The Town of Minturn is holding a long list of promises from developers made in exchange for voters annexing more than 5,000 acres into the town. A new water treatment plant. Water storage. Money for a bike trail, a community center and the acquisition of neighboring Forest Service land.
It’s been 15 years since Florida developer Bobby Ginn promised the town’s voters some $160 million in benefits if they annexed the mountaintop acreage where he planned 1,700 homes, a golf course, private skiing and a 13-story hotel. Voters approved the annexation in 2008, but Ginn never put a shovel in dirt after his golf-resort empire spectacularly collapsed in the Great Recession.
It’s been a decade since the lender who took over the project, private equity firm Lubert Adler, amended that annexation agreement with the town and promised about $12 million plus monthly payments as the firm crafted a more modest plan.
Minturn residents are still waiting for, well, everything. So the town last week filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Eagle County District Court against Lubert Adler’s development companies, asking a jury to force the development companies to pay up on 15 years of overdue promises.
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The town argues that the commitments promised by Ginn were dependent on annexation, not development. The annexation was held up in court for many years but was finalized in 2019.
“They have ignored those commitments, saying they don’t owe us a water plant and they don’t owe us water storage in Bolts Lake and they don’t owe us any money,” Minturn Mayor Earle Bidez said. “But they clearly do. We’ve been waiting for so many years. We would have gone our own way with our own water system if we weren’t waiting for them to move forward with their promises and plans. We’ve reached a point where we need resolution.”
Bidez said the statute of limitations on the town’s ability to sue over a breach of contract was set to expire later this month as well, limiting the town’s ability to force Lubert Adler to pay. The town and developer have been in mediation since last summer, but negotiations “did not address our concerns,” Bidez said. Lubert Adler is planning a much smaller neighborhood on the south end of town — called Battle North — and was working to negotiate a new funding agreement before outlining specifics of its project.
“They were frustrated with us and we were frustrated with them, but we knew in order to move forward they needed to address our issues or they will not be able to get anything moving with the town,” Bidez said.
Bill Kyriagis, an attorney for Lubert Adler, said the Battle Mountain developer was reviewing the complaint “but denies liability for the town’s claims.”
Ginn bought the top of Battle Mountain, adjacent to the Vail ski area, in 2005 for $32 million. The developer of many golf course resort communities in the Southeast planned hundreds of luxury homes in a gated community at elevations above 10,000 feet. He was among several high-profile developers riding a historical surge in mountain real estate between 2005 and 2008, proposing all sorts of high-end projects. None of them happened.
Lubert Adler, which was backing Ginn’s big dreams, took over and sold 4,600 acres on the top of the mountain in 2020. They sold Bolt Lakes, too, to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority. The Battle North developer is proposing something close to 700 homes on about 540 acres between Minturn’s Maloit Park and the Eagle Mine Superfund Site.
The lawsuit focuses on three agreements between the developers and the town. First, there was the annexation agreement voters overwhelmingly approved in 2008 that promised cash, a community center, sidewalks, bike trails, parking lots, scholarships and even $22 million to buy Forest Service adjacent to the town. A second 2008 agreement promised that Ginn would transfer water rights to the town, build a water treatment plant and rehabilitate the dried up Bolts Lake so the town could store water. A third agreement, in 2012, amended the 2008 annexation agreement and released $11.6 million in escrow and required Lubert Adler to pay the town $15,000 a month while the new plans were processed.
“They owe us this whether there was development or not. A deal is a deal,” Minturn councilman Tom Sullivan said. “The reason the town annexed them was because of all the benefits and now they want to be annexed and give us none of the benefits.”
Not all the promises were made by Ginn, Sullivan said.
“Our residents want what was promised to them and they surely don’t want development with no benefits and that is what Lubert Adler is promising,” Sullivan said.