This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.
Florida developer Bobby Ginn promised Minturn about $160 million in benefits if voters annexed his 5,000-acre property atop a nearby mountain and let him build a private luxury ski resort with 1,700 homes, a golf course and 13-story hotel.
When Ginn’s golf course empire across the Southeast collapsed in the Great Recession, his lender scaled back the grand Battle Mountain plan and offered the town a more modest trove of benefits — worth about $11 million — in exchange for annexation. That plan also did not unfold and Minturn last year sued the developer, private equity firm Lubert Adler.
Now Minturn’s leaders are weighing a final settlement plan where Minturn gets $150,000 and about 250 acres and Lubert Adler developer Battle One gets to build 225 to 250 homes and 50,000 square feet of commercial space on about 200 acres.
“The reason we are here is because we’ve made a lot of mistakes in this town,” Minturn resident Darin Tucholke said Aug 15, during the first presentation of the proposed settlement agreement by the Minturn Town Council. “In 2008, we made a mistake … because we bought into the Walt Disney of Minturn. But we gotta make this deal.”
Minturn leaders seem to be agreeing with Tucholke. They don’t want a developer adding up to 250 new homes on the south end of town, which has about 450 homes and 1,000 residents. But the Battle One developer last year sold 45 acres to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, which will build a reservoir called Bolt’s Lake to buttress its water supply for 27,000 residents in the Eagle River Valley and give Battle One enough water for as many as 700 homes.
If Minturn declines the lawsuit-ending deal that would keep Battle One’s acreage along the Eagle River inside the town boundary, the developer could go to Eagle County to get permission for as many as 700 homes. Rejecting the settlement agreement also would leave Minturn facing lengthy litigation, and possibly left on the sidelines of development on its border and unable to collect any tax revenue from the construction of those homes.
“If they de-annex and develop through the county, we get all the impacts without any benefits,” Minturn Town Councilman Tom Sullivan said. “Plus we have the risk of a long legal battle that we might not win. This is, sadly, about as good a deal as we can get.”
Minturn has been largely overlooked in the downvalley boom that has driven spectacular growth — and home prices — in towns downstream from Vail. It’s in a narrow valley with U.S. 24 dividing the town, which is surrounded by Forest Service land.
On the south end of town, between downtown Minturn and Red Cliff, the mining village of Gilman, which once was home to about 1,000 zinc, copper and silver miners and their families, was abandoned in 1984. When the mine owner shut down the pumps that kept water from flooding the miles of shafts, toxic minerals from the Eagle Mine washed into the Eagle River and the 235-acre site was listed as an Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund site in 1986.
On Monday, the EPA said it was removing a portion of the Eagle Mine from its National Priorities List for Superfund sites. The remediated portion is 5.3 acres around the so-called Trestle Area, where Minturn could own new acres and Battle One plans to build homes.
After EPA-directed remediation and diverting water from flowing through the mine, Ginn in 2004 announced his plan to develop parts of the Gilman site into a residential golf course community in the valley below his proposed Battle Mountain ski resort. In 2008, Minturn residents voted to annex the property, enticed by Ginn’s promise of cash, a water treatment plant, a community center, new sidewalks, bike trails, parking lots, scholarships for local kids and even $22 million so the town could buy Forest Service land adjacent to town.
Ginn was among a swell of out-of-state developers who dreamed big in the early 2000s in the Colorado high country but never delivered following the national economic collapse in 2009. Lubert Adler amended the annexation agreement in 2012, with a promise to release about $11 million held in escrow — a down payment Ginn made following the annexation vote in 2008 — and make monthly payments to the town as it planned a much smaller development on land on the valley floor.
In 2022, the town sued Lubert Adler in Eagle County District Court for breach of contract to force the developer to deliver on 15 years of overdue promises.
Battle One, which in 2020 sold more than 4,600 acres of mountain top property where Ginn planned a private ski resort to a local family, has not talked much about its plan for development on the remaining 540 acres on the south end of town, saying only that the project would have “community housing, trail connectivity and open space.”
The proposed settlement agreement to end the lawsuit includes $50,000 to help Minturn pay consultants and lawyers to examine the plan in the next six months. The proposal also gives Minturn $100,000 cash and about 250 acres, including publicly accessible land on the flanks of the proposed Bolt’s Lake reservoir for recreation, two 60-acre parcels and three smaller parcels. Gilman will be de-annexed from Minturn and will become part of unincorporated Eagle County and remain subject to EPA clean-up restrictions and development limitations.
It’s unlikely that Minturn can make big changes to the settlement agreement. After more than a year of negotiations, it appears to be a take-it or leave-it deal. Minturn Councilman Sullivan said the town lost its bargaining leverage when the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District gave the developer enough water to build 700 homes.
“We are working with the hand we were dealt by the water district,” he said. “At least we were able to reduce the potential 700 units to 250.”