Minturn partners with developer for Dowd Junction land
Town officials excited about the potential for a long-lasting revenue infusion
MINTURN — Minturn is around the corner from Vail, yet saw just one-fortieth the amount of sales tax as the famed ski town in 2018.
Avon collected more than 13 times as much sales tax as Minturn last year.
Minturn is renowned for its historic downtown, artsy shops and unique restaurants, but lacks the sales tax driver of Vail’s massive slopeside tourism economy or even Avon’s big box stores. In recent years, Minturn has struggled to find enough revenue to maintain town infrastructure and keep public works equipment up to date.
But an opportunity to develop land at the edge of town, within eyesight of Interstate 70, has town officials excited about the potential for a long-lasting revenue infusion.
The Forest Service wants to move its Minturn ranger station to an office building in Eagle, leaving 13 acres of prime real estate sitting at the intersection of Interstate 70 and U.S. Highway 6 and 24.
Minturn recently took a step toward shepherding forward a development at the site, partnering with a developer, Aspect Development Co. — which also owns the office building in Eagle that the Forest Service wants.
“We think it could really be a win for the community if everything works out right,” said Minturn Mayor John Widerman.
In documents submitted to the town to prove its qualifications as a partner, Aspect envisions 40,000-60,000 square feet of commercial retail space, more than 300 apartments, a bus station and a park and ride facility — while maintaining and improving access to Meadow Mountain’s trails and terrain.
“It is a start — ideas of what could be there,” said Michelle Metteer, Minturn’s town manager.
An actual project proposal has not yet been submitted. Once a proposal is submitted, it will be subject to review by the town and the Forest Service in various public processes.
An office building in Eagle
The Forest Service-owned parcel at Dowd Junction now includes the Holy Cross Ranger Station, a parking lot, a bus stop and a home.
The Holy Cross and Eagle district were combined administratively in 2005, but the offices have not been combined physically. The district is now seeking to combine its offices in Eagle in the Carpenters’ Union Building at 1353 Chambers Ave.
In April 2018, the Forest Service and Minturn signed an “agreement of intent” to work toward a deal.
“At the end of the day we want to end up in the Carpenters’ Union Building and have the Minturn site conveyed or sold or exchanged to the town of Minturn in exchange for the Carpenters’ Union Building, “ said Aaron Mayville, the district ranger for the White River National Forest’s Eagle/Holy Cross ranger district. Mayville noted that the Forest Service is working with the town of Minturn — not the developer.
In March of this year, Minturn issued a request for qualifications from developers with experience in “mountain-themed, high-sales-tax-generating business.” Retaining access to Meadow Mountain — including trailhead parking — and keeping the bus and park and ride facilities were a priority, Minturn said in that document.
Another requirement: The ability to acquire and convey 1353 Chambers Avenue.
A subsidiary of Aspect, 1353 Chambers LLC, owns the Carpenters’ Union Building, having bought it in February 2018 for $4.2 million, according to county records. Aspect, the only respondent to the request for qualifications, was chosen as Minturn’s partner in a 7-0 vote by the Minturn Council on May 1.
Minturn has lobbied the Forest Service for a “direct sale” — in which the Forest Service would work directly with Minturn on a project that would benefit the community — rather than an open bid process, in which the land would go to the highest bidder but there would be less control over future uses.
The Forest Service has since agreed to work with Minturn in a direct sale, rather than an open bid process. Mayville said the Forest Service stipulated that future plan must include access to Meadow Mountain, access to the Eagle River, as well as the ECO Transit facility.
Another key aspect for Minturn will be the long-sought sales tax generation.
In 2018, Minturn sales tax receipts totaled $620,368. In comparison, Vail took in $27.92 million in sales tax in 2018; Avon brought in $8.4 million.
“Without commercial development at Dowd Junction, the town government may need to dissolve and unincorporate,” Minturn’s then-town manager Willy Powell, who was also a longtime former Eagle town manager, said in a presentation in December 2017 that lobbied for the direct sale.
In the presentation, Minturn noted that it lacks commercial sales tax dollars to maintain basic town infrastructure, and that its public works department also struggles to maintain old equipment.
On average, sales tax for municipalities comprises 70% of general purpose revenue, said Kevin Bommer, executive director of the Colorado Municipal League, a nonprofit that assists officials in managing their governments and serving their communities.
“It makes perfect sense that this is the discussion they’re having,” Bommer said of Minturn. “They are not alone. This is something that municipalities, counties and the state of Colorado are facing — the rising cost of infrastructure.”
In 2018, Minturn voters passed a construction use tax, with proceeds going to the town’s capital projects fund.
Thanks in part to several grants, as well as coordination with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Minturn has been able to proceed with a major streetscape project on Main Street, which will add sidewalks and on-street parking this year.
In its submittal to prove its qualifications, Aspect says about 25,000 square feet of the commercial space would be devoted to a “fresh format” grocery store/supermarket
“Having a large yet differentiated grocer will draw more visitors to the area and would be a great source of sales tax generation for the town,” the plan says.
The apartments were envisioned as both as short-term rentals and long-term housing “within financial reach of the local population.”
About 1.7 acres of the parcel are between Highway 24 and the Eagle River, and are planned to remain open space
Aspect said it develops properties in the Vail Valley, Denver and the Chicago area. It recently developed 30 apartments and 25,000 square feet of commercial space in Eagle, and it also developed 20,000 square feet of commercial space in Gypsum, according to its submittal.
A representative for Aspect, Matthew Barry, did not return messages seeking comment for this article.
An initial appraisal by the town of Minturn valued the Dowd Junction parcel at $8.167 million. A later appraisal put the value at $5.425 million, Metteer said.
Aspect proposed a purchase price of $5.425 million for the property, according to its submittal.
The Forest Service is now waiting for a formal project proposal from Minturn, Mayville said. If that proposal is accepted, the Forest Service would initiate a National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process, which would examine the environmental and social effects of the Forest Service selling or exchanging the administrative parcel.
If the proposal is accepted in the NEPA process, Minturn would start its development review process — likely a “planned unit development” — for the Dowd Junction site, Metteer said.