On any summer day, as many as 200 to 300 RV enthusiasts pass by the tiny, central Colorado community of Minturn enroute to the famous Rocky Mountain resort of Vail, a few minutes away.
By nightfall, many of the RVers, traveling with everything from popup trailers to Class A motorhomes, head back down the mountain to other Rocky Mountain destinations.
Much to the chagrin of Minturn Town Manager Alan Lanning, few of those RVers ever stop to patronize the handful of restaurants, antique shops and other retail establishments available at the historic railroad and mining town of Minturn, population 1,100.
In fact, every passing RVer is an opportunity lost, in Lanning’s view.
“It’s amazing to me,” says Lanning, who travels frequently himself, towing a 32-foot Sportsman travel trailer. “This is scenically one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”
The solution?
Get Minturn to carve out its own tourism market niche by promoting the startup of a campground, even though real estate prices in that area approach $1 million an acre – and assembling an incentive package through which the city will provide the land and a private developer will build and operate the facility.
Discussions now are under way with Kampgrounds of America, Inc. (KOA), the national franchiser based in Billings, Mont. Officials with KOA, including owner Oscar Tang, and Minturn have met to review the project’s potential to make Minturn the first U.S. municipality to take an active role in the development of a KOA campground.
Tempting as it may be, Minturn itself has to be careful about its involvement in such an effort because Colorado law prohibits cities from engaging in franchise agreements, unless the city were to develop the business through a separate corporation. “This is a tidy legal way to make this happen,” Lanning said.
So, a lease agreement is being negotiated between the Minturn Building Corp., a private corporation set up by the city, and an unnamed private company that is interested in building and operating the RV park. The private entity would develop and operate the campground and pay a portion of its revenue back to the Minturn Building Corp.
“The private entity pays for the opportunity to run the business,” Lanning said, adding that the concept has been used before, including when Minturn developed its retail town center, he said.
Minturn officials hope construction can begin in July on a 62-site RV park that would include 15 cabins. Lanning expects the facility to open by Jan. 1, and he anticipates strong demand.
The project could break-even with as little as 35% occupancy, Lanning believes. He anticipates occupancy rates will be much higher than that, an opinion shared by Homer Staves, a former KOA executive currently working as a private consultant, and by WestStar Bank, which Lanning said is interested in the project and was considering the approval of a letter of credit through which the Minturn Building Corp. could presumably secure funding for the project.
Some Minturn residents, however, are nervous about the city’s involvement in the campground venture, including Jerry Bumgarner, who owns JB’s Barbecue. “I’m not opposed to the venture, but I do oppose the city’s ownership,” he said. “They have a hard enough time trying to run the little town.”
Lanning, in turn, assures city residents that the project poses no risk to the municipality itself, that the city will not technically own the campground and that Minturn’s KOA will ultimately provide the economic incentives for which it was conceived.
Independently, Lanning is also working to boost Minturn’s general appeal with the help of a $1.4 million river restoration grant, which the town is using to improve trout fishing in the Eagle River. “All we’re trying to do,” he said, “is take advantage of a naturally occurring phenomenon – thousands of campers driving by all the time.”