has hired planners and architects and will be establishing offices in Minturn.But Battle Mountain’s proximity to Interstate 70 and the fact that it lies between Vail and Beaver Creek are two big plusses that convinced Ginn to purchase the site, he said.And it’s not Ginn’s first foray into Eagle County. In the late ’70s he owned and later sold the Lodge at Vail.
Paying the freightMinturn’s town council will have the job of making sure the development and the new demand for services it creates will pay its way.If Ginn’s development is worth more than $1 billion, a quick and dirty calculation reveals that could be worth nearly $2 million a year in real estate taxes. On top of that will be development fees such as plan checks, building permits and others fees to cover the demand for services created by the new development.One of the bigger ticket items would be water and sewer tap fees, paid by a developer to connect to the lines. If Ginn does build 875 units, it would cost $13,000 per unit to hook up to the water and sewer lines. That means it would bring in one-time tap fees of $11.37 million or even more to the town, depending on the number of units actually built. But in return the town would have to extend lines up Battle Mountain to all of those new residences.”That’s why we have an annexation agreement,” said Ann Capela, Minturn town manager. “We have to stay ahead of the curve. The council may have to consider (levying) development fees.”‘Environmental black eye’Ginn acknowledged at a recent public meeting that his ambitious plans for the Battle Mountain area “won’t be easy,” but also said that he’s not going to build and run because his company will also manage the properties it builds.”We want to be good neighbors,” he said.
Exactly what will be built is still being planned, Ginn said. One of the thorniest problems will be dealing with the polluted land he acquired near the mine and waste rock sites south of Minturn that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has designated a Superfund site, making the areas eligible for special Congressional funding to ensure cleanup. Ginn will be required to clean up the polluted land if construction activity stirs up new pollution, the EPA said. There are approximately 300 acres of Superfund land near the mine and near the ghost town of Gilman as well as another strip of land astride the Eagle River that contains approximately another 300 acres, said Armando Saenz of the EPA.What Ginn does with the development on those areas will determine what sort of cleanup and how much cleanup will be required, Saenz said.”It’s a big unknown,” said Saenz. “The main thing is to determine the impacts of development on the current cleanup and overall protectiveness to human health and environment. Whatever the impact, they would have to clean it up or address it.”The most difficult piece of the development puzzle, Ginn said, will be the redevelopment of Gilman, which he characterized as “an environmental black eye.” During an initial annexation meeting in Minturn, Tom Steinberg, a Vail resident who was a doctor in Gilman when the mine was operating, warned Ginn some of the buildings contain asbestos, a carcinogen, and that the hillside the homes are built on is slowly sliding. There are also piles of minerals-laden waste rock from the mine and zinc mill that are eroding toward the river.Preliminary figures for Gilman, which will be the last portion of his property developed, call for up to 150 residences built atop the old ghost town, something that will take many years before it occurs.”It won’t be easy,” Ginn has said.Remaking the land
It isn’t the first time Ginn has taken tainted land and turned it into luxury homes, said Ryan Julison, public relations director for the Ginn Companies.”He’s built a career on rehabbing difficult pieces,” Julison said, adding that the scarcity of land in the southeastern United States, particularly near the ocean, requires developers to look at land that is more difficult to develop. Most of Ginn’s developments are in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, and he has a development on Grand Bahama island. The company’s Web site indicates seven separate communities comprising thousands of luxury homes have been built. Several are huge by Eagle County standards. Ginn’s 2,300-acre Reunion Resort and Club outside Orlando consists of nearly 8,000 residential units. Ginn’s company has grown at a prodigious rate. In 1998 it had just six employees. In 2003 it had sales of $350 million and 1,100 employees. Sales tripled in 2004. So far the Ginn Company has developed five golf courses in the Southeast and will have three times that many within three years, Julison said. Not everything for Ginn has proven successful. At the height of the Savings and Loan scandal in the early 1980s Ginn ran into financial difficulty while developing properties in the Hilton Head, S.C. area and declared bankruptcy.And Ginn’s development would not be the first time an industrial site has been reclaimed locally and put to another use. Eagle Park Reservoir, east of Camp Hale, is just west of the massive Climax molybdenum mine waste pile, which consists of crushed rock and processed ore. Water from that reservoir is used for snowmaking on Vail and Beaver Creek mountains, and also supplies homes in the eastern half of Eagle County. Clinton Gulch Reservoir just north of Eagle Park, near the north side of the Climax tailings pile, provides water for ski resorts and other water users in Summit County.Staff Writer Cliff Thompson can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 450, or firstname.lastname@example.orgVail Colorado