“Buying Pagosa,” Part VI orginally appeared on pagosa.com, April 22, 2005

Commercial development changes the local real estate terrain

“My concern is that with Aspen Village and Harman Park, we are over saturating the market with commercial development which will force market rent down and commercial sales down,” Todd Shelton, from Century 21 said as we talked over lunch at Ramon’s. “The value of a building like this is the income it can produce,” Shelton said. He went on to explain how he helped the owner of the building housing Ramon’s increase their value by 25 percent by dividing the property into three with a main building and two vacant lots.

“We don’t have enough population to make mistakes,” Shelton added. “Businesses are running on a thread to survive and our local businesses are potentially going to lose.”

I presented Shelton’s concern to John Ranson, a key partner in the development of Aspen Village and to Medray Carpenter, the only native Pagosan real estate broker and a key partner with Fred Harman in the development of Harman Park.

“I look at this as an investment in the community and an investment for the business owners,” Ranson said. “The majority of what we are doing here, people are actually buying. We have very few leases. Interest rates are at a point right now that people can buy their own business at a lower rate than they can pay rent, in many cases. I don’t think we are going to have the impact on leases that people anticipate.”

Ranson believes Aspen Village will add to the community. He thinks the more businesses Pagosa has to offer, the more we will draw people from Chama and Ignacio, and keep them from going elsewhere.

Carpenter echoed this idea. “That’s been true in the past because we didn’t have the amount of people we need, but that is not the case now,” he said. “There are so many things we need in this community. There is room for all of us. The problem we have in Pagosa is that the residential side gets way ahead of the commercial side. I can sit down and make you lists of things that we don’t have. There are so many things that we need and our area is totally exploding and the commercial is behind.”

Aspen Village, Harman Park and the future Mountain Crossing are all major commercial developments that hope to provide some of those things the community needs.

“Our dream was to put together a village concept with walking trails, bike trails — a place where people feel like they can come and if they are stopping at one store they feel comfortable walking to various locations in here,” Ranson said of the Aspen Village concept.

Aspen Village began in 1997 when John Ranson, newly relocated from Kansas, and Dan Sanders, pastor of the First Baptist Church, purchased 38 acres near the Fred Harman museum, with the sole intent of giving seven acres to the church for a new building.

Since 1998, the partners have been discussing the possibility of development all the while watching Pagosa grow. “We wanted to do something that the Town would be proud of,” Ranson said. When the population of the Pagosa area reached 10,000, they began working with CDOT, because access was a real issue, in consideration of future development of the property. CDOT requires stoplights be spaced at least a half mile apart, and the existing Piedra light was less than a half mile away. In 1999 Ranson and Sanders brought in a third partner, Mark Kneedy, a Chicago based financier. In August 2003, they purchased an additional 48 acres from Joe Machock and the Timber Ridge development, which opened the door and allowed them to provide access to the property within the CDOT requirements.

Aspen Village is the first multi-use development in Pagosa Springs. Durango builder Emil Wanatka and his company Timberline Builders are handling the attainable housing portion of the development that will include town homes, called The Enclave and patio homes, called The Cottages. According to Ranson, “He [Wanatka] looked at Pagosa and he said you know this is a place that needs some voids filled.”

Wanatka’s attainable housing plan received preliminary approval from Town Council and will be up for final plat approval in May. Wanatka is likely to begin breaking ground in June and Timberline Builders will have their own sales office, separate from the Aspen Village sales office.

Aspen Village is located at Highway 160 and Alpha Drive. It is a 75-acre project with 61 developable acres. Future home to the new Parelli International Corporate Headquarters, the development is 63 percent reserved. Future tenants include a commercial bank, Pagosa Power Sports, professional office space, several restaurants and multiple retail opportunities. Ranson is also in talks with a major hotel chain and a grocery store, which he feels “pretty strong” about. They also designed the development with a site for a movie theatre and have a reservation that Ranson feels will benefit the community, but because of confidentiality, is unable to disclose.

The Plaza portion of the development is what brings a bigger smile to Ranson’s already happy demeanor. The Plaza is 46,000 square feet of retail and professional space, in a park like setting, with a gazebo and bar-b-q grills, designed as a gathering place. “We want this to be a place where people feel comfortable hanging out,” Ranson said. “Keystone has a place like this that is really popular.” Several buildings in The Plaza are already sold out and will be home to Sears, a furniture store, a hair salon, a real estate office, a clothing store, a gallery and a new technology firm moving into Pagosa. “We worked with Design Workshop out of Denver and they helped us come up with this concept of something in the center that is the heartbeat. And that’s kind of how we look at The Plaza; we think there will be a lot of the foot traffic, you know, where people feel comfortable walking from one place to another.”

Another retail center, called Boulder Crossings, is 80 percent full, and will have a restaurant, a coffee shop, a drive-thru dry cleaners and medical offices.

Ranson admitted that the development has been talking to restaurants and grocery stores since 1998. “Back then, everyone said Pagosa is on our radar screen, but it isn’t there yet. Now, everybody is interested in this growth and the town.”

I asked Ranson about chain restaurants and retail. “We tried, in the Village, to stay away from that,” Ranson said. “We have talked to chain restaurants, but our design guidelines are pretty tight and this is D4 zoning with the Town. But we do have one sit down chain and one fast food chain that are interested.” Additionally, two other restaurants from outside Pagosa will locate in Aspen Village, but they are not chain restaurants. “One is from Kansas City,” Ranson said.

“We don’t want to see a big, long strip mall in here, our feeling is that we are in the center of town, we are right across from the golf course and a beautiful lake and we really want for people to drive through Pagosa and say, gosh that’s nice. There’s a place for fast food and other kinds of businesses, but we really want to encourage people to get out and walk around.”

The concept for Aspen Village is the professional, live, work, play development and Ranson admits that prior to the big box moratorium they were approached by Wal-Mart, but they turned them down because they didn’t feel it fit their development and they didn’t want to see a Wal-Mart right across from the lake. “They are all looking,” Ranson said of the big-box stores.

“I’m against big box,” Ranson said, “but in all fairness to them, they were incredibly good, they talked to us and said, you know what our concern is that it’s a beautiful spot and we don’t like to do that in a community, but this was their number one site selection.”

Major construction on the next phase of the project is unde
rway. There will be streets with curbs and gutters; the lighted intersection has a target completion date from CDOT of August 30, but Ranson believes it will be closer to the end of September. Several Plaza buildings will be started, as will Pagosa Power Sports, and by July work should begin on Boulder Crossings. By autumn, the Parelli headquarters building and several additional projects will be underway. “A lot of dust is going to be flying around here,” Ranson said.

When I asked him why he thought the timing was right for mixed-use development in Pagosa, Ranson said he believes population numbers have the most impact on making this type of development possible.

“I give the Town a lot of credit,” Ranson said. “They’ve really cleaned things up in the last three or four years with zoning and a concern for the community. They really want to see more of this, and that is one of the things that’s helped us. We included them when we did our planning; we actually had them come in with Design Workshop and said what do you think, and by working together it makes things go so smoothly. We just worked really well with Mark Garcia, Tamra Allen, Mayor Aragon, everybody’s been wonderful. My guess is we are just getting to the size of population that can support multi-use development. I give the town a lot of credit. They don’t want to see the metal sheds next to a nice building.”

Aspen Village has also worked with the homeowners of the Alpha subdivision, adjacent to the development. “We’ve met with Alpha, we’ve met with their board and tried to address concerns, we’ve tried to create a win-win situation or a meet halfway situation. I can understand, if I lived here I’d be concerned about looking at a big building, which is why we designed our residential back here,” Ranson said pointing to his colorful maps showing the single family and multi-family housing projects that will be part of the project.

“If you sit down at the table you can at least agree to disagree or come to a situation where everybody feels comfortable,” Ranson said.

The question then becomes how do these developments fit in with the downtown master plan and the CVC vision for Pagosa Springs.

“We think this is going to serve the local community a little more, whereas downtown is going to be more for the people who are visiting or looking for a night out on the town,” Ranson said. “This is going to be a little bit more service oriented for the community.”

The Harman Park development is billed as Pagosa’s only “upscale development,” which, according to Medray Carpenter, means no convenience stores, no fast food, no gas or tires or stand-alone bars. For seven years, Carpenter has been working with Fred Harman Jr. to create this development around the Fred Harman Museum.

Harman is working to save and restore dozens of older buildings from Pagosa’s past and he will be expanding the Fred Harman Museum, which houses the second largest collection of famed cartoonist Fred Harman Sr.’s artwork in the country. The museum has access to the other, larger Fred Harman collection and plans to build a new museum to house the entire collection. Harman envisions the area becoming a living history museum like Williamsburg, Virginia.

“It’s not going to be a traditional commercial development and it’s not going to be a rubber tomahawk tourist’s trap,” Carpenter said. “We want to see very nice professional office buildings, another museum or two.”

The development will be ideal for nice restaurants, galleries, and more upscale businesses that will reflect the historical nature of the Fred Harman Museum.

“Pagosa needs – very, very badly – a convention/cultural center all-in-one, and we are the perfect location for that,” Carpenter added. The difference between Harman Park and Aspen Village, according to Carpenter, is that “we didn’t push it until we had our final plat. We didn’t take reservations. Now we can sell, or give deeds because we will be totally finished with all of the infrastructure in mid-June.”

As with Aspen Village, Harman Park will not build any of their own structures for commercial lease; they will leave that up to individual developers who may want to build office buildings or retail spaces for lease. But initial customers for Harman Park will likely be those who want to build an individual business building. All 17 platted properties on the 28-acre development are for sale. Two offers are pending as of press time.

Wells Fargo Bank is a major anchor tenant for the Harman Park development and across the street will be a professional office building.

“The whole demographics of the area have changed and people don’t understand,” Carpenter said. “People don’t like change and they don’t understand change, but the only thing that’s constant in this world is change.”

Carpenter believes that Pagosa Springs will become a resort town rivaling Aspen, Vail and Telluride. “We should accept change, but control it to keep the ambiance of the area and do it right,” Carpenter said.

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