Where were you when I needed you?
Editor’s note: In keeping with a tradition that began with Dick Hauserman’s “Inventors of Vail” and continued with Pete Seibert’s “Vail: Triumph of a Dream,” the editors of the Vail Daily are serializing Bill Clinkenbeard’s “Cordillera, From the Ground Up,” in weekly installments each Sunday. Bill can be reached at 748-0971 or via e-mail, email@example.com. Even after the lodge opened in 1989 local real estate groups were still somewhat reluctant to bring clients to Cordillera. There was a fair amount of high-end inventory “closer to home” in Vail, Beaver Creek and Arrowhead. Cordillera was still struggling for identity and our first golf course, which we were certain would bring in buyers, hadn’t been started. That was still two years away. Some of our national marketing efforts were starting to kick in, but real estate traffic was still lower than we wanted. Felix was increasingly concerned about cash flow, and that is putting it mildly. When Moose Bosson and his people started chalking up good sales numbers, others got interested in a hurry. Strange how that happens. Where were these groups when I needed them to begin with? In short order, we were approached by two major local real estate forces, Vail Associates Real Estate and Slifer Smith and Frampton Real Estate, who had not yet joined forces in the valley. In the summer of 1990, I received a call from George Gillett, the owner of Vail Associates then, who said he would like to visit with me. We arranged a luncheon date at the lodge. Jane Posen was at Cordillera then, so the three of us met. George is a charming and interesting man, but it wasn’t until lunch was almost over that we learned the purpose of his visit. He said that Vail Associates Real Estate would like to have the Cordillera listing and asked that we meet with Andy Daly and Dan Fitchett in his organization to discuss this. George said that Cordillera would be highlighted in their national marketing and advertising programs and that would bring traffic to us. Of course it would also bring sizable commissions to them. Vail Associates spent millions of dollars annually on these programs, so George’s proposal was of interest.
No magic formulasShortly after George Gillett’s visit, the Slifer/Smith/Frampton group approached me and said they were interested in listing our property. I had several discussions with Mark Smith about their real estate capabilities. Mark gave me a letter quantifying the sales revenue they thought they could generate the first year in lot sales. It was $7 million or about 35 lots at then current prices. Vail Associates thought they could do a little better than that, at around $10 million. I didn’t place much weight on either forecast because there were so many variables involved. The golf course hadn’t even been started, and I thought that was a major determinant for increased sales. I was interested in who could bring us more traffic in the short term.We thought the international marketing program of Vail Associates would be best for us, so we met with Dan Fitchett, the new vice president of Vail Associates Real Estate to discuss a listing agreement. Dan is an outstanding real estate businessman with an extensive background in marketing, sales and development in both commercial and residential real estate. In our discussions he made it clear that there were no secrets or magic formulas for increasing sales. They would provide an experienced marketing and sales team, on-site. In December 1990, Vail Associates became the exclusive listing agent for Cordillera.I had assigned the responsibility for our real estate function to Gerry Engle. It’s ironic that Gerry, who was introduced to Cordillera by Moose Bosson, now had the task to work out a termination agreement with Moose to make way for Vail Associates. On Dec. 27th, 1990 Moose and I signed a memorandum of understanding covering transition and compensation matters. Not a happy Christmas season for Moose and his people. They deserved a lot of credit, coming on board when no one else would, and building a credible record of sales. Vail Associates quickly set up shop and assigned Tom Maitland to be the on-site broker. Tom had asked for the assignment. He reported to both Dan Fitchett at Vail Associates and Gerry Engle at Cordillera.
Be careful what you ask for, Tom! Moose and his people helped with the transition and quickly moved on. Tom Maitland, after several years in the valley, left Vail Associates and is now living in Arizona. Dan Fitchett also left Vail Associates but stayed in the valley and developed the Elkhorn Lodge at Beaver Creek. He is currently the managing broker of The Forbes Group and is also developing a lodge in Crested Butte. Not Salvador DaliJust before the marketing changeover, I was told that a prospective client wanted to talk to an owner. I agreed to come to the sales office and meet with him. I met a man who introduced himself as Salvador, from Spain. I was sure that Salvador Dali, the famous Spanish artist, was dead, so it wasn’t him. A few minutes later I wish it had been. This Salvador said he had some land on the Costa Brava to exchange for two or three building lots at Cordillera. I told him we wanted to sell land, not swap it. He assured me I would be interested in his deal when I heard what it was. There was something about this individual that just didn’t ring true. Salvador described a land swap that would give us a “hideaway” on the Costa Brava for our guests and owners. We were to transfer three Cordillera lots. There were some complicated tax issues on his side, so he would need $30,000 now to get the deal done. Salvador must of thought I wasn’t dry behind the ears yet. He said his office was in Barcelona. I use to work as a consultant in Barcelona, so I know the city well.
I asked Salvador about Barcelona’s famous Sagruda Familia Cathedral, which is still under construction after 120 years, and its world-renowned architect – what was his name? Every school child in Barcelona knows it was Gaudi. Salvador didn’t. Strike one. I told him how sorry I was that his hometown of Barcelona had failed in its bid for the summer Olympics. He agreed it was too bad, but there would be another day. Barcelona actually won that bid and hosted those Olympics. Strike two.The Costa Brava, where Salvador said the property for swap was located, is a part of Spain that I know quite well. My family often vacationed there when we lived in Europe, and I have visited our architect, Leon Lambotte and his wife who live there, many times in the past few years. Salvador said the property was located near Bilbao. That city is on the northern coast of Spain. The Costa Brava is on the east coast. Strike three. I abruptly canceled our meeting. When he asked why, I told him. He smiled, offered his hand, and left. I am not easily surprised when it comes to human foibles but I was surprised, even amazed, at how brazen this con artist was. He just walked in, made a preposterous proposal, as if we were a bunch of country bumpkins, and when confronted shook hands like an old friend and left. The depth of some people’s avarice. Vail, Colorado