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Minturn economy poised to leap

Cliff Thompson
A young and his dog check out the panoramic view of Minturn from a cliff on the trail to the Lionshead Rock in Minturn in this file photo. The Minturn Market in the summer, the restoration of the Eagle River and a new RV park planned for the town could give the local economy a significant boost.
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The $2.5 million RV park, with between 80 and 100 spaces, is expected to bring something to Minturn it has long needed and had difficulty getting -visitors with cash in their pockets.

The Kampgrounds of America park is expected to see its first visitors a year from now and what those visitors provide will be a key element of the “bootstrapping” of Minturn.

“When I had my business on Main Street you could count on one hand the number of people who walked down Main Street,” said Mayor Earl Bidez. “Now you’ll have foot traffic.”



The RV park will provide 10,500 or more people per year, many of whom are expected to spend their dollars in Minturn, Town Manager Alan Lanning said.

And the prospect of helping local businesses thrive without creating major headaches for Minturn is exciting, Bidez says.

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“We can do it without changing the character of our town,” he said. “We can be Minturn without dying on the vine. We can help local businesses thrive and create sales tax for our town and that’s something that doesn’t come off the backs of our citizens.”

The RV park has weathered stormy reviews by both town committees and Minturn citizens, but the idea continues to appear sound, Bidez said.

Bringing bodies



The 10,500-visitor figure is based on a conservative, break-even occupancy of 35 percent at the park, which will be located south and east of town on the site of an old gravel pit. But it’s expected the park will have more visitors.

Construction of the park will culminate a six-year-old plan to resurrect a flagging economy that has left the town with the ability to provide only basic municipal services to its 1,100 residents.

One of the most visible portions of the economic development plan is the Minturn Market, which, last summer, attracted nearly 45,000 people and generated $17,000 for the town in vendor fees alone.

Lanning said the Town Council, over the last six years, has worked to create more diversified economic development opportunities; create better public facilities. The town council will also be working to build better parks, roads and sidewalks, he said.

But for Minturn town government and its businesses, the problem has been money. The town budget is a meager $1.2 million a year – a smidgeon of Vail’s $34 million budget.

Four years ago, Minturn was able to build a new town hall and community center using certificates of participation, which are similar to bonds in that they are purchased by private investors. The same funding mechanism will be employed to finance construction of the RV park.

“We’re doing all of this without increasing taxes,” said Lanning. The sole tax increase Minturn citizens have experienced as a result of the town’s recent activities came last spring when town voters opted to joined the Eagle River Fire Protection District. That cost Minturn property owners about $34.60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation.

Just last week, work on a $1.1 million river restoration project through town was largely completed. That was paid by the fine levied on the owner of the Eagle Mine, Viacom, to clean up remnants of the mine leakage that destroyed a 7-mile stretch of the river from the mine below Red Cliff to the confluence with Gore Creek.

“There’s a larger method to our madness here,” said Lanning, “Minturn is one of the greatest little mountain towns in Colorado, but people just drive right through it.”

The trio of new ventures – the market, river project and RV park – could change that.

Catching fishermen

That river restoration is expected to help stimulate the town’s economy by bringing fishermen and other river users to town. More people means more money and more business opportunities. The RV park could generate a fair amount of money for the town’s $1.2 million budget, Lanning said, and the economic benefits could spread throughout the area.

The average RV’er spends $70 per-person per-day and multiplied by 10,500 visitors, that means that a significant portion of the $400,000 they spend will fall into cash registers in Minturn and could translate into a $25,000 bump in the town’s sales tax. The average RV costs $100,000 and owners spend up to 30 days a year using it, according to KOA studies, Lanning said.

“We could see a 15 percent increase in our sales tax,” Lanning said. Coupled with the success of the Minturn Market, the town could be on the cusp of realizing its next planned step: building better roads, parks and sidewalks, he said.

“Hopefully this will give us the money to do some of those things,” he said.

As proposed, the RV park will be built and operated by Glenwood Springs-based Stainton LLC under KOA guidelines. The debt on financing the park with certificates of participation will be paid by the fees paid by park visitors, Lanning said.

The town is working with its bond counsel to hammer out an agreement that will limit liability to the town as a result of funding the RV park, Bidez said.

Two hundred additional visitors a day to Minturn is expected to create other business opportunities, too.

“When an RV breaks down, who is going to repair it? Who’s going to sell tires?” Lanning asked. “This should produce other business ventures and real estate opportunities.”

More important, Lanning said, will be the nationwide exposure Minturn will receive through the RV park’s national KOA network and from the word of mouth spread by people fishing in the restored river and attending the market.

“People will come here and tell their friends and that will being more people,” Lanning said.

Minturn is also riding the coattails of its resort neighbors, Vail and Beaver Creek.

“We have the No. 1 ski resort in the world,” Lanning said. “It’s a ready-made business opportunity.”

Cliff Thompson can be reached at 970-949-0555 x450 or cthompson@vaildaily.com


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