Gunnison real estate market springs to life in recent months
Originally published 2013-05-30
Over the last six months, a glut of commercial properties on the market in the City of Gunnison has been whittled away by a growing number of ventures new to town.
So far this year, a total of three noteworthy, non-lodging commercial or industrial properties have sold, accounting for nearly $1.2 million in sales within the city, according to Multiple Listing Service (MLS) data. And those only include parcels that were listed at the time of sale.
By way of comparison, four commercial properties (totaling $670,000) changed hands in Gunnison in all of 2012 — a year during which commercial sales activity was significantly higher than the three years prior.
Yet, common among many of the commercial sales in recent months is an influx of dollars from outside the community. Large national chains such as Tractor Supply Co. and Family Dollar have staked claims along Gunnison’s busiest thoroughfares. And a few smaller businesses born in Crested Butte have expanded southward, scooping up properties that in some cases had remained on the market for years.
Longtime Gunnison Valley realtors report being encouraged by the recent activity — including that it may be a signal of bigger things to come. One need only look to the concrete walls going vertical in Van Tuyl Village or demolition taking place at the former John Roberts Motorworks building as the most poignant examples of Gunnison’s recent resurgence in the commercial real estate market.
“The fact is, they made a commitment to come in here,” said Dan McElroy, owner of Coldwell Banker-Bighorn Realty. “There seems to be a real key element in somebody’s ability to foresee or think that the future’s going to be pretty bright for Gunnison.”
On the other hand, Erich Ferchau, owner of Re/Max in Gunnison, offered a much more measured perspective on the recent activity.
“It’s Gunnison. It doesn’t take but a few things selling and we’re hopping,” he said.
Whether through the purchase of property for expanding an existing, up-valley business or large national chain stores’ decisions to open branches locally, some recent sales point to an influx of money from outside city limits.
Drake Real Estate of Denver quickly pushed a commercial subdivision at Van Tuyl Village through the city’s planning pipeline late last year. The anchor within that development is a Tractor Supply Co. (TSC) store currently under construction.
The site was selected by Miller Frishman Group of Denver, who works on behalf of a numerous national tenants.
So, why Gunnison?
David Spriggs of Miller Frishman couldn’t disclose TSC’s specific criteria, but he did say that he sees the city providing “overall a very stable economy within Colorado.”
“The thing I like about Gunnison that makes it a unique community within that region, obviously you’ve got the college, which is a very captive audience from a retail standpoint,” he continued. “You also have a really high number of tourist visits on an annual basis to Gunnison and the surrounding area.”
And Spriggs said that as the Front Range’s population continues to grow, he expects those tourist visits to climb in step.
He noted that TSC is only the anchor tenant at the commercial development on the north side of Gunnison, and Drake is in the process of soliciting other businesses for Van Tuyl Village.
Meanwhile, demolition of the former John Roberts building at 231 W. Tomichi Ave. is underway in preparation for a Family Dollar store. Gunnison’s Community Development Director Steve Westbay said the company has presented site plans and is in the early stages of zoning and building permit review.
A couple businesses born in Crested Butte also have acquired commercial property in Gunnison in recent months. The Sherpa family in March purchased the former Tic Toc Diner building at 323 E. Tomichi Ave., where a second branch of Sherpa Café opened.
Michael Knoll, owner of The Eldo in Crested Butte, bought The Last Chance at 620 S. Ninth St. last November, which has also resulted in a down-valley expansion of Mikey’s Pizza within the establishment.
Knoll said that he was captivated by the prospect of bringing the caliber of music booked by the Eldo to The Last Chance. But he also saw a potential for a broader-based clientele — including college students, middle-aged residents interested in good music and much of The Last Chance’s previous, country-steeped customers — at the longtime Gunnison watering hole.
“The dynamic to reach all those groups of people was more enticing than what I have up here in Crested Butte,” Knoll said, “and the fact that Gunnison doesn’t really have anything like that.”
“I think what you have to realize is we’ve gotten to a point where there’s probably some opportunities for people to make some moves,” observed Re/Max’s Ferchau. “People who have more stability financially, they can make that move with a little more confidence. ... I’m encouraged, not because of the few little things that have happened, but because I think there’s more of an acceptance that we as a community need a little bit more going on.”
Commercial activity a signal of bigger things to come?
Despite recent commercial sales, there’s still more people selling than buying, noted real estate broker Bill Nesbitt, owner of Nesbitt & Company.
Through last week, 38 commercial or industrial properties in Gunnison were listed on the MLS. Numerous properties on Main Street — including all three spaces currently occupied by high-end furniture retailer Interiors with Oohs and Aahs — are on the market.
And since the beginning of last year, 68 other listings either expired or were withdrawn from the market.
“I think better times are coming,” said Nesbitt. “There seems to be a belief with people bringing in outside money that they can make money.”
The question on his mind is whether the recent activity in the commercial sector will impact the larger real estate market — including residential sales.
Bighorn’s McElroy tends to think so — especially as compared to the Crested Butte area, where there’s little question that residential activity tends to drive the overall market.
“In Gunnison, because it’s really a main service area, it really stands on its own,” he said. “When somebody comes into Gunnison and puts their money down on a commercial place, you gotta believe that there’s more to it than being drawn along with the residential real estate market.”
Alpengardener owner Krista Hildebrandt hopes that distinction as a service center will help entice customers to patron a new garden center she’s opening in Gunnison. While the business is leasing the property on the south side of the city, Hildebrandt’s aim is to serve a clientele that she has found difficult drawing to the business’ main Crested Butte South location.
“Here I am offering a full-service garden center 20 miles north and nobody will come there,” she said. “My idea of expanding in Gunnison was to get more of the Gunnison market.”