Baby boomers' insatiable demand for vacation homes in Steamboat Springs continued to dominate business headlines in the Yampa Valley throughout 2005. Recorded real estate transactions blew away the $500 million mark long before the end of the calendar year.
Steamboat was a $300 million-plus real estate market in 2003, but 32 percent growth in 2004 pushed sales to $442 million.
When Steamboat recorded $97 million in sales in the typically slow first quarter, it became clear more records would fall in 2005.
High and tight
Tight inventory in modestly priced categories helped push the market upward.
As of Nov. 9, the Steamboat market had seen 1,400 transactions totaling $532 million, and seven weeks remained in the calendar year. What makes those figures more remarkable is that Steamboat had added $90 million on the strength of just 170 more sales over the entire previous calendar year.
Townhouses in the range of $300,000 to $500,000 were in high demand. There were more than 100 sales in that category by November and only 14 on the market. After three quarters, the median sale price of a single-family home here was $638,000 compared to $525,000 in 2004.
This year saw the rapid emergence of a new trend just weeks after the city approved an urban renewal authority in late 2004. The authority captures a fraction of future property sales tax growth in the area ringing the base of the ski area. The money will fund public improvements. That was enough to trigger interest in redevelopment of such dated projects as the Ptarmigan Inn.
During the first week in January, Cafritz Interests, a Washington, D.C.-based development company, proposed tearing down the Ptarmigan and building 60 new ski-in/ski-out condominiums in its place.
When other projects ringing the base area followed, the city of Steamboat Springs imposed a moratorium on new development permit applications in the ski base to allow time to update the Mountain Town Sub-area Plan. The intent was to craft guidelines to ensure redevelopment of the base met the needs of the entire community.
The moratorium was lifted by year's end, but the City Council still was planning to undertake a discussion of an "inclusionary zoning" ordinance that would require large developments to provide some mix of employee or affordable housing.
Lots of lots, not
At the heart of escalating real estate prices in 2005 was the scarcity of undeveloped land. Nothing underscored that quite like the fact that in November 41 single-family building lots were for sale in the city limits. Of those, just two were priced below $200,000. The next least expensive lot was priced at $245,000.
Families hoping to realize their own American Dream in the Yampa Valley were forced to look south and west. Land sales at Stagecoach grew 134 percent, and two new residential subdivisions were coming on line in Hayden -- the Villages at Hayden and Dry Creek Village.
Early in the New Year, F.M. Light & Sons, Steamboat's senior retail establishment, announced plans to celebrate its centennial throughout 2005. The party included a Wild West show, the release of Annabeth Light Lockhart's new book plus an historical DVD, and the consumption of a birthday cake nearly a block long.
SmartWool, one of the brightest stars in Steamboat's growing constellation of businesses devoted to marketing products for the outdoor industry, signed a $30 million contract in April.
SmartWool executives were experiencing warm, fuzzy feelings after posting a 25 percent increase in sales in 2004 and signing a contract they said is a first in the wool industry.
The company announced it had signed a deal with a New Zealand merino wool company that approaches $30 million over seven years.
Under the contract, Smart-Wool will purchase about 400 metric tons of merino wool annually. Much of it will be used to make the performance outdoor socks on which SmartWool has built its reputation.
In tall timber
SmartWool made news again late in the year when it was acquired by one of the biggest brands in outdoor wear.
Timberland, with more than $1.5 billion in annual revenues, reached an agreement in November to purchase SmartWool for $82 million. SmartWool had revenue of about $42 million in 2004.
Timberland, originally a manufacturer of waterproof leather field boots with origins going back to 1918 in Boston, has become a publicly traded giant of the outdoor clothing industry. It has offices in Europe and Asia in addition to corporate headquarters in Stratham, N.H., a town of about 7,000 people 50 miles north of Boston. SmartWool President Chip Coe said Timberland executives have assured him they don't plan to move the company out of the Yampa Valley.
KBCR-AM made the switch from oldies music to ESPN Radio on April 4. By June, the radio station changed hands for the second time in eight months.
William Merriam of Radio America Limited, agreed to pay Cool Radio $2.4 million in a combined deal for KBCR-AM and FM in Steamboat along with KSNO-FM in Snowmass Village.
Merriam, based in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C., was a key executive at Turner Broadcasting System in Atlanta in the 1970s and 1980s. He did not own any other radio stations, according to Radio and Records, Inc.
Before April was over, the former president of Vail Resorts closed on the $19 million purchase of 1,216 acres of development land just south of Steamboat Springs city limits.
Andy Daly and Bill Butler are the principals in Steamboat Alpine Development. Daly was president of Vail Resorts from 1982 to 2002. Butler is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based developer who has owned a home here for about eight years.
The property is east of the Priest Creek Ranches luxury home subdivision and north of the Catamount Ranch and Club golf course community.
Daly and his partner would like to develop 44 home sites through Routt County's Land Preservation Subdivision ordinance. About 900 acres would be set aside from development either in a conservation easement or within some form of preservation trust, Daly added.
A river runs through it
Two more luxury LPS subdivisions in the county entered the planning process in 2005.
Steamboat River Ranch would cluster 19 home sites on 115 acres of a 531-acre site. The subdivision would be built on part of the historic More Ranch just below Lake Catamount, south of Steamboat on Colorado Highway 131. The Yampa River runs through the property.
Elk Mountain Ranch, which may be renamed before going on the market, is the largest of the three proposed LPS projects. Jeff Temple, a principal in the Storm Mountain Ranch project, and partners Mark Hall and Jeff Jepson are developing it.
The Elk Mountain LPS would be developed on 1,717 acres west of Steamboat and north of U.S. Highway 40. It would create 55 lots on portions of the Kettel, Sherrod, Selby and Sammons properties.
In from the farm
Main Street Steamboat Springs announced in the spring it would hold a farmers market 16 Saturdays throughout the summer. The market, in the parking lot of the Routt County Courthouse, caught on during the busy Mustang Roundup in June and attracted loyal clients who came to purchase bedding plants, bison meat, candles and other locally produced commodities.
Plans to redevelop the Harbor Hotel at a strategic corner in downtown Steamboat at Lincoln and Seventh Street emerged in May.
A development group with connections to Steamboat and suburban Chicago submitted a preliminary plan that envisioned an 118,951-square-foot building.
It would offer 16 retails units in 41,364 square feet and 26 residential units comprising 34,780 square feet. The balance of the space would be devoted to underground parking, public spaces and a private rooftop garden for residents.
The original plan was being revised as the year wound down.
The development group is called GCP -- Steamboat LLC. The acronym GCP stands for Green Courte Real Estate partners. GCP is a Chicago-area private equity real estate investment company. It reports having completed about $180 million in transactions in 2004.
The group includes Jim Cook and Troy Brookshire, associates at Colorado Group Realty. Terry Drahota, principal in Fort Collins-based Drahota Construction also is a member of the company.
Cook was involved in an unrelated downtown redevelopment plan that was scheduled for hearings in January 2006. River Walk would build a mix of commercial and residential units along the Yampa River, replacing Westland Mobile Home Park.
Ski area investment
The Steamboat Ski Area in--vested about $250,000 in 2005 in the update of its master plan. Looking ahead five years, the plan anticipates building a new six-pack chairlift to replace a handful of outdated chairlifts at the base of the ski area. The project would open up room for expanded and regarded ski school areas. The plan includes many more capital projects, including a new chairlift to Sunshine Peak and two small on-mountain restaurants on the scale of the Four Points Hut.
Steamboat Pilot & Today Pub-lisher Suzanne Schlicht presented Navigator Awards to business leaders at the end of October. She handed the award for businessperson of the year to John Kerst, president of First National Bank of Steamboat Springs, in recognition of his unsurpassed community involvement. Del and Ty Lockhart of F.M. Light & Sons accepted the award for business of the year.
The awards were given during the Chamber's annual business meeting. Kathy Stokes assumed the mantle of Chamber Board president from David Baldinger Jr.