Building up downtown
Reimer brothers prepared to build fourth hotel
Twenty years ago, the west end of downtown Grand Junction was an exercise in blight.
Empty lots dotted the landscape between First and Third streets. A topless bar sat across the street from Two Rivers Convention Center, an outdated, hulking concrete structure that was a convention center arguably in name only, a venue that hosted far more service club luncheons than actual conventions.
But then new development ushered in a gradual makeover.
The city sunk millions of dollars into a refurbishment of Two Rivers. The Downtown Development Authority purchased the building that housed the strip club and turned the property over to a developer who converted it into commercial space and residential condominiums. And alongside the restaurants, shops and galleries, Kevin and Steve Reimer began building hotels — once thought to be fixtures only on Horizon Drive.
The brothers are prepared to lead another charge in the evolution of downtown. And they want city leaders and others to join them.
They’ve signed the necessary paperwork with Hilton to build a six-story, 100-room hotel on Colorado Avenue between Second and Third streets. The $8 million to $10 million project could be completed and open within two years.
“We kind of hope this property on Colorado Avenue will help spur development,” Kevin Reimer said.
The Reimers have additional plans in their back pocket — multimillion-dollar projects they say they would launch if city officials pursue a downtown events center. But they’re prepared to let those blueprints yellow should talk of an events center remain on the back burner. And they say they will nix the hotel if the city doesn’t develop a plan for renovating or replacing the convention center.
The unveiling of the brothers’ plans — an investment of $25 million over five years — comes during something of a crossroads for the downtown area. The Downtown Development Authority is pushing for redevelopment or new construction on several parcels of land, including those formerly occupied by R-5 High School and White Hall. Yet the Grand Valley’s reluctant emergence from the recession has sidelined many business owners and private developers who are unable or unwilling to expand or invest. Meanwhile, city leaders are undecided about what to do with a 41-year-old convention center and have yet to take action on a proposed downtown events center.
“We’re between a brick and a hard place,” said Debbie Kovalik, executive director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, referring to Two Rivers. The VCB is in charge of both the convention center and the Avalon Theatre. “It is going to be a community conversation.”
NEW HOTEL IN 2018?
The Reimers want more than talk when it comes to economic development. They want action.
The brothers have acquired — and are in the process of acquiring — several parcels between Second and Third streets and Colorado and Ute avenues to erect the new hotel and the requisite parking. Plans for a fourth downtown hotel have been in the works for years, but the Reimers first wanted to make sure SpringHill Suites was sufficiently profitable before committing to another project.
They signed on with Hilton last month and hope to break ground on the hotel in the spring of 2017, with an opening in the spring of 2018.
In addition to the Hilton, the Reimers have designs on two other major undertakings — a 40-room expansion of the SpringHill Suites that would include a rooftop bar — the first in the city — and a new, upscale resort in the downtown area.
The groundwork has already been laid for the SpringHill Suites expansion, with the Reimers purchasing and demolishing the former Plaza Repographics building immediately north of the hotel on Third Street. The idea for the resort is in the formative stages, but the Reimers envision partnering with others on a potential mixed-use development involving a hotel, restaurant and housing and are looking at the R-5 property as a potential location.
The brothers understand the current economic challenges in the Grand Valley, and the risk involved in investing at a time of uncertainty. But they see tourism not only as a current bright spot, but something local leaders can capitalize on even more.
“We think there’s room for diverse development that would make our economy stronger,” Kevin Reimer said.
They’re now putting the onus on the city to make its own commitment to implementing additional amenities downtown.
City Council members, city leaders and officials from the private sector, including Kevin Reimer, traveled to Boise, Idaho, in December to visit an events center there and take in a minor-league hockey game. That trip occurred two months before the city received a comprehensive feasibility study from Hunden Strategic Partners that concluded the city could support a $62 million project highlighted by a new 5,000-seat events center to host a minor-league hockey team and a renovated and expanded Two Rivers Convention Center that would be attached to the events center.
The Reimers say they have asked city leaders about a plan to modernize and expand Two Rivers but that they have not heard what that might be, something Kevin Reimer called “a little frustrating.”
Grand Junction Mayor Phyllis Norris said city officials recognize “something has to be done with Two Rivers,” which opened in 1975. That could mean turning over management of the convention center to a private entity, renovating and expanding it, or both. It’s less likely the city would bulldoze the building and start over.
Kovalik noted that the convention center has never turned a profit. Two Rivers’ operating deficit has increased in recent years, jumping from nearly $101,000 in 2011 to more than $508,000 in 2015. Those facts irk some fiscal conservatives who say the city needs to overhaul how it operates the convention center. Others say Two Rivers is like city parks — it’s intended to be a community amenity, not a money-maker.
The Hunden study recommended expanding Two Rivers from a little less than 23,000 square feet to 30,500 square feet by converting the existing multipurpose room into a seven-division, 18,000-square-foot grand ballroom and adding a six-division, 8,000-square-foot junior ballroom. A renovated convention center would cost more than $15 million, according to the study.
COUNCIL CAUTIOUS ABOUT EVENTS CENTER
While the city appears committed to doing something different with Two Rivers, its dedication to constructing an events center is far more tenuous.
Any conversation city councilors have had about the events center has stalled because of the price tag — $46.5 million, according to the Hunden study.
Norris said she believes such a facility would be an economic driver for the city because it would make Grand Junction a destination for bigger musical acts and other large-scale events. But she said the City Council must weigh the events center against other funding needs — millions of dollars worth of backlogged road improvements, for example — and determine whether voters find such a venture palatable.
“I think all of City Council is being cautious about it,” she said. “What we want and what citizens can afford to do are two very different things.”
Norris said she expects the council will discuss Two Rivers and the events center at a workshop soon, noting councilors and staff haven’t been fully debriefed about the December trip to Boise.
The Reimers say an events center is an example of the kind of amenity the city needs to pursue, not only to draw out-of-towners and entertainment events that would otherwise bypass the Grand Valley, but also to attract and retain young people once they graduate high school or college.
Kevin Reimer noted the Beach Boys played in Dodge City, Kansas, in May. While Dodge City has just half the population of Grand Junction, it boasts the United Wireless Arena, a multi-purpose venue that opened in 2011 and seats 5,500.
“I don’t think the Beach Boys are coming to Grand Junction anytime soon because we don’t have a venue large enough to support the kind of crowd that would come,” he said.
Steve Reimer said he hopes with new City Manager Greg Caton on board, the City Council will “stop dogpaddling” and start moving forward on new economic development opportunities.
He and Kevin said Grand Junction should look to Colorado Mesa University as a model for developing a vision and a plan for the city, then executing that plan.
“I’m absolutely amazed by the progress CMU has made, because they have a laser-like focus on what they want to become,” Kevin Reimer said. “Nothing gets in their way. I think downtown needs some of that focus. Let’s set a goal and work toward it.”