Ironbridge in Glenwood Springs rises from ashes of Lehman bankruptcy
April 10, 2014
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Nearly five years of uncertainty and "stagnation," in the words of one Ironbridge homeowner, appear to be in the past, as the first home construction has begun, a new restaurant is nearing completion and some tweaks are being made to the golf course under the guidance of the development's new owners.
"I think Glenwood has finally weaned itself from being an Aspen stepchild, and Ironbridge is poised to emerge as one of the valley's most desirable places to live," said Phil Weir, president of the Ironbridge Homeowners Association, during a ground-breaking event hosted by longtime Roaring Fork Valley real estate investors John Young and Jim Light.
"It's nice that these guys are from the community and not so far off," Weir said. "And for the homeowners it's good that we're finally getting some of the amenities that we were supposed to get a long time ago."
Young and Light, who have developed several properties from Basalt to Snowmass Village, were the successful bidders in an auction last summer, buying the remaining 111 undeveloped residential lots at Ironbridge, as well as the golf course and other club amenities for $4.82 million.
“In talking to the residents here, we quickly realized that it was a bad idea to change the name. There is some real brand value with Ironbridge.”
Roaring Fork Valley real estate investor
Light was also involved with the Park East development in Glenwood Springs several years ago.
The stalled Ironbridge real estate development south of Glenwood, on the west bank of the Roaring Fork River, had been owned by a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers, whose collapse into bankruptcy became one of the national story lines in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.
As they did elsewhere in the valley, home values at Ironbridge plummeted about 40 percent, Weir said. The lingering uncertainty about the golf course ownership and who might develop the remaining lots in the 316-unit subdivision didn't help, he said.
Since Young, Light and their fellow investors came in, they've converted the 2,500-square-foot pool house into a year-round fitness center for Ironbridge residents, and work is nearing completion on the Ironbridge Grill restaurant adjacent to the golf pro shop, which is expected to open later this month.
The new restaurant will have seating for up to 120 people, large enough for special events with an outdoor patio overlooking the golf practice range. It will be managed by Stacy Baldock, owner of the popular The Goat deli and owner of the former Hestia restaurant, both in Carbondale.
Light and Young also brought in golf pro and course designer Tom Lehman (no relation to Lehman Bros.) to "soften" the 18-hole, Arthur Hills-designed golf course.
"One of the things we want to do here is make golf fun for everyone," Light said of the process to turn what quickly became known as one of the most-difficult courses in Colorado when it opened in 2003 into one that will be appealing to all levels of play.
For instance, the signature par-5 10th hole, which is one of four golf holes tucked into the hillside above the main part of the golf course, will now have new tee boxes that will allow it to be played optionally as a shorter par-4 or even a par-3 hole.
"Nationally, golf has been on the wane and many courses have closed," Young said. "Part of that was because technology and ball design made it possible for the average man to hit it a lot farther, so courses got longer."
But that left out a lot of women players, children and more-average players, he said. Among the new programs at Ironbridge will be new women's leagues and kids golfing events. The course is also open to public play, although members have priority for weekend play.
When they bought the property last August, the new owners toyed with the idea of dumping the Ironbridge name, and had even announced the new Blue Heron Club name before they closed.
"In talking to the residents here, we quickly realized that it was a bad idea to change the name," Young said. "There is some real brand value with Ironbridge."
The development was named for the historic iron-structure bridge that crosses the Roaring Fork River just downstream from the golf course and the established West Bank neighborhoods.
Their purchase also included seven built but unoccupied deed-restricted affordable housing units near the golf clubhouse, which Young said were sold through the Garfield County Housing Authority within the first few months after they closed.
The homes, which had an appealing $230,000 price for qualified buyers, had been tied up in the bankruptcy and were unable to be sold while the property was in receivership.
Construction has also begun on two new spec homes, in partnership with the Aspen Home Collection. Young said they anticipated building 20 homes this year, including several riverfront homesites on the north end of the development site.
"It was an opportunity that knocked, and we answered," Young said of his and Light's interest in the project when it went on the auction block. "We were involved with a project in Boulder that wasn't really going anywhere, and the more we dug into this the more it made sense."
Since then, they have spent more than $1 million upgrading the various amenities, and are ready to crank up their marketing efforts.
The stalled development also benefited last year from a revamp of Garfield County's land-use codes, which allowed for an extension of the development rights for the project after they had expired in March 2013.
Under the county's new rules, extensions can be granted after a deadline passes if there are "extenuating circumstances."
"This is what we had in mind when we changed those rules," said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who was on hand for the Thursday event. "I'm pleased to see this day."