Construction slips in first quarter


— Since the winter, Jeremy MacGray has been getting two to five phone calls a week from out of work construction laborers looking for jobs.

The owner of JSM Builders, MacGray said construction looks promising this summer for his business. But he has seen other builders leave Steamboat because they were unable to land projects in the area.

"It definitely feels like this last year weeded out those who won't be able to make it," MacGray said. "We definitely lost quite a few builders because they can't afford to live here."

MacGray's observations are not much of a surprise to Mark Marchus, the chief building officer at the Routt County Building Department. Marchus said construction companies and workers have been filtering out since the building boom of the late 1990s ended.

"What I have is a gut feeling that people here, those who have come here, are leaving," Marchus said. "There is going to be a few who still want to hang on that really like to live here. But over a period of time, we will see it turn around to a normal competitive level of construction."

Marchus believes the construction market is still in the declining phase as it moves toward the normal levels before the dramatic peak started four years ago. "It continues to return to a more normal building cycle compared to 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2001," he said. "What we are looking for is about the same degree of activity that we were having last year."

Although Marchus believes single-family and other residential construction should be in line with last year, a building department report showed construction valuation down 19 percent in the first quarter of the year.

The first three months of 2003 brought in $10,487,230 compared with $12,990,005 in 2002,which was also a significant drop from the year before.

Marchus sees the numbers not so much as a drop from last year, but as a return to the days before the 1998 to 2001 building boom.

Marchus predicts the building of single-family homes to continue outside the city limits and a boost to come with the addition of 88 new homes in West End Village, half of which are deed restricted affordable housing units.

Marchus predicts that by the end of this year, the county will see about 200 single-family homes. He said 204 were built last year.

This year, the county has issued building permits for 20 single-family homes. Four multi-family and two duplex units have been built in 2003.

MacGray said he has been able to keep a crew on all winter and has built three homes in a season that usually only brings him one or two homes. He also said that the number of proposals for his company to bid on this summer is up by 40 percent.

"The volume this summer increased. The size of the projects is much larger. There are not so many custom homes, more multi-family homes," he said.

A few larger projects are expected to come through this spring and summer. Marchus said plans are in the works for the 23-unit and six-story Chadwick project at the base of the ski area and a revamping of the Sundance Plaza.

Dave Fowler is hoping success in Iraq will mean better news for his home improvement business this summer. The owner of Double Diamond Construction, Fowler said that last year people were hesitant to do home improvement projects partly because of the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001.

This winter, Fowler said business was not overly busy, but the summer should pick up as affairs overseas quiet down. "Now there is at least some kind of gauge of what is going on," he said.


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