In March, Nederland property owner Ron Mitchell will host a series of three open houses to explain his proposed plans to develop Second Street into a mixed use complex with an underground parking lot. He said part of his proposal includes a swimming pool for local children.
Mitchell has owned most of the buildings on the street for decades and has, for decades, wanted to tear them down, erasing what he refers to as minimally functional building and creating a center free of 50-year-old mold and rotting mining timbers. This has been his quest,
an obsession with him since he brought his first project to town in the late 1960s.
At that time many of the old-timers welcomed his intent. Mitchell grew up in Denver and attended the University of Colorado, studying engineering and business. It took him 11 years to graduate because during that time buildings came his way and turning them into money-makers took up much of his time.
Developer? Or slum lord? Old-time Nederland residents didn’t know what to think of him. At that time he was 19 years old with a head full of creation places to live out of structures that no one else wanted.
During his college years, he earned money by being a barber — his original chairs can still be found around town — and of working as a
janitor in boarding houses. In 1957, he needed a place to live and crashed in the back room of the Branding Iron which was in the parking lot of what is now the First Street Pub and Grill — because it was all he could afford.
After a few months, he returned to Boulder where the Kittredge Complex of dormitories has been built and many private buildings went into bankruptcy. Mitchell was hired to manage the seven of the bankrupt
buildings. With his fair skin, red hair and boyish demeanor, he had a way of charming people, convincing them of his transparency.
“I was just at the right place at the right time,” Mitchell said. One of the buildings was turned into an international youth hostel to house the hordes of travelers who headed into the world looking for adventure. The Boulder International Hostel business was formed, and in
the next 43 years expanded all over the world. Mitchell bought and sold and consulted, forming the American Association of Hostels.
When a house Mitchell was living in, in Boulder, was sold to a bank, the owner told Mitchell he would have to leave but could take the house if he wanted to move it. The first piece of Mitchell’s puzzle slid into place. All he had to do was get the structure to Nederland. At that point a woman that had been the house mother at the Boulder Hostel gave him a lot and he moved the house to it. It became the first hostel in Nederland.
Measurements went wrong. The house became wedged in the tunnel at the bottom of the canyon and a major extrication event occurred over the next couple of days. Mitchell, unknown to that point, had become the focal point of conversation in the town that depended on going through the tunnel to get to work in Boulder.
Finally with four feet of the roof cut off, the structure made it to Nederland where Mitchell was greeted by Town Marshal Jimmy Griffith, who informed him that he had dug a foundation that was two feet deeper than the water table. Mitchell was forced to jack up the house to allow the underground excavation.
The building is located at the intersection of Pine and Jackson Streets, across the street from the area which once was the town library. Mitchell remembers being astounded at the huge numbers of volunteers that showed up. The roof was replaced and the library was rehabbed. Travelers came from all over the world and Mitchell said the building became very profitable. After a 3 year break, the hostel was then re-established to the corner of Boulder Street and Highway 119, across from the Caribou Village Shopping Center. It closed around 10 years ago and is now a private residence.
Then the waters became muddy for Mitchell. By the 1980s and 1990s a new kind of traveler visited the hostel and soon the Nederland Police Reports listed drug dealings, violence and even an overdose. Neighbors complained. One of them an elderly lady asked for help from the Police Department, from the Town Hall and from anyone with any power. She asked them to stop the all-night noise despite the “quiet at 10” signs. She asked them to investigate the strangers that came and went and also asked them to show some decency and some respect for members of the community.
It was also at this time that Mitchell’s aspirations in Nederland were expanding. He had purchased most of the properties on First Street,
which at that time was lined with old commercial buildings, some old mining cabins and rust melted machinery. Mitchell saw the area as a hotel with underground parking. It was a divisive issue. Some residents could almost agree with gentrifying the town; some opposed the ‘Vail-like’ atmosphere it seemed to project and others questioned Ron Mitchell’s track record with renovation.
The other obstacle was a plot of land in the middle of the block.
After years of studying pottery and sculpture in Japan, Kay Horowitz settled on Nederland as her home, a place to raise her children and a place to create her unique and popular line of dishes, cups, oil lamps and just about everything anyone could ask for. She sat at her wheel and enjoyed her space and the visitors that came and went.
When she wasn’t working, she was flying around town on her bicycle, her white hair flowing in the wind, while she waved at everyone, but her ownership of the lot on Second Street foiled Mitchell’s plans.
He offered to buy Horowitz’s studio, but it was a no deal. His reaction to the rebuff became a battle. He dug deep and found that a piece of her property encroached on one of his boundaries and he used that edge to dig into the legality of her ownership.
The more she resisted, the more he persisted. They went to court. As he fought this small town battle, he was also amassing a fortune and buying hostels elsewhere. He got married to his Japanese translator and has three daughters.
Nederland was devastated when folks heard that Kay had cancer and at her funeral, which was by invitation only, Mitchell wanted to go but was turned away. She was mourned by the community who believed that the Magnolia Pottery Shop would never fall into Mitchell’s hands.
Last October, Kay’s husband Stu sold the building to realtor George Tieg Van Buren. Local hat maker and boutique entrepreneur Mary Rugg rented two rooms of the pottery building just before Christmas. After
Christmas she was informed that the building had sold again and she sent out notices saying she was closing down the Madd Hatter. Recently she was informed that she could continue operating her business and was a given an address to send her rent to.
Nederland Deputy Town Clerk Michelle Martin said that the property at 40 Second Street was now owned by an LLC and so far, no owners or contractors have applied for any building permits on that lot.
In the past two years, Mitchell has made improvements to his building on the highway, building a retaining wall and adding dinner plate
dahlias. He has sold his properties in Boulder. Recent reviews of the hostel in Boulder were mixed, but it no longer exists.
Last summer, the Boulder International Hotel was closed. It was then occupied by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity and recently sold for $4.4 million to 1107 12th LLC. Mitchell has no interest in continuing to run hostels, and his wife wants him to retire. None of his three daughters have any interest in carrying on the hostel business. They already have careers of their own.
Over the years, Mitchell acquired the First Street Pub and Grill, the Thai Restaurant, the former clinic parking lot and the brick house that used to be the Acoustic Coffee House. He formed the Nederland Central Business Redevelopment LLC and is a member of the Nederland Downtown Development Authority.
He looks into the future, and he sees the completion of his first dream, that of developing Second Street. He sees the razing of falling apart buildings to accommodate the construction of well-built structures to meet the needs of Nederland residents.
Mitchell plans to reveal the concept of the structures and answer all questions in three consecutive open house events on Sunday, March17, March 24 and March 31. The meetings will take place at the Nederland Community Center from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. He said construction will probably last eight years and will be phased so that the present tenants can continue their business and move into new quarters while the construction takes place.
Mitchell has plans that echo old mining days’ decor and also has drawings that are new — a whole different look at the downtown area. He said the architecture will be a blend of the past, present and future. Two of his favorite proposals for a rebuild is the recreation of the old Antlers Hotel and the old theater. He is proposing two underground levels of parking.
When Mitchell was asked why he wanted to continue tearing down and rebuilding places, he responded, “Because that’s what I enjoy doing. I love Nederland. I just want everyone in town who is interested, to look at my ideas and incorporate them with their ideas.”
The open houses will be attended by many groups of people. Some who remember past incidents that made them distrust Mitchell, who put his efforts into changing a town that didn’t seem to them to need changing. Newcomers will attend that have no past experience with Mitchell or a project of this size.
Make a list of your own questions. Look for answers and be there.