Ready for future? Gypsum is
In the early 1970s, prior to Vail having its own mountain rescue team, several of my fellow members on the Alpine Rescue Team out of Evergreen found ourselves near Edwards searching (successfully) for a 9-year-old girl.
We were in the vicinity of what is now Creamery Ranch and looked across the valley to watch the giant road graders hard at work etching I-70 into the hillside. Had you told me then that years later I’d be living there, I would have looked at you in utter disbelief. Who’d have thought?
For most people, it’s hard to visualize what the future growth of our county looks like. Intellectually, we can accept that growth is something that’s likely to happen. But when you double a population, do you merely scale up more of the same houses, buildings and schools? Does density increase in already developed areas? Does it inch its way into open valleys?
The ominous building mass of the growth wave that’s pushed westward through the mid-valley is still lightly lapping on the shores of Eagle and Gypsum. But the tides of growth are rising and, for now, the engulfing pressure can be sensed more than measured.
Looking at this looming growth through the eyes of Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll, you sense a community that’s willing to embrace the future but clearly wants to do so on its own terms.
Two walls in Gypsum’s modern town hall present a fascinating insight into this community. On one wall is an amusing “rogues gallery” of portraits of over 80 years of Gypsum mayors. On another wall is a mosaic of display boards showing the approved land use zoning for the future of the town.
While less fascinating than the portraits, the land use map, when explained by Shroll, tells a far more compelling story.
Shroll readily accepts the premise that Gypsum’s population could likely swell from 4,200 today to nearly 10,000 in 2025. Along with his past and present town councils, Shroll has worked hard to make sure that Gypsum is well positioned to manage growth instead of being overwhelmed by it. The town councils in the past few years have demonstrated wisdom and courage by investing in infrastructure and planning improvements that aren’t readily seen.
Quietly, the town has been acquiring land near the main I-70 interchange. In the next couple of years, driving into Gypsum will feel much more welcoming. A new roundabout, open space, and significant landscaping are all approved and funded. New sewers and sidewalks are in place, awaiting future redevelopment of the town’s original business district. Additional water rights have also been acquired. And while the immediate benefit of these investments has yet to become more visible, the fact that these investments have been made at all speaks well of the town’s commitment to the future.
Gypsum doesn’t want to see themselves as a bedroom community for Vail. Their land use plan clearly envisions a larger community where people work close to where they live. The town knows that it’s critical to have a good mix of residential and commercial development.
A key pillar of commercial development is the Eagle County Regional Airport. Not only does the airport sit within the Gypsum town limits, but so does the Airport Gateway Business Center office park, which is adjacent to the airport and is the home to companies such as Westar Bank, Colorado Mountain News Media and San Isabel Telecom.
Rob McGregor, the managing partner in the Airport Gateway development and Chad Brasington, the listing broker, believe that increased operations at the airport, the desire for affordable commercial land, and a new freeway interchange planned for 2005 that will connect I-70 with the airport, makes Gateway a very appealing choice for retail and commercial clients.
Furthermore, in keeping with Gypsum’s desire to promote high quality commercial development, McGregor points out that all new commercial buildings built within Airport Gateway must go through an architectural design review process.
Shroll believes that Gypsum has a definite “open for business” outlook. With zoning regulations and utility infrastructure in place, commercial developers will find a very streamlined, business-friendly, approval process. Time is money and there is a lot of value for a developer to be able to execute a development plan in an expedient way. Beyond offering the promise of a smooth approval process, the town of Gypsum is open to exploring other avenues of support in terms of customized tax incentives.
It’s not a question of “if” growth will come to Gypsum. It’s a question of “when.”
Being home to one-tenth of the county’s population, many Eagle County residents know Gypsum only as a last gas opportunity before Glenwood or a place you drive through on the way to the airport.
Like its friendly rival, Eagle, Gypsum is a 100-year-old town whose western Colorado heritage has not been obscured behind sound berms and golf courses. While many small towns in the American West continue to lose population, Gypsum’s growth curve continues on an upward arc. Finding the balance between a mid-20th century sense of place and the pressures of 21st century homogenization isn’t an easy task, but clearly the town officials have given this a lot of thought.
Don Cohen is a Colorado native, entrepreneur and former high-tech CEO. He is executive director of the Vail Valley Economic Council and can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org