Poor economy hits Eagle County architects | VailDaily.com

Poor economy hits Eagle County architects

Chris Outcalt
Eagle County, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Jim Morter of Morter Architects started working in Eagle County, Colorado in 1972. He’s never seen the local architectural industry in such a state.

As the economy dipped, building throughout the valley has slowed and it’s started to impact architectural firms in a way Morter hasn’t seen before. He saw it coming, but Morter said the “bomb” hit about three weeks ago.

“The day that the stock market dropped so heavily, it just kind of bore out what we had been seeing for months,” Morter said. “It seemed to send a panic through the industry.”

Morter has laid off several employees due to the lack of work. And his firm isn’t the only one. Edwards resident Elisha Wegner, who worked at Davis Partnership Architects, was one of about five people at the company to lose their job.

“The economy has definitely affected architecture,” Wegner said. “I’ve heard from several people now that this is the worst that they’ve seen.”

Morter said the Vail Valley has often been immune to tough financial times nationally.

“Normally here in the valley we just ride right through these things, or just see a blip,” said Morter, who’s firm focuses on resort-based projects.

Lynn Fritzlen, of Fritzlen Pierce Architects, said while business has slowed some, the firm has benefited from having a few ongoing projects and doesn’t anticipate having to make any cuts.

“We’ve been fortunate,” Fritzlen said. “But there isn’t much of a backlog.”

Fritzlen said she thinks many still consider Vail real estate a solid investment.

“It’s not immune, but from what I can tell Vail Valley real estate has always been a good long-term investment,” she said. “I think there is a component of Vail that still believes real estate investment here is one of the strongest and most consistent investments you can make.”

But Morter said even the higher income clients his firm typically deals with have started to shy away from projects.

“When they see their own stocks drop 30 or 35 percent, they may not be in crisis mode but they are certainly in the cautious mode,” Morter said.

Kyle Webb of KH Webb Architects, which handles house and renovation projects, said the firm has maintained a steady level of work. It’s the bigger development projects that are disappearing, he said.

“In 1991 and after Sept. 11 there was a slow down,” Webb said. “This is worse than that.”

A dip in construction prices by about 25 percent has helped Webb keep business going, he said.

“We have some people excited about building,” Webb said.

The bigger projects are the ones that have disappeared, he said.

Kevin Brubeck, market president of American National Bank Eagle Valley, said some people will be forced to leave the valley because of the slowed building industry.

“It’s very hard on the community when you have a contraction like this,” Brubeck said. “Even if it’s a short time, how many can survive without a steady paycheck?”

In Eagle County, total real estate transactions for 2008 through August are down 46 percent compared to the previous year, according to a report by the Land Title Garuntee Co. in Eagle.

“We had to make cuts and I don’t know where these people are going to find work in the valley,” Morter said. “I just hate it, these are wonderful people who have done nothing to deserve this.”

Brubeck said it’s tough to estimate when the economy might turn around.

“We’re dependent upon so many things in the local economy,” Brubeck said. “I think at the point people feel more confidence in their jobs, it could turn around.”

Staff Writer Chris Outcalt can be reached at 970-748-2931 or coutcalt@vaildaily.com.

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