Make a Place
River Run RV Resort betting big on retirees and the RV craze
The Windy Gap area just south of Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park is a dynamic place of beauty, wilderness, and adventure. It’s perfect for an RV base camp that brings into range one of the nation’s most captivating national parks and a surrounding area of history, challenge, and the enduring battle of rich versus poor.
We hired on as workcampers at the River Run RV Resort at the intersection of US highways 40 and 34 on the edge of Granby, Colo. Two major spring snow and rain storms delayed construction, so we became part of a make-a-place adventure.
The transformation of mosquito-infested marshland into a functioning master-planned complex came with an entirely new set of personal challenges. Living in the clamor of beeping back hoes, clanking tank-treaded bulldozers, and whistling, Spanish-speaking workers was like being immersed in a foreign war zone. It brought back jungle memories of my warrior days. To be part of the day-to-day development was fun, though, seeing dramatic changes hour-over-hour, day-over-day. It did take its toll with dawn ditch-digging outside the RV, late-night grading, and six-day work weeks loaded with overtime.
All was not lost, as hikes in the national park and around Grand Lake area trails were breathtaking. Few-minute rides dropped us in the middle of wilderness views and wildlife. Rivers and streams surged with water from the big storms. Waterfalls roared impressively with mists and rainbows. Meadows lush with green feasts invited moose and elk to feed gloriously. Deer seemed undaunted by our presence, and on one hike a fox walked down the path near us before darting last second into the underbrush.
This is a county of second-home, high income homeowners, big farmers, highly paid utility workers, and many seasonal workers and recreationists.
A Place for Local Workers
According to an economic analysis commissioned by Grand County, where Granby is located, construction and extraction are the county’s top employment categories, followed by cleaning and maintenance, cooks and servers, installers and maintenance people, then farmers and forest rangers.
The top job category is lodging and food services with about 2,500 workers, compared to about 1,400 government workers and bureaucrats. Annual average government salaries are about $60,000 while lodging and food services and educational workers are at the bottom of the pile at less than $30,000. Grand County utilities workers on average earn in excess of $150,000 annually.
This skewed economic picture means the demand for low-income workers is high but the ability to live in the county is low. The top employer is Winter Park Ski Resort. However, Granby, some 30 miles from Winter Park, has about 2,600 jobs, Winter Park about 2,200. The economic report sees increases in county job demand and business growth, but limited access to workers with unemployment at 2.5 percent of the population.
With higher than average populations of millennials and veterans (ski bums and codgers, according to some locals), growth and sustainability are constrained by the unavailability of local housing. About 38 percent of the county’s businesses have one to four employees and more than 25 percent have five to nine employees.
The county’s average home price nears $600,000, and according to RentJungle.com, as of May 2018, average apartment rent in Granby was $2250, a more than 91% increase from the previous year. City Partnership Aims at Affordability
Sun Communities acquired 20 communities in the past year, including 310 mobile-home units in its Granby master-planned River Run RV Resort. Those homes range in price from about $150,000 in its Smith Creek Village to more than $300,000 for other units on the 300-acre property. The homes are only available on leased property, like most mobile-home park business models. They will be sold on a phased schedule that gives Granby residents exclusive access for a year, and then Grand County residents before opening generally.
Sun’s expansion strategy is capitalizing on retiring baby boomers and a growing RV industry. The company spent nearly $60 million to expand 1,300 sites at 13 of its communities last year (with more than 99 percent occupancy rates in Colorado and 96.6 percent across its network), and it expected to construct more than 1,600 additional expansion sites in 2019.
RV communities are a key business segment. The RV Industry Association reported record RV unit sales of more than $20.1 billion in 2018, despite a 4.1 decrease from record 2017 sales, with about a half million units sold.
Sun Communities bought the Granby property, a withering parcel with the buried bones of a bankrupt luxury golf course, for $5.25 million and is investing a rumored $130 million in construction.
The frantic pace of work to complete the Granby resort might have a lot to do with $10 million in city tax incentives Sun Communities will gain if it completes certain construction goals to provide more affordable local housing. According to published reports, Sun can receive tax reimbursements for eligible improvements or receive tax reimbursements for 25 years, whichever comes first—so quicker in, quicker reimbursement.
River Run RV resort is seen as a boost—or in some references a life saver—for Granby, which was more a pass-through intersection on the way to somewhere else. This resort is expected to provide a destination for vacationers, visitors, and people who would like to work and live in this beautiful area.
Michigan-based Sun Communities is a $1.1 billion public company. The real estate investment trust reports owning or managing about 109,000 mobile home and permanent sites in the U.S. and Canada, and nearly 19,500 transient RV sites. Its stock price mid 2019 enjoyed a 45.4 percent increase to about $150 since 2018 and up from $113.68 in February 2019.
Its acquisition surge continues as the company acquires and fixes up communities and old RV parks around the country. One of its recent acquisitions was Jellystone RV park in Larkspur, Colorado, for $7.4 million, which will expand the 69-acre campground from 150 sites to 600. Purchased in 2016, dirt is turning to add spaces and luxury amenities like River Run RV Resort’s.
When completed, River Run RV Resort will be a must-visit destination. Graced with a fitness center, a large pool and three hot tubs, planned activities, and more, it’s a perfect base camp location for RV camping or vacation-cabin getaways.