Vail Valley Voices: Local sees the worst case in Eagle proposal |

Vail Valley Voices: Local sees the worst case in Eagle proposal

Bill Sepmeier
Vail, CO, Colorado

Like many locals, I’ve followed the latest attempt to develop a new town center east of Eagle with interest.

I mean, given the state of the economy, a large new retail fling anywhere today is sort of like a science project out looking for a fair during the summer break.

Target has now evidently agreed to be the Bunsen burner under this experiment, a firm whose sales declined 1.6 percent during the Christmas shopping season. According to the retailer’s fourth-quarter earnings release, this reduction was “caused by a 5.9 percent decline in existing store sales, partially offset by a contribution from 91 new stores opened during fiscal 2008.”

The management may believe it prudent to just keep opening new stores since sales are evaporating at their existing locations. This type of management has been around for many, many centuries since someone first discovered that plants grow better a year after fire had ravaged through an area. It’s called “slash and burn” in agriculture.

If there’s undeveloped land around, burn it, plant the local crop du jour on it, and when the land’s nutrients are used up, move on and do it again. Leave the old field fallow, or in the business world, close the store and take the subsidiary corporation it operated under into bankruptcy to discharge that location’s debt obligations.

The daily news is pretty grim. Vice President Joe Biden recently said of the economy, “It is worse, quite frankly, than everyone thought it was, and it’s getting worse every day. … There’s been no good news, and there’s no good news on the immediate horizon.”

About 150,000 retail stores closed last year. Following what has proved to be the worst Christmas retail season in decades, it is estimated by those who estimate these things that 200,000 more will shutter this year.

These aren’t little mom-and-pop operations, either. Macy’s, for example, has announced it will be closing stores in Denver and Colorado Springs, cities that haven’t been hit nearly as hard by this recession as many places nationwide.

Other “anchor stores” at hundreds of shopping centers have closed and are closing. We’re told that as many as 1,000 malls will close this year.

Operating-financing difficulties and sales drops at existing stores are combining in the classic slash-and-burn style on a grand scale.

Many local merchants report that retail sales are down. Our local papers are stuffed with homes for sale in the $2 million-plus bracket that have been listed for months.

Well-known and familiar local names are appearing in the legal notices as their multimillion-dollar properties enter foreclosure.

Lower-cost “affordable home” projects and sales are dead in the water because few who need them can qualify for mortgages, even at record-low interest rates.

The Ginn Co. has lost two large developments to Chapter 7 liquidation and apparently placed its local planned community on hold.

The golf-course activity at Brightwater Canyon just folded the tent for a year at least.

Our 401(k) accounts, IRAs and personal-wealth portfolios have lost 40 percent to 60 percent of their value from only a year ago.

On top of all of this, there are 1.2 million acres surrounding us in the White River National Forest, and hardly a single lodgepole pine, of which there averaged 700 per acre, is still alive in these soon-to-be-former forests. Unfortunately, this blight in the Western evergreen population is now receiving increasing national and international news coverage.

When it comes to selling luxury second homes surrounded by dying forests, not all press may be good press.

Yet for some reason, some people believe the relocation of Eagle to a new steel, brick and glass home (that looks suspiciously a lot like Edwards, doesn’t it?) can maintain its financing and become a thriving hub of eager consumers, even when about half of the commercial space near many of these consumers who live in Eagle Ranch is vacant or leased to real estate sales offices (which is about as close to vacant in a retail zone as you can get).

This is true optimism.

Apparently the Eagle Town Board forgot to annex the land between the town and the airport that bears its name. In doing so, the board allowed Gypsum to expand almost all the way to Brush Creek.

That must have been embarrassing, but is this reason to believe that moving the town of Eagle’s center east, almost to Wolcott, will make up for that oversight in spite of the national, regional and local economic data? At the rate things are going, that land near town might be better used to grow potatoes and cabbage for local consumption someday.

No, I don’t live in Eagle. I do shop there a lot and have to live with the “Little Bangkok” gridlock just like the residents do every day if I time my visits without thinking about rush hour.

I do suspect that a lack of new shopping availability isn’t on most Eagle residents’ or visitors’ punch lists. Recent surveys of Eagle’s residents show traffic issues are at the top of everyone’s list.

Perhaps the funds spent and committed by the town of Eagle toward its support of a privately owned New Eagle would be better spent dealing with the dangerous traffic problems that Eagle’s current growth has already inflicted at the Interstate 70 interchange.

As someone who shops in your town, I urge those of you who live there to try to overcome the urge to help make things worse.

Bill Sepmeier is a longtime local who lives in Sweetwater.

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