Vail Valley Voices: Eagle River Station lacks sense | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley Voices: Eagle River Station lacks sense

Paul Kulas
Vail, CO, Colorado

My family and friends are voting “no” on Eagle River Station. Here’s why.

I’ve read how great it’d be if chains opened a store here. For any of those chains to even consider opening a store here, the population would have to be well over 100,000. According to the data on the eaglecounty.us site, the population of Eagle County is not projected to be 94,803 until 2035.

I’ve read where folks think Eagle River Station is a good idea because there’s business to be had from I-70. That somehow people in cars driving by at 80 mph are going to see a store, then immediately say to themselves, “Eureka! Shopping!”

When was the last time you did something like that? Assuming the driver did see a store, by the time they made the decision to pull off the highway, they’d have passed the exit. The case for impulse buying is a stretch.

I’ve read where people think we’re losing sales tax that’d otherwise be spent here. I disagree.

I can’t see where there’s a need for another grocer. We buy groceries at City Market and Costco. We go to Target and The Vitamin Cottage in Glenwood for everything else. Yes, it’d be nice if we didn’t have to go to Glenwood.

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But I can’t see where the population here today — or even a few years from now — would justify Target to open a store. Whole Foods is opening in El Jebel, so scratch them off the list. The costs for Vitamin Cottage to move are way too high and they’d be abandoning their customer base – for fewer customers between Eagle and Vail.

For just about everything else we buy online or go to Denver. It’s infrequent at best that the need comes up to buy something we can’t get online or at stores already here. You can’t build a business case around infrequent needs.

Online shopping has changed things. It’s killed video, record and book stores. It’s killing newspapers. It’s killing brick-and-mortar stores daily. Best Buy just closed 30 stores. Amazon.com can sell a product for less than what a small brick-and-mortar store can buy it for. Shopping online is easier and it’s lower cost. How are stores in Eagle River Station going to compete against the shopping experience online? Not everyone buys online. But the addressable market of those who’d rather drive than click is small and getting smaller.

I disagree that building Eagle River Station will increase property values.

We bought properties in Eagle Ranch circa 2002, based on a tulip craze pitch. I’m personally responsible for my decisions. But it never occurred to me that the bottom would drop out.

There are offices in Eagle Ranch that have never had tenants. Properties around me are selling for less than half of what they originally sold for. Now I’m hanging on just like you. My financial plan is that it’ll be years before my properties recover in value.

The ERS developers, pro ERS folks, and the leaders around here — most of whom it seems would gain financially from the development — are basically saying, “Ignore the past. Forget that boom and bust story PBS did featuring Eagle. Build more. That’s the answer.”

Don’t listen to Realtors or developers — listen to economists. The economy is recovering, albeit slowly. Neither political party will make a difference. Only time will make a difference.

Property values won’t increase until the foreclosure market dries up. That’s going to take years because there’s still plenty available and the banks are holding onto plenty more. They’ll be more pain. It’ll be years, if ever, that property returns to the values before the crash.

If Eagle River Station is built as planned, it’s going to add more stores that there is no economic justification for. It’s going to add housing, which will only lower the value of the housing already here. Eagle River Station is nothing more than a repeat of the past. Where did that get us?

I don’t know enough about the inner workings of government around here, but it sounds to me like there’s only two choices — sell out to developers or raise taxes.

Voting “yes” is effectively saying, “Let someone else — anyone but me — pay for what the town needs.” This flies in the face of one of the founding principles of the GOP: personal responsibility.

It’s also a vote for Big Government. Because “yes” says, “We think the government knows what’s best for us. We think it’s best to let them grow unchecked, with all the money they’ll get from ERS.”

It’s the citizens, not the government or big money, who need to take charge of Eagle now.

A “no” vote will force the town into engaging with its citizens, to think outside the box on a plan to pay for what it needs. Eagle recently elected two people who I think will listen to us — Yuri Kostick and Brandi Resa. Let’s give them a chance to do what we hired them for.

A “no” vote also gives way to a marketing campaign that money can’t buy. Eagle would have two vital ingredients every marketer needs: a great story with a viral message. The story is a small town where the people took charge and told the developers to get lost. Viral kicks in because the story makes its way around social media — millions watching a video about a little town that did.

PBS comes back. Now the story is, “We learned from our mistakes. We’re digging in. It’s gonna cost us a few bucks, but we refuse to repeat the mistakes from our past.”

A “no” vote sets the base for economic development that no developer could ever match and that no amount of advertising could ever produce. A “no” vote makes Eagle attractive for small entrepreneurs like me, and it gives people reasons to change their lives and move here. Our new neighbors will help out at schools, create business, good-paying jobs and hire locals — exactly what we’ve done. We didn’t come here because of shopping. Neither will most.

Voting “no” will probably cost you more in taxes. But voting “yes” is tripping over a dollar to pick up a nickel.

I hope you agree with some or all of what I’ve written and will therefore vote “no” on Eagle River Station.

Paul Kulas lives in Eagle.