Economy gaining steam in East Grand County

Hank Shell
Volario's, located in the Vasquez Inn, has been named one of the top 10 Italian restaurants in Colorado's mountain.
Byron Hetzler/ | Sky-Hi News

A recent slew of business openings and improvements in Winter Park could be a sign that the economy is rebounding.

The recently opened Vasquez Creek Inn and Hideaway Park Brewery are the latest examples of business owners investing in the downtown area.

“Things are improving and looking better, and people’s businesses are growing,” said Catherine Ross, executive director of the Winter Park & Fraser Chamber of Commerce.

The property transaction for Vasquez Creek Inn, formerly the German-style inn and restaurant Gasthaus Eichler, closed on Sept. 6, 2013, for $1.4 million, according to the Grand County assessor’s website.

“I think it is a sign that people are investing in our community, and I think it is a sign that our work of keeping the community vibrant is encouraging people to invest.”
Catherine Ross
Executive director, Winter Park & Fraser Chamber of Commerce

Bob and Suzanne Fanch, owners of Devil’s Thumb Ranch, purchased the property and renovated its 15 rooms, adding a new restaurant, Volario’s, which is slated to open in mid-August.

The Fanches also purchased the Rocky Mountain Chalet, which they hope to convert into employee housing for Devil’s Thumb Ranch, said Penne Pojar, chief marketing officer for Devil’s Thumb Ranch.

“The ranch is growing so much it’s getting difficult to get workers in,” said Pojar.

The Hideaway Park Brewery opened at the beginning of July, adding another face to the town’s burgeoning craft brewery scene.

The Winter Park Resort is also opening a new 16,000 square-foot facility atop of Lunch Rock, which Ross identified as another example of investment in Winter Park’s tourism-based economy.

The openings and improvements are a boon compared to the sluggish state of the local economy around the same time last year, Ross said.

“I think it is a sign that people are investing in our community, and I think it is a sign that our work of keeping the community vibrant is encouraging people to invest,” Ross said.

Town improvements

Winter Park itself hasn’t played the wallflower in this recent investment.

The town’s music festivals, mountain biking events and even the new flowers at the town’s north entrance are all working synergistically to make Winter Park a more appealing place for both business owners and the customers that they rely on, Ross said.

“The infrastructure, what the town has invested in, is looking better than ever, and business owners are definitely investing,” she said.

The town has even taken an active approach to help businesses improve their own infrastructure, by giving out $110,000 to private businesses for improvements. Business owners had to match the grants and meet certain criteria, Ross said.

Fraser-Winter Park plan

The Winter Park & Fraser Chamber of Commerce is developing an economic development plan as part of the county’s community profile project to determine what direction the area wants to move as far as economic growth.

The chamber and county’s economic development coordinator are gathering data for the plan, which means finding where important infrastructure like broadband and water are located.

The first report from the findings should be available in the fall, Ross said. The full report may take up to a year to complete.

“Next year we hope to actually determine what direction we want to take,” Ross said.

In the meantime, the chamber will continue to focus on improving infrastructure and attracting tourists and business with events.

“We want everybody who lives locally to have a good time,” Ross said. “That’s awesome, but our priority is to promote the community and get people to come here from the outside.”

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

The Sky-Hi News strives to deliver powerful stories that spark emotion and focus on the place we live.

Over the past year, contributions from readers like you helped to fund some of our most important reporting, including coverage of the East Troublesome Fire.

If you value local journalism, consider making a contribution to our newsroom in support of the work we do.