As a result of my most recent trip to downtown Leadville, earlier today, I’d like to report that we haven’t “become another Breckenridge,” at least not yet.

When I first arrived in Leadville in 2002, people would always say that we didn’t want to become another Breckinridge, or Vail, or whatever mountain town might be considered trendy. I remember thinking at the time that this was really not likely. There were some dismal times back in the early part of this century.

Since then, the times have changed. Before the pandemic slowed things down, we seemed at times to be approaching the cusp of trendy if not actually there.

With the pandemic likely to come to an end in the next year, with the vaccine and all, I wonder if we’ll be back where we were a year ago, edging toward trendy.

The local controversy about capping short-term rentals has provided a look at how locals perceive this issue and possibly how they feel about the way Leadville should grow in the future.

In this regard, some ascribe to the “more the merrier” approach. If people want buy a house here and use it for short-term rentals, let them do it, they say. After all, this will increase tourism which in turn, will mean more people shopping locally, eating at our restaurants, visiting our museums. All true.

On the other hand, there are those who feel that fewer short-term rentals mean more long-term rentals, something we need in Leadville to house the people who work here. And clearly the need for affordable housing has been well discussed over a number of years. During the past decade, when I served as the editor of the Herald Democrat, I always dreaded hiring a new reporter because I knew that the salary being paid already limited the housing options of any new hire with the rental prices going up each year and affordable long-term rentals seeming to diminish.

The arguments for and against short-term housing are not particularly surprising. If you own a house and want to rent it, you may make more money with short-term rentals. If you’re a realtor dealing in handling these rentals, it’s clear that you’ll make more money with a short-term rental. You’ll also have to work harder servicing your clients, so it could be said that you earn the extra money.

And what if you’re a Leadvillian who happens to live in a neighborhood that includes both long-term and short-term rentals? Not surprisingly, a majority are opposed to short-term rentals in their neighborhood. A family shows up for a week or even just a weekend, lives in the rental house, spends their money in town and then leaves. With luck, they won’t take up the all the parking in the neighborhood or throw loud parties while they’re here. But for the most part, they come and go adding nothing to the neighborhood and probably taking nothing away. They don’t join the Lions Club or volunteer at the St. George Communty Meals. Short-term renters do, however, add to the sales tax base when they spend their money and put money into the pockets of shopkeepers and restaurant owners.

When you think of a place like Breckenridge, what comes to mind besides the ski slopes? Rows of condominiums, perhaps with absentee owners. Fancy restaurants and shops. Strangers.

Actually Breckenridge is more than that to its residents, but we only see the obvious.

Do you remember when a Denver Post reporter described Leadville as a “dirt-ball” town when describing our fair city? It was in March 2010.

It wasn’t true then and it’s even more preposterous now.

When considering what we are, what we want to be and certainly what we don’t want to be, every decision, like the one on short-term rentals, adds to the end result.

So where are we now? Caught somewhere between dirt-ball town and Breckenridge? Or in a category of our own?

Martinek can be reached at marcia@leadvilleherald.com.

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