Leadville could have withered along with the sputtering mine up the road.
But the community recast itself as a tourist destination, rich with cultural and outdoor charms. And now, as its tourism economy hums, the highest-altitude incorporated city in the country is enthralling investors and second homeowners, promising a boom that could eclipse the historic gold rush that founded Leadville.
For years, Leadville has watched its resort-anchored neighbors throb with vibrant real estate markets, spurred by second homeowners willing to pay ever higher prices for mountain homes. Finally, the city of 2,700 people is joining that real estate party.
Homes are selling in a day. Prices are soaring. Investors are going big. Businesses are flocking to Leadville. There’s a vigor and optimism — familiar in the popular communities that border Lake County — that is floating hopes that Leadville has at last arrived after years of economic toil.
“Welcome to the ride, Leadville,” said former Mayor Jamie Stuever, who’s eyeing retirement after selling a downtown apartment building to investors who plan to install a natural-food grocery store there. “We are the last-frontier mountain town that is still intact and still rough around the edges, which people love. We are affordable, and people want a piece of that rustic mountain town. With broadband, of course.”
In 2007, when irrational exuberance dominated the high-country resort real estate market with a dangerous mix of easy money and skyrocketing home prices, Leadville simmered with slow growth. When the bubble burst and resort communities saw sales volume and prices crater, Leadville saw a slight slowdown.
As the other resort communities clambered out of the recession, Leadville resumed its leisurely pace of modest annual price increases and slight upticks in residential sales and prices.
For decades, the resort communities surrounding Lake County and Leadville have boasted diverse and growing economies spinning off the ever-rocking resort tourism industry. This summer, real estate sales and visitor spending around the 10,150-foot Leadville have exploded, joining the neighboring markets. Real estate sales in Eagle, Pitkin, Summit, Grand, Routt, Chaffee and San Miguel counties are up 24 percent to 60 percent through the midpoint of the year. Median prices are climbing.