Prosperity returning to ski country

FRISCO – The chatter out of ski towns over Christmas week sounded familiar. They were busy, and people were spending money.

“I’ve doubled my best (sales) in all of the years we’ve been in business,” shop owner Heather Ireland told theSummit Daily News. She said she has been in Frisco since 1986.

In Vail, with several billion dollars of hotel and condominium construction finally completed, the town fairly sparkled with the hum of prosperity. Meanwhile, the real estate market has been picking up. Local agents report that six properties priced at more than $4 million each sold in Eagle County during November. In one of Vail’s new condominium projects, there have been 16 sales averaging $7.4 million each, theVail Daily reported.

And in Utah,The Park Record reports a resurgence of eateries. “Eating out was considered discretionary spending the last two winters, but affordable restaurant meals are all the rage this season,” the newspaper noted. “Several new restaurants already opened in time for ski season, and several more are planning to open during the first months of 2011,” the paper reported.

Meanwhile, glitz is back at the Sundance Film Festival as it prepares to return to Park City.

“Last year they would have a glass of wine; this year a bottle,” said Steve McComb, owner of three dining outlets in Park City, observing holiday visitors.

Sundance will begin Jan. 20, and it could be the rollicking affair reminiscent of old, given the evidence that corporations will restore allowances for high-profile presences to showcase products and services.

One agent of such parities estimated the number of festival lounges or other venues will increase 15 percent from last year, approaching the level reached in 2008, shortly before the recession free-fall.

“Companies who hadn’t had places recently are spending money again. They’re back to spending money,” said Christopher Ryan, the Los Angeles-based agent.

Among the corporate brands with a prominent presence will be Bing, the search engine from Microsoft. Microsoft has rented a restaurant for use by celebrities and partying.

Another rental agent in Park City toldThe Record that rental fees paid during the two-week festival sometimes cover upward of four months of rent for the businesses.

In Aspen and Pitkin County, the real estate market is continuing to grow. Through November, the real estate market is up 15 percent as compared to 2009. This is as measured by total dollar sales, $1.14 billion, according to a Land Title Guarantee Co. report summarized byThe Aspen Times.

Meanwhile, the town finance department reports sales tax receipts were up 5 percent during November, another indication of a livelier economy.

In what has been a sharper indicator yet,The Times reports surging interest in leasing of retail locations. “I think everything is moving in a very positive direction,” said Karen Setterfield, who has been leasing local retail and office space for 25 years. “There’s a lot of energy in retail in downtown Aspen right now.”

But in none of these cases are costs and revenues remotely close to the benchmarks of the last decade. In the case of commercial space, rates ranged between $90 - $240 per square foot. Now, the rents range from $45 - $125 a square foot, said Ruth Kruger, a real estate broker.

Gunnison County fights to cut carbon

CRESTED BUTTE – Like so many towns and cities, Crested Butte and adjoining towns in 2006 set out to shrink the carbon intensity of their lifestyles and economy. The goals were lofty, the successes so far slim.

The goal of the plan – which includes the municipalities of Crested Butte, Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte, plus broader Gunnison County – is to reduce carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020, as compared to the 2005 baseline.

Western State College business professor Roger Hudson ana

lyzed the work and concluded that it was highly unlikely the goal can be met locally – or anywhere, for that matter, without accounting gimmickry.

The Crested Butte News reports some thin hope. One idea examined for several years would involve installation of a hydroelectric generating plant at an existing reservoir on the flanks of the Sawatch Ridge. There is talk of solar farming, as well.

But individuals from local governments and nonprofit agencies consulted by the newspaper seemed to agree that decarbonizing the economy quickly will take lots of front-end money plus clear federal legislation. And neither seems to be on the horizon.

Grand Lake Lodge sold for $4 million

GRAND LAKE – After being on the market for several years, the rustic, venerable Grand Lake Lodge has been sold to a subsidiary of the Regency Hotel Management. The price was reported to be $4 million.

The lodge has 56 cabins, a majestic restaurant and the atmosphere of knotty pine that characterized tourism when the lodge was originally constructed in 1920. It sits within Rocky Mountain National Park but overlooking Grand Lake, both the town and the lake.

The new owners, who also manage 50 other properties under the brand names of Starwood, Regency and Best Western, say they hope to figure out ways to stretch the season, currently limited to 100 - 120 days, maximum. That has been Grand Lake’s quest for about as long as the town has existed. Maybe global warming will help.

Snowbanks divide Crested Butte

CRESTED BUTTE – Blessed and cursed – that’s snow in Crested Butte, and there is a bunch lying around this winter, most controversially on Elk Avenue.

Elk Avenue is the primary commercial district in the former mining town, and the snow piled up so fast that town crews did not get a chance to remove it during Christmas week. That limited the space available for parking, to the great distress of some merchants, reports theCrested Butte News. Making it worse was that without fresh snow, the pile of snow had turned dirty and gray, not exactly the stuff of postcards.

Snow banks on Elk Avenue have been an ongoing debate since he’s been there, said Jim Schmidt, a resident since the early 1970s and a Town Council member. “Some love it, and some hate it,” he said.

Breck brings affordable housing on line

BRECKENRIDGE – The first 13 units of a 42-unit affordable housing complex have been completed in Breckenridge. The condominiums, one to three bedrooms, were made available to buyers earning less than 75 percent of the median income, which in Summit County is $87,200 for a family of four.

TheSummit Daily News explains that Breckenridge, the municipality, donated the land, staff and some funding. The three together entail an investment of $1.5 million. The complex is called Valley Brook, and all but one of the 13 units were spoken for.

Yellowstone reports record visitation

JACKSON, Wyo. – It was another record year for visitors at Yellowstone National Park, a jump of 7.3 percent as measured by admissions at the park’s south entrance 90 miles from Jackson.

Yellowstone has had surging numbers for the last four years. Even 2008, a year in which gas prices ranged between $4 and $5 per gallon, was among the top 10 in terms of visitors. National Park Service officials tell theJackson Hole News&Guide that the series by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns about national parks, nurtured interest, as did promotional efforts by Wyoming and Montana, but the “dollar value” also came into play.

– Allen Best


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