Vail Daily decade in review, Part 3
Daily staff writers
Vail, CO Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the third of a three-part series in which we look back at the Aughts, the first decade of the 21st century.
EAGLE COUNTY – If the middle years of our decade were a big party, the last few have been a mountain-sized hangover, thanks to a number of bone-headed decisions from government officials, financial-sector knuckleheads and, well, pretty much everybody else. But life goes on in Happy Valley, and we did our best to chronicle events big and small.
From about 2003 until about the middle of 2008, people in the valley’s real estate business thought they were riding a beautiful balloon. It turned out to be the Hindenburg.
In the middle of the decade, real estate prices were rising faster than bubbles on a poorly-drawn glass of beer. One Vail resident complained in 2007 that the county-determined value of his home had risen more than 70 percent in the past two years.
People were buying and selling homes like 1950s kids passed around baseball cards. Demand for new luxury condos meant that some units traded hands several times before the units were even really finished.
In 2007, the high-water year for dollar volume in the county, there were 2,688 transactions with a total sale price of more than $2.9 billion (according to Land Title Guarantee Co.).
The slide started in 2008, and the big drop hit in 2009. Sales volume that year didn’t crack the $1 billion mark, and total sales dropped to less than 1,000.
Prices dropped, too. Depending on the property and who you talk to, prices have fallen at least 30 percent, and much more in some places.
The market has started to crawl back in 2010, but many of the reported sales are either from bank-owned or foreclosed properties, and broker who specialize in “short sales” – sales negotiated with banks for less than the amount owed on the current mortgage -are pretty busy these days.
The collapse of the local real estate business has had a profound effect on other businesses, too.
The construction companies still in business are taking any work they can right now, which is why R.A. Nelson and Associates, one of the valley’s best-regarded, is doing the renovation work on the Riverview Apartments in Eagle-Vail. Other companies are picking up remodeling jobs, patios, birdhouses – pretty much anything.
Architectural and engineering companies have scaled back or closed down, too.
Foreclosures in the county will set a record this year, and might set a new one next year, too. And we all wonder just how many people have left the valley.
Oil prices started climbing in 2007 and by mid-2008, the price of a barrel of crude was pushing $150. That sent the price of gas to places Americans had never seen before. Regular was more than $4.50 a gallon, even at Costco, and high-test was within spitting distance of $5 up-valley.
When the world’s financial markets fell off a cliff in 2008, the price of oil started sliding like a Saudi prince on an oil-soaked sand dune, and the price of gas fell, too.
But after some blessed relief, gas prices have again passed the $3 mark in the upper valley, and some are saying gas prices could pass $5 nationwide by 2012. We really, really hope they’re wrong.
The ultimate comeback
Chris and Susan Spiegel buried three sons. Scott died of sudden infant death syndrome, Skylar died in a traffic accident on the way to Eagle Valley High School’s homecoming festivities, and C.J. was 7 years old when he was hit by a car and killed.
A few years later, they had triplets – two boys and a girl. They managed it through a gestational carrier, women who carry other people’s embryos.
Cayden Scott, Shelby Sky and Billy C.J. were born the morning before Christmas.
Bad things happen to good people, but good things can happen, too.
Loss of a landmark
State Bridge Lodge had been a lot of things over the 100-plus years it sat along the Colorado River, including a brothel and, much later, the site of one of the Dixie Chicks’ early shows.
On June, 2007, State Bridge Lodge was hit by an arsonist, and quickly burned to a pile of ashes. No suspect was ever caught.
This year, new owners received permission to turn the site into a natural amphitheater. They plan to host shows starting in 2011.
The Vail Trail – Vail’s first newspaper – was on its last legs when Colorado Mountain News Media bought it in 2004. But 2008, the combination of a changing market and an economic slump made it clear that the Trail’s time had passed. The last issue published Nov. 14 of that year.
The Recession Made Simple
By Randy Wyrick
Imagine the banking/financial industry and our federal government as a herd of ADD-infected teenaged boys, jacked up on Red Bull and speeding around in their parents’ cars as they search for wireless Internet they can poach.
They have disabled the protections on the computers their parents bought them to use for school, to make it faster to download porn, games and music to which they’re not entitled. Each download comes with a problem that will have to be dealt with – but they’ll deal with it tomorrow or the next day because they’re having fun today.
Soon, their computers are so overloaded with awfulness that they crash.
They whine and complain and stomp and insist that even though, like hangovers, this is a self-inflicted wound, it’s really our problem.
Because we’re the parents in this scenario, and parents are not interested in justice, parents want quiet (Bill Cosby said that), we reluctantly agree to bail them out – even though we know they don’t deserve it and we don’t really have the money.
We’ll just put it on our credit card.
That, basically, is how we got into this mess and any politician who tells you they could not have seen it coming is delusional.
We all knew this, but…
• Around Eagle County, almost no one has gotten a raise since 2007.
On the other hand, school district superintendent Sandra Smyser took a $13,000 bonus in 2010 that now becomes part of her base salary, pushing it to $184,000. She did it while the school district was slashing more than 50 jobs.
• The county’s unemployment figures are hovering around 10 percent, and like the rest of the world it can take more than year to find a new job in Eagle County.
• Foreclosures across the county set a new record in 2010, as 604 homeowners had thrown up their hands when we were writing this on Dec. 29.
• Eagle County’s government has cut more than 50 jobs in the last two years, while piling up $38 million in debt for a new jail/courthouse and offices that now stand largely unused. It’ll take 20 years to pay it off.
• In 2000, gas was $1.48 a gallon. It topped $3 a gallon a week ago.
A bad night in Vail
Richard “Rossi” Moreau, 64, is in jail for allegedly killing Dr. Gary Bruce Kitching, 70, and wounding three others.
Moreau repeatedly shot Kitching with a 1911 Springfield .45 caliber handgun, modified to hold 13 shots. The security video shows that.
The security video capturing the rampage also shows Moreau wounding three others as patrons rushed in a panicked stampede to escape the Sandbar in West Vail.
Moreau pleaded not guilty earlier this year.
His military service records indicate he earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam. He has claimed to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and has battled alcohol and drugs for years.
The video indicates that Moreau blamed PTSD for the shooting almost immediately after it happened.
He is charged with eight felonies, including first-degree murder.
The trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 7, 2011. He is being held without bail in the Eagle County jail.
The 2010 elections
Author P.J. O’Rourke said it best: “This is not an election on Nov. 2. This is a restraining order.”
And we’ll leave it at that, because he’s soooo right, both politically and every other respect.
But before the Body Politic rides gratefully into 2010’s sunset, it left some tracks on the campaign trail.
• The county commissioners insisted that spending $4.5 million on Stratton Flats will, someday, be worthwhile. Someday. This year, the original builder bailed out owing the bank more than $20 million and a new builder is on board with all sorts of visions.
In the meantime, houses in Stratton Flats’ neighborhood are selling for tens of thousands less than their government-subsidized houses up the street.
• The commissioners decided this would be good time to ask the Body Politic to exempt them from term limits. The body Politic did not agree, and the commissioners remain limited to as much damage as they can do in eight years.
• The Body Politic did give the green light to ganjapreneurs who want to sell medical marijuana in those parts of Eagle County that are not in an actual town. A ballot measure to leave those people alone passed handily.
• Eagle voters sent Eagle River Station packing. It was to be a 550,000 square foot retail/residential project that would pour more than $60 million in Eagle’s coffers. But Eagle narrowly decided it liked the spot just the way it is, shoehorned right between I-70 and U.S. Highway 6 with railroad tracks running through it.
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