Empty store fronts - Harrison signs misleading?

by Ann E. Wibbenmeyer

Herald Staff Writer

March 17, 2005

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Leadville may have a lot of empty store fronts on Harrison Avenue, but things are not as bad as they appear to be.

Potential new businesses are starting to fill those empty stores, and realty offices are experiencing heavier winter business than usual.

It is an attractive town for outdoor recreation people, said George Kregas, owner of the Resurrection Mining Company building.

Anne Sebestyen of Centennial Realty agreed that people like the recreational opportunities and the beauty of the high country.

“What attracts people to Leadville is living outside the box,” she said. Many people also mention to her the sense of community in Leadville that is not found in places like Vail.

Prices in Leadville are much lower than those in Summit County and Vail, said Willem O’Reilly of Alpine Realty.

“Prices on the Interstate 70 corridor have gotten out of sight,” he said. Some will get a bargain here while prices are low.

“Most are looking to relocate to Leadville for a better quality of life,” said Amy Tait of Re/Max.

However, Edward Summerhill, owner of the former Book Mine building, said someone from the Denver area is not going to come to Leadville to simplify his life.

Joe Fattor, owner of the building next to the Scarlet Inn, feels buyers interested in commercial property are not looking at all in Leadville.

“This is a wonderful town. I can’t understand the economy and why we can’t utilize resources better,” he said.

City needs ‘pizazz’

Eileen Miller, who owns the building on the corner of Fourth Street and Harrison Avenue and lives in Hollywood, Fla., feels Leadville lacks things to attract people.

“Leadville needs a nice little bit of pizazz,” she said.

Miller believes Leadville missed out when it voted down gambling.

“People need more than beauty to come (here),” she said.

Tait also thinks Leadville needs to develop tourism better. She thinks there will be plenty of people interested in the next five years.

Sebestyen said that when property turns over in Leadville, it’s often because those who thought they were moving here for the recreational opportunities and beauty of the high country find that they miss the conveniences of the city and find this place too remote. They need their retail therapy.

Leadville’s small population is not conducive to new businesses, according to Summerhill. A new business would need a good product.

Summerhill is looking for a business started by a local, someone who already has a connection here.

One inquiry for his building was from a custom furniture builder who already had a business in the area, but was looking for a display area.

The building would give the business main street exposure.

Kregas has had a lot of inquiries for serving food or alcohol, which is not what he wants.

“I don’t want to put in vents or sprinklers. That would hurt the integrity of the building,” he said.

He’d like to see retail or offices, such as an insurance office, in his space.

Businesses should be solid

Miller has allowed her space to remain empty because she is being very choosy, she said.

She used to keep it full, but now she won’t take a business unless it is rock solid. The building has been empty for more than a year.

Mike Templeton, representing the owner of the building next to the Silver Dollar, is looking for the right business. No head shops. No discos.

“I’m looking for a person with a viable business plan, not just someone who can scrape together one month’s rent and a half month’s deposit,” he said.

Other buildings are already set up for restaurants, such as the Golden Burro.

Having the business running will help the sell, because people can see it working, according to Tait, who represents the Golden Burro.

The buy would be a good value because the buyer would be buying a building, a business and the equipment for the business.

“Most looking at investing ask how long has it been in business and if there is a local base,” said Tait. “It has been a fixture for decades,” she said of the restaurant. It has a mix of local business and tourists that come back, which also helps.

“Whatever business comes in will do the renovations for the business,” said O’Reilly, which make Tracks of interest as a new restaurant because is has been a restaurant.

With the building next to the Silver Dollar, which consists of 12 offices upstairs, Templeton tells people from the start that they shouldn’t buy unless they’re ready to invest $50,000 more on building a fire escape and a fire box. Both are required.

Price must be right

Prices can be a problem with properties in Leadville. People have speculated, and are waiting for Leadville to boom like Vail, Summit and Aspen and are holding onto their properties, according to Templeton.

“If property is priced right, it will sell. If not, it won’t,” said Carol Glenn of Centennial Realty.

“The numbers have to work,” she said. “If the debt ratio is too high, they won’t make it.”

Debbie Darby of Lake County Realty said the owner of the blue building on Ninth Street wants too much money. Then it will take more money to remodel the building, which is a problem, she said of efforts to sell the building.

Templeton had a good idea to deal with some of the problems in prices.

“How do you make money in Leadville? You make all you can in the summer. You can make great money in Leadville in the summer, but the rest of the year is a problem.” With leases, he is looking for the business to pay more in the summer and less the rest of the year.

A selling point for the property next to the Herald Democrat is paid utilities included with the rental space.

Another way to boost sale of properties is to make them look nice.

“The better it looks from the outside, the more chance it will sell,” said Glenn, who said people are attracted to Leadville because of the Victorian building styles.

Kevin Gwyn of Lake County Realty would encourage property owners on Harrison Avenue to improve the look of their properties so the street looks more prosperous.

Al Slavin had a good idea, according to Gwyn. He suggested painting some western figures on the vacant storefronts to make them look better.

Kregas has not been actively marketing his property until recently. He is going to clean it up and work on it before he gets serious about renting it.

“I have to make it look nice,” he said.

Nick Coleman felt the same way about the property he bought two years ago.

He bought the green building next to Bailey’s Funeral Home, which had been abandoned for almost ten years.

He’s been working on the building for a year and a half, and has had a tenant, Provin’ Grounds, since mid-February.

Provin’ Grounds coffee shop should be opening sometime in March. It had hoped to open for skijoring, Coleman said. Instead it served free coffee to advertise the new business.

Centennial Real Estate closed on the Scarlet Inn last week, according to Sebestyen, the broker who closed the deal.

The new owners are Chuck Williams and Lee Trujillo, who were originally planning to find a business in Durango.

They plan to keep the Scarlet status quo, but they may add live music.

The Boomtown Brewpub is also under contract, but closing would not be until June, according to Sebestyen. If the contract goes through, the new owners would keep the facility as a brewpub.

The coldest part of winter is the slowest for real estate, according to Glenn, but Centennial has had a busier February and March this year than it has had for the past couple of years.

“It’s not as black as it looks,” she said, predicting that things will pick up more as summer approaches.

(Marcia Martinek, Herald editor, contributed to this story.)

Let it shine

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We frequently get calls from readers who want to know why we haven’t published this story or that story. These contacts often start out as adversarial in nature. “How come you haven’t written about so-and-so’s grandson being arrested?” is a common question. Or, “Why did you write about teacher A, who got into trouble, and never mentioned teacher B?”

The implication is usually that we haven’t done so because, as an example, the so-and-so in question is a fourth-generation Leadvillian who must be treated with kid gloves.

We love these calls. We love these readers. Invariably when we get these calls, we are totally unaware that so-and-so’s grandson has been arrested. Perhaps the report somehow didn’t make it into the press file at the sheriff’s office. But once we’re tipped off, once we have a name, we can track down the information, and the story will follow.

This is Sunshine Week. This is the national week dedicated to “shining the light” on our government so that its activities are not carried out in the dark. Sometimes it seems as if the press is at the forefront of the battle, but that’s because we try to educate ourselves on a regular basis to what the laws really mean and ways that they are being misinterpreted.

Open government, however, is not just our concern. It really exists for you as members of the public, and therefore, it becomes your responsibility.

Just as the open records laws allow us to obtain records, it should work in the same way for you. If it doesn’t, we’ll be glad to walk in with you to ask for what you need.

Just as we can stand up and protest when an executive session is illegally held, so can you. If you stand with us, we are far more likely to be successful.

If you think that something is wrong, we’ll gladly print your (signed) letter or look into the matter for you.

But it’s not just the press and the public who can partner in these efforts to keep government open.

Our elected officials came from the public, we put them where they are, and we should expect them to remember their roots.

Most of the problems in government occur when elected officials stop representing the public and begin to represent the entity that they are elected to advise.

As an example, a school board member must remain the voice of his constituents and not become the voice of the school administration. Likewise for water board members, hospital board members, council members, commissioners and others.

If you’re an advocate of open records, open meetings and open government, Leadville is not a bad place to be. People here demand to know what’s going on.

Yet it’s easy to slip into complacency; to accept “official” actions without questioning them at times when questions should be asked.

Sunshine Week is a good time to remind ourselves that we must be vigilant to ensure that our rights are not eroded.

Keep those calls and letters coming.

Marcia Martinek

Herald Editor

(1) comment

Alison Macdonald

Quit calling us Leadvillians, PLEASE!! I had never even heard the term til about 10 years ago. And, although I'm not in Leadville right now (I hope to be back soon) I am a very proud LEADVILLEITE!

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