Who we are: Robin Theobald preserves Breckenridge’s charm
summit daily news
BRECKENRIDGE – Much of the historic charm defining Breckenridge can be attributed to the work of Robin Theobald, a fifth-generation Summit County resident.
Theobald, 58, has gone to great lengths to restore aging structures – and put them back to use for entrepreneurs to get their feet wet.
“We couldn’t have a better person to control all the property he controls, because he’s not in it just for the money. He’s in it because he loves the town,” town Councilman Jeffrey Bergeron said.
Theobald has overseen improvements to 16 structures his family owns in downtown Breckenridge, and he continues to work on more projects.
“With old buildings, we find they reach a point when they go away or (we) got to fix them up,” Theobald said. “Their construction was to get through the winter, not through the decades.”
Some structures, which date back as far as the late 1800s, had been built without a stud in the wall or a joist in the roof.
Since May 2008, Theobald has renovated and expanded the Victorian-era Theobald Building at the southwest corner of Main Street and Ski Hill Road – making more commercial space available to businesses.
He said it’s the biggest such project he’s undertaken since he started restoring buildings in 1973.
The Barney Ford House Museum and the Tin Shop were renovated through partnerships with the town. The Tin Shop now hosts guest artists specializing in a variety of media.
Local real estate broker Turk Montepare said Theobald is a “pathfinder in traditional and historic renovation.”
“He’s more than willing to spend over and above what might be a bottom-line figure to get the right and authentic thing in terms of preserving his properties,” Montepare said.
Bergeron said the efforts are reflected in the face of the town.
“A lot of these small businesses wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them,” he said.
Theobald offers space for long-term residential and commercial rentals, and one of his goals is to help entrepreneurs get on their feet.
“I would like to see the town develop a year-round economy that is immune from boom-bust cycles,” he said.
His “business incubators” have set fees for utilities and management so tenants “know exactly the cost each month to operate.”
Theobald said he came up with the business incubator idea about five or six years ago after visitors to the community said they’d like to see more shopping opportunities in town.
“(Breckenridge) wasn’t a shopping destination because it hadn’t coalesced into a critical shopping mass,” he said.
He began offering “small, efficient” spaces “where it didn’t take a million dollar investment to open the doors,” Theobald said.
Several Main Street businesses – such as Hand and Glove, Photo Shop, Magical Scraps and Colorado Freeride Ski and Bike Shop – are housed in Theobald properties.
Theobald’s parents acquired most of the properties between the 1950s and early 1970s.
Theobald has also used his resources to support environmental causes.
Montepare said Theobald donated land on Shock Hill worth “in excess of a million dollars” to the town for open space.
Mayor John Warner said Theobald and his wife, Patty, brought water quality issues to the public’s attention.
“They were the people who first kind of raised red flags in the 1980s of the water quality coming off the slopes into Cucumber Gulch,” he said.
He said they hired – at their own expense – a wildlife expert to study the quantity and quality of fish life.
“They’ve done some amazing things,” he said.
Theobald said Breckenridge today is a far cry from his childhood in the 1950s.
The town was the “most dead ever” at that time, with the mining industry falling to the boom-bust cycles.
“Skiing has changed that,” he said. “But there are not as many residents as in the mining era.”
Theobald left the community to attend preparatory school and college. He majored in English literature at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., then returned to his hometown because “by that point Breckenridge was a place to make a living.”
He started the country-rock radio station KLGT or K-Light – now KSMT – in 1975. Selling the radio station in 1979, Theobald went on to start an AM station.
He became involved in mining then real estate development. Now he restores historic buildings.
He said the town seems to have “matured” over the decades with more year-round visitation and performances by the National Repertory Orchestra “emblematic of a matured community rather than a ski town.”
History sets the town apart from other ski communities, he said.
The ski culture has changed, too.
“Skiing used to be more of a fraternity than a sport,” he said, adding that fewer people did it and slower lifts made for longer lines. “There’s a whole level of social interaction that just doesn’t occur anymore.”
Theobald’s great-great-grandfather, John Burnheimer, arrived in the late 1870s. The “adventurer” moved on to Oregon, but his family stayed here, Theobald said.
“I think he was just restless,” he said.
The rest of the family were miners or entrepreneurs. Theobald’s great grandfather was a mining engineer and owned the Denver Hotel. His grandfather was also a mining engineer.
The family owns a silver mine in Red Mountain that hasn’t been used since the early 1980s, but Theobald said it could be re-opened if silver prices increase enough.
His parents, Lois and Robert, were both attorneys and owned the Summit County Journal.
Robert Theobald, served as a state senator and was director of revenue for Colorado.
Robin Theobald serves on the boards of the Breckenridge Historical Alliance, Upper Blue Planning Commission and the Upper Blue Sanitation District.
When not involved in local affairs, he enjoys skiing and riding dirt bikes. He also orchestrates the town’s fireworks displays for such events as the Fourth of July.
Patty Theobald has served on the Summit Foundation and town of Blue River boards as well as the Summit Schools accountability committee.
His son Rob is a local engineer who serves as a trustee for the town of Blue River.
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or
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