Steamboat Springs When general contractor Jeff Koepfer was siding a home this winter, construction workers stopped by daily looking for work. Last spring, his answering machine was overflowing with workers looking for projects.
"There are a lot more people available to do work than there used to be," said Koepfer, the owner of Yampa Valley Builders. "Especially in the beginning of the winter, I just couldn't believe how many stopped by every day looking for work, willing to do whatever."
Koepfer's experience is anecdotal evidence behind the hard facts supplied by the Routt County Regional Building Department, which show that construction valuations dropped by $36 million last year for Steamboat Springs and the rest of Routt County.
Mark Marchus, chief building officer for the building department, produced 2001 figures that showed Steamboat Springs had $59 million worth of construction last year, compared to $81 million in 2000. Routt County saw a $14 million drop with $60 million worth of construction in 2001 compared to $74 million in 2000.
Marchus predicts the construction market will continue to tighten before evening out at pre-1998 levels. Unfortunately, an oversupply of workers remain from the commercial building boom that year.
In 1998, the building of the Steamboat Grand, an addition to the Sheraton and the Yampa Valley Medical Center sent construction values rocketing to a city and county total of $203 million. It also drew in construction companies that are now having a hard time finding work as building returns to normal.
In 1997, total construction valuation was $69 million, with the city accounting for $39 million and the county for $30 million.
"(1998) put us into explosive growth for a fast, very short period of time. Several hundred outfitters moved into the area to handle the jobs," Marchus said. "As a result, a lot of these people, who came to do that work during that period of time, would like to stay here. But a great deal of contractors don't have enough work to give them all jobs."
After 1998, other big projects like Canyon Creek at Eagle Ridge and Catamount, kept the construction market strong, before the market started to slide halfway through last year.
Marchus said that September 11 did not have much of an effect on the already falling market because most contractors had stopped for the winter.
Seth Wilson, who owns Wilson Construction Inc., said he definitely experienced a downturn.
"Before (developers) would take anybody for a job, take the first person they could get," Wilson said. "Now I think you're actually finding that (contractors) go out and work for half the amount. They're trying to underbid the job."
Wilson is optimistic that as more plans begin to be processed in the county building department things might pick up in June or July.
Marchus expects more single-family housing will be built and fewer multi-family complexes.
"My prediction would be a pretty stable housing market," Marchus said. "We should be in the neighborhood of 120 to 125 homes per year as long as interest and building materials stay low. That makes the market continue to grow."
For the city, 48 single-family building permits were granted in 2001, which was a dramatic drop from 88 the year before and 89 in 1999.
Although 2000 saw fewer permits given for duplex and multi-family homes, more units were actually built. In 2001, 34 duplex units were built compared to 54 in 2000 and 77 multi-family units were built in 2001 compared to 164 in 2000.
One trend the county is beginning to see, Marchus said, is more affordable housing being built around the city's perimeters and in the bedroom communities of Hayden and Oak Creek as land decreases in the city.
"I think there will be more homes in the outlying community areas, especially in Hayden and to some degree Oak Creek," Marchus said. "There are not any available lots in Steamboat. The availability of single family lots is out in the county and not in the city."