The mountain village of Crested Butte, Colorado, spans less than a square mile and is nearly 9,000 feet above sea level. So when a Chicago billionaire began quietly buying out his historic buildings, residents took note.
“I was worried that someone would come in and buy so much commercial property in the community,”
The billionaire in question is investment banker Mark Walter. Extremely unfavorable for the media, the CEO of Guggenheim Partners has accumulated a net worth of about $ 5.3 billion, according to Forbes, with a little fanfare. His most public move came in 2012, when Walter joined forces with Magic Johnson and several other entertainment figures to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers for a record $ 2.15 billion.
But Walter’s activities in Crested Butte attracted a lot of local attention from a population of about 4,700. This year alone, Walter bought six commercial properties, including several historic downtown buildings and a family resort called Almont, located at the crossroads of the East and Taylor. Walter closed deals with limited liability companies registered at his Chicago address
“He was a lot – I wouldn’t say ‘secret,’ but he certainly didn’t expect what he would do with the buildings,” Crested Butte Mayor Jim Schmidt told The Daily Beast. Broker Eric Roemer echoed the awkward feeling: “No one really knows what his game plan is.”
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“I have no idea what Mr. Walter plans to do,” said George Sibley, a writer and Gunnison County resident, “and I don’t think anyone else is doing it — probably including Mr. Walter.”
Among his new investments, Walter acquired a building called the Forest Queen for $ 1.55 million, a commercial property containing a spa and tattoo shop for $ 1.85 million, a restaurant called Wood Nickel for $ 1.85 million, a health club for $ 1.7 million, an undeveloped lot for $ 5.5 million, and the resort for $ 6.3 million. In total, the new purchases amount to more than 20 million dollars.
Walter did not respond to numerous requests for comment. It’s kind of like a model for him; in opinion of Crested Butte News, local writer Mark Reaman described contacting the CEO’s broker to see if he could discuss future plans. “After she finished laughing,” Reamon wrote, “she basically pointed out that I probably had a better chance of getting Donald Trump to talk to me about Almont.”
Even Roemer, who owned Wood Nickel before Walter bought it, said he was unable to obtain information about the plans. “The only thing his representatives have told us is that, at least with Wood Nickel, he is interested in continuing the operation as it has been so far,” Roemer said. “Currently, no one knows if it has been modified. But he plans to open the business by the end of May. “
The purchases left Schmid a little confused, as commercial property in ski towns could lead to a difficult economy. Typically, he said, commercial buildings are sold at about three times the price of local homes. But in high-end ski regions, where homes are becoming so expensive, math can make it harder for smaller businesses to make a profit. “You’ll have to charge too much for burgers,” he said. “That’s the challenge.”
A remaining question for residents is what Walter will do with the undeveloped land at the northern end of town, aimed at the ski slopes. The sprawling property, known locally as the Sixth Street Station, was approved as a massive hotel and residential building in 2017. According to Schmidt, it would be the largest hotel in Crested Butte. But it remains unclear whether Walter plans to continue with the construction project.
For the past decade, Walter has had a quiet presence in the Crested Butte area. He and his wife owned a home in the nearby town of Mt. Crested Butte since 2009, and in 2011 he bought a shopping mall known as the Grubstake Building for $ 766,700. Grubstake housed a teahouse, a café, an art gallery, and a fishing shop that Walter actively maintained.
For a time, the CEO went through a local permitting process to turn the building into a place for music and dance. According to Starr and Schmidt, he later backed down from plans to pay the city a one-time street parking fee.
“He didn’t like the parking fees instead, which we apply to all companies,” Schmidt said. “Honestly, I was a little surprised that he thought the amount was excessive, given what he pays the third outside player for the Dodgers.”
For a time, the city had an advertising slogan: “Crested Butte – what was Aspen in the past, and Vail never was.” The joke was that Crested Butt was “the last great ski town in Colorado” that had not yet been bought by even richer outsiders looking for a seasonal stay. But some residents are worried that Walter’s investment could change that.
“One of the worries, of course, is that when people have more such commercial properties, rents usually go up, which makes it difficult for business owners,” Starr said. “And here we have a really serious shortage of affordable housing, so this could eventually exacerbate this problem.”
But Sibley pointed out that Walter had followed a long line of wealthy investors coming to Colorado. “There wouldn’t even be cities in Colorado if it weren’t for foreign money,” he said, quoting some Kansas bankers who had invested in the Crested Butte ski slopes and a Texas refining company that runs a nearby mine.
“Before that, of course, it was a coal mining town, and it was essentially the town of the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, located in Pueblo,” Sibley said. “So it’s always been almost entirely owned by a subsidiary of outsiders.”
But Walter’s investment could herald a wave of new types of foreigners. “I’ve heard people say, ‘We’ve reached a point where billionaires are pushing millionaires out,'” Starr said, “which many of us who have lived here for a long time hoped would never happen. ”
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