SOLD: The “We ? Leadville” Property Sells . . . FINALLY!
By Kathy Bedell © Leadville Today
After years of speculation and a handful of broken dreams, the ink on the sale of the “We ? Leadville” property is finally dry. On October 4, the deed to the area, more commonly known as Poverty Flats, transferred hands from the Seven Saints Land Company to High Country Developers, LLC.
The $1,350,000 price tag provides nearly 40 acres of land, from the intersection of E. 12th Street and Highway 24 next to the Family Dollar Store, moving north in front of (and including) Leadville’s beloved landmark sign, spanning as far north to the property behind the Silver King Inn and Malette Gas Station. It’s a sizeable stretch of property.
But what about that sign? What will happen to The Cloud City’s most notable landmark at the north entrance into town? To understand the answer to that question, Leadville Today introduces you to John P. Lichtenegger, the man behind High Country Developers, and the new owner of some of Lake County’s most talked about property.
“My passion is real estate development and law related to real estate,” said Lichtenegger in an exclusive interview with Leadville Today. A seasoned attorney from Jackson, Mo., Lichtenegger is winding down the law component of his career, shifting more of his focus to his passion for real estate development.
In fact, according to Lichtenegger, High Country Developers was formed in 2009 for the exact purpose of buying that piece of Lake County property. That same year, he made his first offer on Poverty Flats.
So what happened? What was the hold up? After all, this particular piece of land has always been considered to be the most prime for development, the best place to build out some commercial and residential space.
“We became aware of the property about nine years ago and had it under contract then,” explained Lichtenegger, “but as we found out, sewer service was not available at the time.” Without a major sewer line, Lichtenegger’s initial interest was stalled because of the lack of utility access needed for basic infrastructure, a concern that has been echoed in Lake County real estate circles for years.
The game-changer came in 2011 when the Leadville Sanitation District undertook a 1.7 million dollar upgrade project. Prior to that, the original sanitation system was built to serve only the city’s population, thereby presenting persistent overload issues as more and more homes and businesses were tied into the system. Eventually, the proverbial problem hit the fan and the district was charged to address the situation.
According to General Manager Scott Marcella, “We replaced some old line, put in some new line. We got a bigger line to 14th and Harrison.” Prior to the improvements, the concern was always that if a big subdivision were to be built on Poverty Flats, it would overload the system coming through town.
But even with the sewer situation resolved, it would be another 5 years before Lichtenegger returned to the negotiating table, prompted by a former colleague, rather than any publicly funded economic development efforts.
Another variable that sweetened the deal was the Colorado Department of Transportation’s promise to move up a project planned for 2021, to next year’s priority list. The intersection at Highway 24 and Mountain View Drive is scheduled to become a four way intersection, allowing a more formal portal into the proposed development on the north end.
And with 39 acres to work with, the project will be significant. There will definitely be some commercial/retail built along Highway 24, designed with Leadville’s heritage and culture in mind, explained Lichtenegger. The housing development is anticipated to consist of a mix of single family homes, townhouses and apartments.
“I think that workforce housing can be integrated into what we are doing in an absolutely wonderful way,” Lichtenegger stated when pressed about any plans to offer affordable housing for the working, middle class.
At this stage, it’s one step at a time for High Country Developers, but they wasted no time in taking that the first one last week, with their application for annexing 37 of those 39 acres into the City of Leadville. Why the annexation?
“It’s next to the city, it seems to be part of the city and so, it’s my opinion that it ought to be in the city,” explained Lichtenegger, a sentiment not historically echoed by local residents anytime the topic of annexation rears its head in Lake County. However Lichtenegger expressed that their plans would move forward either way.
But what about that We ? Leadville sign?
Like most, when it comes to America highest city, Lichtenegger’s business decision is yoked to a more emotional connection than an upgraded sewer line or the promise of a new intersection.
“I’ve been enchanted with Leadville for years!” he announced enthusiastically. “The historic architecture and charm left behind by the Leadville pioneers for us to enjoy, it’s simply spectacular!”
However, local history buffs might find some irony in his statement, as the $1.3 million price tag does not fit the nickname of his recent acquisition, more commonly known as: Poverty Flats. Yes, that’s right, not all prospectors who came to the Leadville Mining District struck pay dirt! In fact, many left penniless with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
As noted on the Mineral Belt Trail’s interpretative sign located in the heart of this section: This area (Poverty Flats) has become a visual reminder of shattered dreams and the final resting place of the worldly goods left behind. Personal possessions painstakingly transported by Conestoga wagon and mule trains across the vast prairies and over treacherous mountain passes were abandoned in heaps and scattered piles too heavy to carry on to the next strike or back east to their point of origin.
Unfortunately, for a growing number of folks wanting to hang their hats and hopes in Leadville today, that last sentence has more than a small ring of truth to it.
For many, mountain-living dreams have been stymied due to the lack of housing, much less affordable housing.
And while the local politicians continue pontificating about conducting another survey, holding another meeting or worse yet, consulting with neighboring resort communities with dismal track records when it comes to workforce housing, residents can only hope that a developer from the mid-west can provide the leadership necessary to make Poverty Flats just another page in the Leadville history books, rather than a daily reality for hundreds of Lake County residents. So in that regard, welcome to the neighborhood Mr. Lichtenegger, you’re good intentions are welcome here!
But what about the sign?
“Well, I love the sign. I want to retain the wall in some form or fashion,” answered Lichtenegger honestly. “I don’t know if it will be exactly the way it is today, but we’re going to integrate that sign or something similar into the plans once we know where everything is going.”
Some say, that change is a sign of the times. But in America’s highest city, it comes with the hope that one sign may never change: We ? Leadville. Great Living @ 10,200 feet!
Kathy Bedell owns The Great Pumpkin LLC, a digital media company located in Leadville, which publishes two online news websites: LeadvilleToday.com and SaguacheToday.com. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org