Posted: February 01, 2011
Who owns Colorado: Prices fall with the snow at Winter Park and Fraser Valley
The mountain towns are bouncing back from the bottom but still sport bargains for resort propertiesBy David Lewis
Something about the lofty Fraser Valley brings out the best in municipal ballyhoo. The town of Fraser long and justly has been known as the Icebox of the Nation, no matter what some town in Minnesota claims.
As this is written it is 25 degrees Fahrenheit in Fraser, not so very cold, with temperatures stuck right around freezing. But heavy snows are coming on top of the 147 inches that have already fallen. That's 3.7 meters of snow, 12 feet, which brings us to a couple of Fraser's neighbors, Winter Park Resort and the town of Winter Park.
Winter Park, population 662, at an altitude of 9,040 feet, in 2006 annexed the resort, whose mountain reaches 12,060 feet. This allowed Winter Park to lay claim to the title of Highest Incorporated Town in the United States. This title is disputed by Alma, Colo., which notes that nobody in Winter Park actually lives up that high. The Fraser Valley always has been a little different. Even for Colorado its location at the end of Berthoud Pass is amazing, yet the area continues to have an air of being undiscovered and underdeveloped.
The resort has a unique history that has had an ongoing impact. Skiing there began in the 1920s. In the late 1930s it was named Winter Park, and the first tow-bar was installed. The city and county of Denver owned and operated the resort until 2002 when it signed a long-term management agreement with Vancouver, B.C.-based Intrawest. That company, which also manages Steamboat Ski & Resort, currently pays Denver $2 million annually to run Winter Park Resort.
The resort's 2006 annexation not only gave Winter Park its claim to the town-altitude crown, it gave Denver, Winter Park and Intrawest the means to open a new chapter in planning and development. Which they have opened. In town, development and the secondary real estate market now take place against the backdrop of the Great Recession. Not that the resort has escaped the slump, but it seems to have rehabbed the mountain and its base while for the most part avoiding overbuilding, i.e., underselling.
Winter Park Resort completed the Village at Winter Park 18 months ago, which might seem like ill timing. Prices have fallen at the resort.
"Back in the day, in 2006 and 2007, we were selling a two-bedroom on average for about $550,000, and now that is down to about $400,000," says Gretchen Brunke, sales manager for Playground Destination Properties Inc., the resort's real estate arm. On the brighter side, Brunke and the resort's president and chief operating officer, Gary DeFrange, say they believe the market bottomed about a year ago. That left them with some inventory.
The Village consists of 20,000 square feet of lofts selling from $599,900 to $800,000, Brunke says. One one-bedroom remains, about 750 square feet for sale for $350,000. In 2008, the resort opened Fraser Crossing and Founders Pointe, two buildings connected underneath by a garage and containing 200 condominiums, studios, one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, all individually owned, 60 percent to 70 percent "in some kind of rental program," DeFrange says. All but two have sold.
The remaining couple of units are for sale for $390,000 each. Studios for resale today go for about $150,000, and most two-bedrooms are selling for an average of about $400,000. Which brings up another point about the Fraser Valley: Prices are low, for a resort and sometimes for almost anyplace. Lance Gutersohn, broker-owner of RE/MAX Peak to Peak, agrees with the resort officials' appraisal of prices, and the statistics' portrait of a real estate market that has been flat for a year or more.
But then the resort doesn't have to fight the undertow of foreclosures. Still, "we're hitting bottom as we speak," Gutersohn says, "depending on where you are in the valley and the product that you've got."
There are bargains to be had. Gutersohn cites a five-bedroom home on two acres, 95 percent complete and never lived in. A year ago the home listed at $1.65 million. The price dropped to $1.35 million then to $1.199 million. Then the bank foreclosed, and now will take less than $1 million.
How about a condo on the Fraser River and the Fraser River Trail: two bedrooms, 910 square feet, built in 1984, dated interior, on the market two years, which started at $195,000 and now is priced at $159,000?
"We're getting showings," Gutersohn says. "I'm hoping for an offer this week."
Clark Lipscomb, president of real estate for developer Cornerstone Holdings, is another optimist. Cornerstone plans to develop more than 1,300 acres in Fraser north of Winter Park into the Village at Grand Park: 2,543 residential units, 1,278 lodging units, and 395,800 square feet of commercial space. So Lipscomb takes the long-term view. Anyhow, Lipscomb is excited about what the Village at Grand Park has built in its first year, across from the Grand Park Community Recreation Center, the 8,000-square-foot Grand Park General Store building, so far. And he's excited about the prospects for a retail-first development strategy.
"That is my pure focus for pretty much the next year," he says The next phase of the Village at Grand Park will include residential-over-retail, another echo of the Winter Park Resort development, "thereby creating a mini-LoDo," Lipscomb says. "Or at least that's the idea."
David Lewis is a freelance writer based in Denver.