Building boomlet boosts economy

By Jim Mimiaga
Journal Staff Writer

New businesses and new home construction are creating a mini-surge of development and revenues for area towns, prompting optimism about an economic recovery.

City officials for Cortez, Dolores and Mancos are reporting a spike in new commercial building permits and construction activity. Local real estate is also enjoying a resurgence, and interest rates for home mortgages are very low.

Plus, the pending construction of a $42 million new Montezuma Cortez High School and a $6 million expansion and upgrade of the Dolores school campus bring big cash flow to local economies.

“We are pretty excited about the commercial projects we are seeing or at least hearing about,” said Cortez City Manager Shane Hale. “There is a general upbeat feeling across the region.”

In Cortez, a new auto parts store, O’Reilly’s, is planning to open near Wal-Mart. A new dental office and more commercial office space are in the works for the area behind Walgreens. And a new downtown restaurant is in the planning stages, adding to a vibrant array of dining choices.

AAA Hotel Developers, of Pueblo, hopes to build a 72-room Hampton Inn on the east end of Cortez, pending successful negotiations for a sewer tap fee with Cortez Sanitation District.

“Cortez is an underserved market for newer hotels,” said Avik Amin, a management partner with AAA Hotel.

“There has not been a new hotel there in 15-20 years, so we think it will attract tourists who might go to Durango to stay if they can not find the hotel they want (in Cortez).”

The Cortez Sanitation District initially proposed a sewer tap fee of $160,000 for the hotel, but AAA Hotel balked at the price, saying it was not in line with fees from similar regional towns they have worked with. The District is currently reviewing its rate structure, and reportedly will determine by June whether a new tap fee schedule is warranted.

Amin said his company typically pays a sewer tap fee between $10,000-$12,000. Durango charges roughly $16,000 for a comparable sewer permit, and Alamosa would charge $4,000, according to public officials from those towns.

Sanitation district manager Tim Krebs said that comparing Cortez sewer tap rates to those in other towns is not a good measurement.

“Towns like Durango have higher tax base to cover costs, where we do not, so we have to bring in money through our rates to cover maintenance costs of our aging plants, and to repair sewer lines that have been ignored for many years,” Krebs said.

In Dolores, the long-shuttered Naked Moose restaurant is slated to re-open, Riverfront Pizza is undergoing a major expansion, the Rio Grande Restaurant added an outdoor patio area, plus there’s a new coffee shop and café — the Pony Expresso.

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in building permits and requests,” said Dolores town manager Ryan Mahoney. “There is a lot more home remodels and upgrades going on than before as well. The school project will bring in crews spending money around here for a year and a half.”

He said three new construction projects are underway or about to begin in Dolores: the school expansion, a new retail store, and a new home. Dolores’ convenient access to national forest trails and roads have brought in Lizard Head Cyclery and The Fun Center, an off-road vehicle store.

Heather Alvarez, Mancos town clerk, reports remodels and inspections are up and foreclosed or vacant homes are finally being sold.

The local real estate market is gaining strength as well, reports Terry McCabe, associate broker for Century 21 West Slope Realty.

“Sales are up but the prices are down overall,” McCabe says. “It looks like our market is starting to stabilize, especially when you look at the number of pending sales under contract. However, foreclosures in our area are continuing and that has an effect on the market as well.”

For the first quarter of 2013, Montezuma County was up two percent in sold listings, McCabe reported, and the percent of list price is up 1.7 percent.

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