DDA ponders what to do with R-5; housing, developer says
The Grand Junction Downtown Development Authority isn’t quite sure yet what will happen to the old R-5 High School and the site where the historic White Hall used to sit. But if it’s up to a Durango-based developer, those properties in the heart of downtown will become a much-needed magnet for people seeking a lock-and-leave lifestyle.
DDA officials currently are working with developer Jeremy Nelson, who is trying to persuade them that the thing to do with the two properties is to create housing.
Having more people living downtown will bring customers to restaurants and shops there, and that in turn will cause more restaurants and shops to locate in the area.
At least that’s the thinking of Nelson, president of REgeneration Development Strategies, the developer to whom the DDA awarded a letter of intent giving his company the sole right to come up with a unique way to develop the two parcels.
“You’ve got a gem of a downtown,” Nelson said. “But where do I live if I’m used to having urban housing where I can walk to things? There’s not a lot of housing options for someone who wants that housing choice. Some will take a smaller unit if they can walk to the Rockslide or the farmers market.”
Nelson is hoping to get the DDA to sign off on his idea to build 37 townhomes behind the existing R-5 school, which later would be renovated into lofts.
He also wants to put up a two- to three-story apartment complex where White Hall used to stand that would include commercial space on the ground level.
Brandon Stam, executive director of the DDA, said all that sounds good, but it’s up to the board to decide just how much risk it wants to take to let Nelson and his company go forward.
While Stam can’t talk in specifics because the DDA is still trying to work out a contract with Nelson’s company, he said it appears to be on the right track.
“They decided that housing’s a priority, so we’re just working toward figuring out how to make this happen,” Stam said. “I think the plan that REgeneration has put forth, I haven’t had any negative feedback from the board. The concept is definitely spot on. It blends into the neighborhood. They could have gone for a more dense project, but I think they were pretty sensitive about the existing density. And having the school building is a key piece.”
What Nelson wants is for the DDA to front the land on which the homes and apartment complex would be built, allowing his company to only have to get the financing needed to build them.
“We’re negotiating with (the DDA) as a land partner in the deal,” he said. “If we could keep all of the land costs off our books, it allows us the luxury of executing that business model.”
Nelson said his company’s plans are to begin with the townhomes, but complete only a few at a time, renting some out and selling others.
Once those homes are done in a few years, he then would turn to the apartment complex, completely building that out and renting its studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments.
The final piece would be to renovate the school, allowing the DDA to rent out space in it temporarily until then.
The R-5 renovation is to be modeled after a project in New Mexico known as The Lofts at Albuquerque High, which has a mixture of rentals and condominiums.
Nelson’s company is a relatively new one. The only other project it has is under development. It’s a five-story apartment complex with commercial development on the ground level located at a new light rail station in Westminster.
Earlier this year, REgeneration helped seal that deal with a contract from a local microbrewery, which is to locate itself on that ground level.