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Real Estate Roundup : Buena Vista’s south main taking shape

New-urbanist community enlivens historic downtown


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For a sleepy, little mountain town unaffiliated with a ski resort, Buena Vista has a lot going on.

A boutique hotel overlooking the Arkansas River opened at Jed Selby’s South Main development last summer, and plans are in the works for a climbing gym, market, more restaurants, shops and condominiums at the new-urbanist community located in the shadow of the Collegiate Peaks.

“Our plan is basically to try to do one project a year, in addition to the five to 10 houses we build,” Selby said. “Slow and steady is our mantra.”

In the decade since Selby started South Main, he’s completed about 50 homes, the 20-room Surf Chateau hotel, the Eddyline Restaurant @ South Main and several shops. At full build out – expected in about 15 years – South Main will have roughly 400 residences and as many as 75,000 square feet of commercial space.

When Selby started South Main, it wasn’t easy to convince people that the neighborhood would be a desirable place to buy a home.

“With any project like this, you go through an ugly duckling phase,” said Andre Spino-Smith, financial manager for South Main Development. “If you’re building row houses and there’s nothing else around them, it’s hard for people to see what it will be. We’re finally overcoming that phase a little bit.”

And as the development emerges, South Main will offer a wider variety of price ranges. Now homes range from $300,000 to $2 million, but the company is working on a plan to offer options in the $200,000 range. Unlike many master-planned communities, each home in the development is unique, with local artists and contractors doing most of the work.

“We think having a wide home-value range is important to allow for diversity,” Spino-Smith said. “If you have houses that are all worth $400,000 and up, you’re limiting your buyers to a certain income level. We see that as a negative. It’s important to create a neighborhood that has older retirees and younger people and everywhere in between. If you don’t have that mix, we don’t think it’s a really authentic community.”

Mountain vision

Selby’s next endeavor is just outside of town at base of Mount Princeton, where he purchased a 274-acre organic farm. His vision is to build a farm-to-table market, restaurants and a venue for weddings and retreats. He’s also in discussions with a concert promoter about hosting music festivals at the site.

“The land really wants to be something special,” he said. “It has nearly a mile of creek frontage on Cottonwood Creek. It has a lot of water, green pastures, huge trees and views of the mountains.”

People have been drawn to the Arkansas River Valley since the 1860s when gold was discovered in Denver. The earliest settlers were mainly interested in mining, but for some, the attraction was the availability of water and good soil for farming and ranching.

Today, the river still holds plenty of allure, but now people are attracted to the valley for different reasons. For one, it’s a recreational paradise, with abundant trout fishing and miles of water ideally suited for rafting and kayaking.

“We get one to two calls a month from people who have come on vacation and decided they want to live here,” said Wendell Pryor, director of the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp., which has been working with Buena Vista to increase commercial activity in the town’s core. “We are definitely the county to watch, particularly on the north end.”

Those calls have been from an optometrist, an aerospace engineer and an oil and gas industry professional who wants to relocate from Oklahoma. A professor from Central Florida University who has a vacation home in Buena Vista is interested in relocating his research diagnostics company, TopoGEN, to the valley, Pryor said.

“That will hopefully spawn the biotech industry here,” he said.

Economic effects

Buena Vista’s growing population and expanding economy have resulted in a dramatic increase in sales tax revenue. From 2000 to 2005, overall sales were up 30 percent and grew at an annual rate of 6 percent – nearly twice that of neighboring Salida’s 3.3 percent growth rate and well above the Chaffee County growth rate of 2.4 percent, according to the town’s comprehensive plan.

But Buena Vista could do better at capturing more local spending. Nearly 38 percent of residents surveyed said they spent 25 percent to 50 percent more of their shopping dollars outside of Buena Vista.

“We need to figure out what to do to fill some of the empty buildings and get more economic vitality downtown,” said Mayor Joel Benson. “We’re working with the County Council for the Arts to try to develop the corner of Highway 24 and Main Street to create a gateway plaza.”

The city’s efforts appear to be paying off. The Trailhead, an outdoor retailer located on Highway 24 since 1972, is relocating to East Main Street, Buena Vista’s historic downtown that is the main entry to the South Main Development. Businesses have started filling empty buildings with artwork to make the streetscape more inviting, and the town is now working on developing a pocket park on an empty lot on East Main.

“We are seeing a lot more development downtown,” said Benson, who also owns the Roastery, a popular East Main gathering spot. “Businesses and landowners have been doing some facade improvements. We haven’t seen that kind of activity in a long time.”

But that activity also represents growing pains to many who call Buena Vista home. Community surveys have found that residents are split nearly three ways on the current pace of growth, with 42 percent comfortable with the current rate, 34 percent believing it’s happening too fast, and 24 percent thinking it’s too slow.

While Selby acknowledges that some people in town are resistant to change, he says that despite all the development Buena Vista is maintaining its small-town charm.

“I don’t think it’s going in the direction of the big resort towns,” Selby said. “It appears to be staying an authentic Colorado experience.”

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Margaret Jackson

Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for The Denver Post covering residential and commercial real estate. She can be reached at myjackson7@gmail.com.

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