Build It And They Will Come

Over the course of his career, professional kayaker Jed Selby has seen a lot of great mountain towns. So many, in fact, that when he was ready to settle down 15 years ago, he was having a hard time deciding where. Perhaps it was the Paradox of Choice, or the fact that Selby had become too picky—insisting on affordability, walkability, great weather, good dining and drinking options, and of course, a river.

So Selby set out to create the perfect river town himself. If that seems overly ambitious for a paddler, consider that Selby hails from a family of real estate developers, where envisioning the details of the ideal town is common dinner table discussion. He partnered with his sister Katie (also a former pro kayaker), and the siblings set their sights on Buena Vista, where the town dump occupied the best riverfront property and the water was a mile away from the downtown (an uninspired stretch of gas stations and eateries). “It was a diamond in the rough,” Selby says.

In 2003, the two sold a family parcel in the Vail Valley to purchase Buena Vista’s 40-acre riverside parcel (including the former dump), and enact a plan to bring New Urbanism to Buena Vista. Today, their mixed-use South Main development boasts 50 buildings and homes, including a town square, craft brewery, and a riverside park with a rock-climbing wall and live music venue. The Selbys have also purchased 84 residential and commercial lots to eventually connect South Main to the original downtown—which is going through a revitalization of its own thanks to new sidewalks, freshly paved streets, and new businesses like the Buena Vista Roastery coffee shop and Deerhammer Distilling Company.

In June 2014, Jed opened Surf Château, a thoughtfully designed 20-room boutique hotel with a European vibe. It is the first hotel in the Upper Arkansas Valley to offer balconies overlooking the river. If he’d been worried about how locals were embracing all the changes, the hotel confirms they’ve been well received. “It’s been booked solid nearly every night since we opened,” he says.

Up next for Buena Vista: a new building in South Main’s town square to house a rafting outfitter and apartments, an organic grocery, a riverfront restaurant, more man-made waves in the river park, and an arts trust to enable free live music performances.

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