Holiday weekend celebrations, and Mark Walter’s downtown movement

It used to be that the normal start to a Crested Butte summer would believe it or not, be the Fourth of July. Summer ended shortly after the Arts Fair. In the late 1990s and into the 2000s Memorial Day and the opening of Kebler Pass sort of took over that summer start marker. The last couple years, people might know it’s summer when they first see or smell smoke from wildfires taking place somewhere else. So, it seems summer started this week as the valley drew its first wildfire smoke from Canada to bring the new normal of summer haze. All reports say it was worse on the Front Range. 

We’ll see if say 401 or West Maroon Pass are open by July or if Kebler Pass actually gets open in early June because it sure doesn’t appear likely Kebler will be ready to roll this weekend. But it’s getting closer and at least Cottonwood is opening Thursday. Part of the issue is that Kebler is an increasingly needed transportation artery in and out of the North Valley, especially as the Little Blue Canyon “improvements” on Highway 50 make that drive to the west a cluster. Speaking of clusters…how ‘bout that sinkhole near Somerset? The hope is to have that repaired at least temporarily in June. My guess is more than one vehicle will stop at the sinkhole or the Cottonwood snow walls for a snapshot.

No matter how hard it is to get here, and it’s never easy, Memorial Day Weekend brings two great community gatherings. There’s the traditional Memorial Day parade and polka celebration where old-timers return to a valley that has changed just a bit from the time they grew up here. But locals who served will gather Monday morning at Second and Elk and march out to the CB Cemetery about 9:15 a.m. There will be a mass, a gun salute and a lunch gathering. Then in typical CB style, Pete Dunda will perform polka for the people. It is old-school CB and a reminder of the old days and historical Crested Butte. Everyone is invited to experience something that doesn’t happen often anymore.

The other community gathering is held Saturday. That is when the next class of the Crested Butte Community High School will don the robes and formally graduate. Take a look at the special section included in the paper this week. You will be impressed by the graduates that will be spreading out to universities and the world in general. It is another impressive group. Kudos to not only them but the teachers, parents and community family in general that consistently produce interesting and unique individuals. That too is a gathering where the community is invited to attend and join the celebration.

Throw in the growing Mountain Words Festival at the Center for the Arts this weekend and there will no doubt be an uptick in people wandering around.

Now where the people that come in for these celebrations might eat in downtown CB could be an even bigger challenge than finding their way here through sinkholes and snowy mountain passes. There’s a lot of vacant spaces in the heart of downtown CB right now. There are unresolved kitchen hood issues, renovation issues, foundation issues, lack of urgency issues, all contributing to the Elk Avenue tumbleweeds.

For a couple years now, my running commentary about major Crested Butte property owner Mark Walter not accepting my public invitations to sit down and share what he ultimately has planned for his numerous high-profile properties has turned into sort of a joke (but not really). Given the zero response from the billionaire and owner of the LA Dodgers, I thought I’d go check out the public record to determine what’s in the works. Based on public filings with the town, at first glance there seems a lot starting to churn with the Walter properties and much of it will eventually be pretty good.

My favorite is a little noticed gas fire pit going in at the dead center of the Crested Butte business district in this town recently touted as taking major steps to move away from fossil fuels and go all electric, but I’ll touch on that in a second. 

The Trailhead Children’s Museum has struck a deal with the Mark Walter group to occupy the old Angelo’s restaurant space where the GS&L used to be at Fifth and Elk. It’s my understanding the Trailhead is getting a non-profit rate for the monthly rent and it will be a nice, high-profile location that will provide some stability to the museum that has wandered in recent months. Ideally, the Trailhead will be open in early June. 

The old Forest Queen building that looks like it might collapse if someone walking by sneezed, is going through the town review process to get approval to be raised up and moved a bit to the north and east. The idea is apparently to dig a basement under a portion of the building and put in a new kitchen while constructing an actual foundation for the historic building. The giant structure will be moved one foot-eight inches to the north and one-foot-seven inches to the east “as measured by the eaves.” This will get it off the Kochevar property next door. From there it will be renovated and Lord knows some of the old buildings in CB need big money to get rehabbed before they dry up and blow away. 

The development group has indicated that the old Princess Wine Bar is getting ready to go through the town review process early this summer, but no specific plans have yet been submitted.

Then there’s the old Brick, which likely has the best chance to open sometime before next winter. 

As someone recently commented, having the Brick sit empty for another season is like seeing someone smile with a missing front tooth. Ouch. The plans for that Brick space include a building addition of about 500 square feet along the current Post Office parking lot fence. It will be used in both and summer and winter and has a sort of downtown urban vibe. My impression is the new restaurant will go for the German beer garden feel. Beer and brats…yum. Maybe it’ll include leftover Dodger Dogs since they aren’t selling them at the stadium anymore and they can’t really go bad, can they?

And that’s where my favorite element comes in. There will be an outdoor fire pit surrounded by cool outdoor furniture. Speaking from experience there is not a much better way to spend an hour during a late summer or fall evening than outside around a warm fire while drinking German beer. I found it a tad ironic that the town that is bragging about pushing electrification will have a gas fireplace in the most high-profile downtown space. When I asked, a fire pit is allowed under current town code. There is an existing gas line onsite, and everyone is entitled to do that, not just a billionaire.

Mr. Walter will be spending some money on all these projects. Rumor has it the Forest Queen is already expected to come in at the $5 million ballpark. The parking-in-lieu fees for the Forest Queen will be $65,000 for five spaces and the same $65K parking-in-lieu fee will come with the addition to the old Brick. But $65 K to him might be like me finding a quarter in the front seat lint.

So, there you have it. While not setting any speed records for downtown construction, there is movement with some (not all) of the Mark Walter properties that are so critical to the Crested Butte downtown experience. Again, I’ll throw out there that if Mark or any official designee of his group wants to sit down and chat with me about what the ultimate vision is so the paper can share it with the community, feel free to contact me at 349-0500 (extension 109). I’m pretty flexible and would love to help share what he sees for town’s future since his acquisition of so much property will at least in part guide that future.

Those here for the celebrations this weekend (and beyond) will certainly notice the tumbleweeds on Elk so hopefully, the missing tooth in CB’s downtown smile can get filled sooner rather than later. 

We’ll see…

—Mark Reaman

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