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Posted: November 19, 2009

Who Owns Colorado: Rocked by the wind

A tornado and a recession have kept Windsor's once high-flying growth in check

David Lewis

Windsor, Colo., has been torn by two terrible storms in the past couple of years, one real, one a metaphor.

The metaphorical one might have hurt worse, economically at least.

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The real storm was the mile-wide tornado that ripped the town May 22, 2008, when wind speeds ranged from 130 mph to 150 mph along a track stretching 34 miles. The tornado destroyed about 100 homes, damaging another 100 or so and killing Oscar Manchester, 52.

The category 4 storm clipped one corner of Water Valley, a 1,500-acre, mainly residential development on Windsor's southern edge. Marketing vice president Jim Jensen was there with a camera.

"It was baseball-sized hail. The tornado cloud was so massive it did not look like a tornado at all," Jensen says "I was taking pictures of this thing coming. When you have thousands of baseball-size hail balls hitting your roof per minute, you can't hear anything, so we couldn't hear the force of the storm. Once the storm had come and gone we heard the sirens go, and we took off and drove down the street, and saw some buildings that were just torn apart."

Water Valley lucked out, Jensen says. "It hit the corner of us and did some damage to some roofs, to some commercial buildings, and broke some windows. If you drove through Water Valley today there would be no visible sign of it."

With one exception, which no one ColoradoBiz spoke with would name, the insurance industry came through for the town, too.

The metaphorical storm, the great recession in which we find ourselves for the third year, was even bigger and almost as damaging.

Oddly, both devastating events might prove economically beneficial to Windsor in the long run: The tornado produced economic benefits with the flood of aid and construction workers that followed; the recession, by slowing the town's formerly phenomenal growth, gives it a breathing period before the next surge of development.

Windsor's master plan calls for growth dictated by the market and limitations in geography and its water and sewer infrastructure.

"I first started here in 1996 and for the first six, seven, eight years, we were growing at over 10 percent per year," says Director of Planning Joseph Plummer. "It stayed around the 7 percent to 9 percent range for the first part of this decade, and the last couple of years it has tapered off to probably 1.5 percent to 2 percent."

In 1996, Plummer says, Windsor's population was about 6,200; now it is almost 20,000.

Even a global recession has failed to push Windsor into negative growth, however. The town recorded 2,937 building permits as of the end of January 2008, and 3,042 permits as of Jan. 31, 2009.

Town sales tax receipts slumped 10.5 percent from July 2008 to July 2009 (a fairer comparison than the latest figures from August because it includes quarterly filers). According to Windsor finance director Dean Moyer, this was not so much because 2009 was a down year as it was because of the effect of a flood of construction workers and others in the wake of the storm.

When the workers finished and left town, sales tax collections subsided. Sales tax payments, by the way, increased 16.8 percent between 2007 and 2009.

On the other hand, the opening of a new out-of-town Wal-Mart and the well-publicized closure of the Iron Mountain auto dealership have not helped.

What has helped is the town's reputation as a high-technology center, anchored in the continuing expansion of the Great Western Industrial Park, the largest industrial park in Northern Colorado. Great Western boasts companies including Owens-Illinois, the Packaging Corp. of America, Front Range Energy, Vestas Blades and, most recently, Hexcel Corp., which will make pre-impregnated materials for Vestas.

Talks continue with other prospects, says Rich Montgomery, vice president of industrial development. Montgomery reflects Windsor's can-do attitude.

"The amount of companies that we work with and talk to every day that are attracted to the industrial park - you've got to keep that list long and keep that pipeline full in any situation and any economy," Montgomery says. "We've just got to work a little harder to keep that pipeline full."

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MURANO AT HIGHLAND MEADOWS GOLF COURSE
LOCATION: 6408 MURANO DRIVE
DEVELOPER: HILLSIDE COMMERCIAL GROUP
PHONE: (970) 204-9393; SEE WWW.MURANOATHIGHLANDMEADOWS.COM
SIZE: 46 HOME SITES
PROJECT TYPE: MIXED USE
COMMERCIAL SQUARE FOOTAGE: TO BE DEVELOPED
GROUNDBREAKING: HIGHLAND MEADOWS GOLF COMMUNITY, 2005; MURANO, 2008
BUILD-OUT: PROBABLY SIX TO 10 YEARS
Murano at Highland Meadows Golf Course is the luxury development of the Highland Meadows Golf Community, comprising 8,000- to 9,500-square-foot sites. Homes range from 3,300- to 3,900-square-feet of finished space, not including partially finished basements. Prices start in the mid-$500,000s. Finish includes stucco; full landscaping; three-car garages; granite, ceramic, tile and stone accents; stone fireplaces; eight-foot-high alder doors. Twenty-one of the development's 46 homes feature walkout basements, while the other 25 face the Rockies.

WATER VALLEY
LOCATION: NEW LIBERTY ROAD AND 7TH STREET
DEVELOPER: MARTIN LIND
PHONE: (970) 686-5828
SIZE: 1,500 ACRES
PROJECT TYPE: MIXED
COMMERCIAL SQUARE FOOTAGE: ABOUT 30 ACRES
GROUNDBREAKING: 1996
BUILD-OUT: N/A
Water Valley began as a sand and gravel facility. Then, the leftover depressions were lined with clay and turned into ponds and lakes (one of 88 acres) open for fishing, swimming, sailing, canoeing and other kinds of boating. Now the development offers a 27-hole golf course and 700 acres of open space. Water Valley includes retail and commercial space such as a golf pro shop and clubhouse, and three office buildings that also contain retail such as beauty salons, real estate companies and accountants; another retail center includes a bank, convenience store and day-care center. Developer Martin Lind, a fourth generation Windsor native, seeks socioeconomic reach, so Water Valley includes a range of residences from condos from the mid-$100,000s to "Marina Doce" waterfront lots that start at $700,000 per lot, with homes priced over $2.5 million to $3 million.

GREAT WESTERN INDUSTRIAL PARK
LOCATION: GREAT WESTERN DRIVE AND EASTMAN PARK DRIVE
DEVELOPER: THE BROE GROUP AFFILIATE GREAT WESTERN DEVELOPMENT CO.
PHONE: (303) 398-0500
SIZE: 2,000 ACRES
PROJECT TYPE: MIXED-USE
COMMERCIAL SQUARE FOOTAGE: N/A
GROUNDBREAKING: 2003
BUILD-OUT: APPROXIMATELY 2030
Now, Great Western Industrial Park is a center of heavy industry hosting businesses such as Owens-Illinois, which makes about 3 million beer bottles daily, and Front Range Energy, which produces about 65 million gallons of ethanol per year. Eventually, the development is slated to include heavy industry, light industry, general commercial, office and retail space, and residential units.

GREENSPIRE AT WINDSOR LAKE
LOCATION: 291 SARATOGA DRIVE
DEVELOPER: LOT HOLDING CO., A DIVISION OF HALL-IRWIN CORP.
PHONE: (970) 566-0995
SIZE: TBA
PROJECT TYPE: RESIDENTIAL/COMMERCIAL
COMMERCIAL SQUARE FOOTAGE: TBA
GROUNDBREAKING: 2008
BUILD-OUT: N/A
Greenspire offers a range of home models with prices from the $250,000s to the $600,000s and up, and a layout that enables homeowners to build with maximal solar orientation in mind. Home models include the Cypress, 1,664 square feet finished, three-bedroom, two-bath; the Oak, 2,006 square feet finished, four-bedroom, 2.5 bath; the Spruce, 1,608 square feet finished, three-bedroom, two-bath; the Sequoia, 2,490 square feet, four-bedroom, 2.5 bath; and others. "Green" features include solar photovoltaic panels and heat pumps.

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David Lewis is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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