Signs of economic hope in Vail Valley? |

Signs of economic hope in Vail Valley?

Scott N. Miller
Vail correspondent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado – It wasn’t that long ago that Dave Garton was selling houses as fast as he could build them. These days, he’s happy to have one under contract.

Garton’s company started and finished Gypsum Estates in a matter of a few years more than a decade ago. A few years later, he started Buckhorn Valley, just south of the Eagle County Regional Airport. That started well, too, then stalled, the victim of a combination of competition, a hold-up in a sales contract and other factors.

Finally, of course, the national economy fell off a cliff in 2008 and took Eagle County’s economy with it.

These days, Buckhorn Valley, which started out with factory-built homes, has switched over to site-built homes, as has McHatten Creek Ranch right next door. Sales have stalled there, just as they have everywhere else.

But Garton, John Hill of McHatten Creek and a small group of others think they might have an idea to baby-step the projects back to health. The group has built a small batch of homes, all priced at less than $400,000.

Those prices are possible because just about everyone involved is working at their cost or close to it.

“People are just happy to be working,” Garton said.

With the homes started, a blast e-mail with a flyer was sent to all the employees of the Eagle County School District, with the approval of district officials. Everyone who responded and looked at one of the homes received either a Costco gift card or a pass to the Gypsum Recreation Center.

“We’ve gotten some good response from the flyers,” Hill said. “We wanted to show people what we have, and what Gypsum has.”

The marketing push put one of the four new homes under contract, with some serious interest in the others.

“We’re showing probably three times a week,” broker Samantha Gale said. “It seems like they’re not just here for the coupons.”

And Hill, who lives near the new homes, said quite a few people have driven by and picked up sale flyers.

Garton said the home that’s done now is virtually identical to one that builder Don Dotson did a couple of years ago at Gypsum’s Chatfield Corners subdivision. That home sold – in better times, of course – for more than $525,000. Getting essentially the same home for right at $400,000 is a value.

It’s that value proposition that everyone involved in the project hopes strikes a spark with buyers.

Garton said if these homes get sold, a handful of others will probably be built. If those sell, the price will probably start to inch up, he said.

Value for the money seems to work at the other end of the market, too.

It’s not a boom, but the most high-end home sales in the valley in 2009 – 53 – came at Cordillera and the Cordillera Valley Club.

Patrick Wilhelm is a member of the family that now owns the Cordillera Golf Club, which includes just about everything but the lodge there. The Wilhelms are sold on Cordillera, in large part because of the value those big homes represent when compared to other high-end real estate in the valley.

“You can get enormous homes for about one-third the price they are at Bachelor Gulch,” Wilhelm said. “You can get a 6,000-square-foot home at Cordillera for about $2 million today. If you need ski-in, ski-out access, you’re going to pay $8 million or more.”

The Wilhelms are now working to parlay the value of Cordillera real estate into a profitable private club, and using some new ideas and marketing to do it.

The Wilhelms are working now to enhance the perception that club members get a lot for their money.

There have been upgrades to the golf club’s restaurants, and there are events virtually every week, most of which don’t involve golf and run the gamut from sleigh rides and hikes to cooking classes.

The Wilhelms have also created a couple of new kinds of memberships for their club. A “premier” membership grants club privileges at the family’s other clubs in the Roaring Fork Valley and California wine country.

The big one, though, is the “legacy” membership, which grants club privileges to the adult children of members.

“Most clubs cut off children of members at age 25,” Wilhelm said. “Most people that age aren’t going to spend $115,000 plus annual dues on this.”

“Legacy” members can also make their memberships part of their estates, leaving a member’s heirs club privileges.

That program’s been a success so far, Wilhelm said, with about 160 of the Cordillera club’s roughly 750 members converting their memberships in the last six or eight months.

Besides memberships, though, the Cordillera Golf Club has taken a chance on a new kind of marketing – a year-round golf shop in the heart of Vail Village. Open to the public, the shop has golf gear – a little winter gear, too – an indoor putting range and a computerized swing analyzer.

People can stop in, get something warm to drink, whack a few balls and, if so inclined, get some information about the Cordillera Golf Club.

Besides value and marketing, though, Hill believes there’s something else at work in the slow return of prospects who may turn into buyers.

“I think people are starting to say ‘the end of the world ain’t coming after all,'” Hill said. “They’re starting to sniff around, and maybe they’re going to act.”

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