Avon residents still feel impact of Home Depot
December 2, 2005
AVON – Only the roof of Avon’s Home Depot can be seen from Interstate 70’s new William Post Boulevard exit. The attempt to blend its design with the Colorado mountain environment, however, has not decreased its impact in the minds of residents. The store opened in May 2003, and despite being the fourth best performing Home Depot in the state according Home Depot real estate manager James Spitzer, local reaction to it remains divided.Birth of the projectThe town of Avon, nestled in the Eagle Valley west of Vail, was incorporated in 1978. The Vail ski area had bought nearby land in 1972 and was developing Beaver Creek as a world-class ski resort. In 1980, the year Beaver Creek opened, Avon had 640 residents.Avon is now the most populous town in Eagle County. Houses spread over the hills north of I-70 and down into the valley south of the highway. In 2004, almost 7,000 people lived within the town limits. Until two and a half years ago, most of the town’s retail business was clustered around its only highway interchange. Local big boxes like City Market and Wal-Mart were all within walking distance of each other.In 1998, the town council voted to annex 1,800 acres of ranch land directly east of town. Landowner Magnus Lindholm wanted to develop the land as mixed use commercial and residential through his company Traer Creek, LLC. The Eagle County government was considering allowing the development, but asked Lindholm to offer the annexation to the town of Avon first.”We were really under pressure from Magnus,” Judy Yoder, former mayor of Avon, said. “Eagle County wasn’t helping us at all.” The town feared the Traer Creek development would have a negative impact on existing Avon businesses and town sales tax revenues.”We were faced at that time with the possibility of losing control (if we didn’t annex the land),” Avon finance manager Scott Wright said. “We would still have sales tax migration with no exactions. We would have been faced with a much bigger problem.”
Eventually the town reached an agreement with Traer Creek. The land was annexed and 600,000 square feet of commercial development was approved. At first there was no mention of exactly what stores were involved.”The next thing we knew, Magnus came back with a Super Wal-Mart and Home Depot,” Yoder said. The developer agreed to build a new interchange on I-70, as well as improved roads and infrastructure to serve the new commercial area. The town allowed Traer Creek to keep all sales tax revenues from the stores for up to 26 years, or until the bond financing the infrastructure is paid off. In turn, Traer Creek agreed to pay the town $200,000 a year for 10 years for street improvement and to make up the loss in sales tax revenue from the relocation of the original town Wal-Mart. Home Depot opensIn 2003, Home Depot and Super Wal-Mart opened on land adjacent to the new highway exit, about a mile from downtown Avon. The Home Depot in Avon is very much like any other Home Depot. According to store manager Brent Ruth, it has 110,000 square feet inside and a 15,000-square-foot outside garden. Ruth said the store has 150 employees, about 70 percent of whom work full time. Most of the employees live within an hour’s drive of Avon. Ruth is proud of the store’s community involvement.”We donate hours, materials and time to the women’s shelter,” he said. “We’re members of the Chamber of Commerce and we participate in highway cleanups.” The store sponsors monthly workshops for kids and do-it-yourself home improvers. The schedule for these workshops is standardized nationwide and can be found on the Home Depot website.Economic impact
Local hardware store owners felt the greatest immediate impact of the arrival of the national chain. Loren Gifford, owner of Vail Ace Hardware in west Vail, has stayed in business despite Home Depot.”The first month after it opened we lost about 48 percent of our business. The second month 46 percent and the third month 43 percent,” he said. “It’ll be a few years before we get back to where we were.” Gifford is also the president of the Down Valley Rotary Club. When asked if local businesses closed after Home Depot arrived, he listed several.”Two appliance stores, a carpet and tile store,” he said. “Anything having to do with the construction trades. A lot have relocated to Eagle and Gypsum.” Gifford credits his ability to raise prices as the only reason he’s still in business. He now bases his pricing structure on the Avon Home Depot.”I hadn’t anticipated that some items in the Avon store would be almost double the price of the same item in the Grand Junction Home Depot,” he said. “Before Home Depot, I had lots of people complaining about my prices. Those people that shopped closely quit complaining after Home Depot got here.”Finance manager Wright said the Super Wal-Mart had the greatest impact on sales tax loss.”Sales tax loss has not been an issue for Home Depot,” he said. “Super Wal-Mart was a different story because of our existing City Market.” Wright acknowledged the town experienced a budget crunch in 2003, but attributed it to a combination of factors.”It all hit in the middle of Colorado’s recovery from recession and the drought,” he said. Even though they do not include income from Home Depot or Wal-Mart, sales tax revenues to date in 2005 are exceeding expectations.Consumer reactionMany consumers in the Eagle Valley are happy to have a Home Depot.
“I shop there all the time,” Jacquie Halburnt, Eagle-Vail resident and Avon assistant town manager said. Pete Buckley, former Avon town councilman, also shops at Home Depot frequently.”There are things that you can get there that are cheap,” he said. Buckley believes opinion about big box development is determined by income.”What I have found is whether you like the big boxes or don’t like them is related to where you are on the economic food chain,” he said. “The higher you are, the less you like them.”Yoder, the former mayor, feels the town is still very divided in its opinion of the development. She said the annexation issue in 1998 was “very emotional” on both sides. She remembers it as the largest turnout ever at a council meeting.”I think Home Depot is a great asset,” she said. “But if it had come up to a vote, the people probably would’ve voted against it.”The future of AvonThe Avon Town Council has completely changed membership since the 1998 vote. In 2005, “smart growth” was an important campaign issue in the town council elections. Two candidates, Tamra Underwood and Kristi Ferraro, both won easily on platforms of controlled development. Ferraro appreciates the building design of the Home Depot, but questions the advantages of such development to a town like Avon.”Here we are joining the rest of America,” she said. “Are we killing the goose that laid the golden egg by bringing suburbia to our little mountain towns?” Ferraro believes decentralization is one of the big issues facing Avon. The council is currently working on plans to revitalize the downtown.