Real estate boom and old school Crested Butte

Things are changing and I’m not just talking about the weather forecast that promises big snow in Crested Butte over the next week, although that’s pretty good news. I’m talking about the big bucks coming in and being discussed in both the private and public sectors.

The real estate community is abuzz that local commercial property is suddenly being snatched up in a flurry of activity…and the thought is primarily by one guy or a couple of guys who ultimately represent the one guy. It appears the Sixth Street Station property, the Forest Queen building, the Almont Resort, and empty Prospect lots at the ski area are coming under the umbrella of the guy who already owns the old Grubstake building at Third and Elk, Mark Walter. According to the Googles, he also owns a big piece of the Los Angeles Dodgers and tons of property in other places. Rumor has it he has his eye on the empty land between the Wooden Nickel and Mountain Spirits, the Big Blue REI across from the hardware store, the air development rights for anything above three stories and the hot dog cart at the Four-way. I hear the hot dog guy is raising his price to seven figures that for Mark Walter is probably like $20 to many of us.

Now, I’m from the Midwest and we aren’t really comfortable talking about people and their money but in this case…he appears a really smart, self-made businessman worth billions.

According to the Forbes real time net worth calculator, he has $4.4 billion in wealth as of this week where if I am reading this right, Tuesday morning he pulled in another $116 million before noon. Yikes. I’m from the Midwest and we aren’t really comfortable talking about people and their money but, holy cow, that’s impressive. And it makes sense that while to someone like me, spending tens of millions of dollars on property in the Gunnison Valley is wild, it wouldn’t be for some people who on a good day makes eight figures (on paper anyway) before lunch. Personally, everyone says Mark Walter is a great “down to earth” guy who loves Crested Butte. Whew.

I reached out to his local realtor to see if Mark would like to talk about his plans for the valley given his recent purchases and after she finished laughing she basically indicated I probably had a better chance of getting Donald Trump to chat with me about Almont. That made me laugh. But I really would like to have him share his goals with the community that he is part of. That’s old school Crested Butte.

So alas, I have no idea if he plans to develop all the property, let it sit and flip it in a year or just hold on to it forever and preserve it the way it is. I don’t think someone who made $116 million Tuesday morning (am I really reading that right?) plans to let things sit but you never know.

So what does it mean looking down at facts and rumors of this magnitude? For one, it means the floor for commercial prices, traditionally a dodgy investment in Crested Butte and the valley, has a gone up a level or two. You know the old Aspen adage of the billionaires coming in and squeezing out the millionaires? Welcome to the new Crested Butte. If I recall, Walter had proposed plans to turn the Grubstake into a really cool, intimate music venue a few years ago. Since he owns a piece of Dick Clark Productions, the talent level coming to Elk Avenue might have gone up a level or two as well. But my impression was that the burden of paying huge parking-in-lieu fees scuttled the idea and left a bad taste.

Look, change is constant and money brings change. The blue collars can’t really afford to buy a piece of free-market property in Crested Butte anymore. As more people come here faster and with more money, the integration process that used to welcome newcomers and explain what made this valley different from other pretty mountain communities is harder to maintain. That’s losing some of old school CB. The new locals spend less time with the mid-timers and more time with people of similar economic means. That just makes some sense given circumstances but creates separation and a knowledge gap. Walter and his family have been coming here for years and I am told they understand and appreciate the uniqueness of the place so there is comfort in that.

And then there is the public sector that can do only so much to guide progress as the free-market influences a new direction. But what it can do costs more money and the expectations rise as the place becomes more and more polished. But the governments are seeing more money as well.
Crested Butte is pretty flush as sales tax and short-term rental payments boomed during the pandemic. The Real Estate Transfer Tax (RETT) that brings in money for capital projects and open space is skyrocketing as it is up close to 70 percent over the previous year. Council just approved spending close to a quarter-million dollars on a new boat launch area in the Slate River annexation. It will be nice and relieve some pressure in the Paradise Park neighborhood so it is money well spent…but it is more money than would have been dreamed of for such a project say a decade ago. Hey, if you got it, spend it, with or without grants.

Mt. Crested Butte has new money coming in for affordable housing through a short-term rental tax. It will be looking at opportunities to spend close to a million dollars a year. That council is also ready to spend bucks on developing a new “brand” for itself that separates itself from CB.
Gunnison County has several big and expensive projects in the pipeline. There’s a new airport, several affordable housing projects, Shady Island and a new library that will all result in millions of dollars being spent in the valley.

The school district is considering a $100 million expansion while the local Forest Service is getting ready to install a pay-to-play template for some areas around Crested Butte. And, and, and…

I have no idea where this influx of cash moves us. The ride is speeding up as more people want to live in nice places like our valley. Given the flurry of commercial real estate activity, the ride isn’t stopping anytime soon.

And by the way, if Mark wants to share his plans and where he sees the place heading through the paper, he can always give me a ring (349-0500 and his realtor has my cell). I’d be happy to help get the word out to the community. He is after all, part of this community.

Ideally, we could have the conversation on the Silver Queen since the forecast is calling for a foot of fresh snow over the next week. Now that would be really old school Crested Butte so I’m not holding my breath…

By the way — at the close of the stock market Tuesday, Mark’s gain was just $93 million but he did gain another $18M Wednesday according to Forbes.

—Mark Reaman

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