Opening of apartments a positive sign
The opening of Peppermill Lofts marks more than the introduction of the type of housing inventory that has rarely been constructed by the private sector in the Grand Valley in the last 15 years.
City planners and business leaders say the 48-unit apartment complex at 491 28 1/4 Road brightens a blighted stretch of North Avenue and could spark future development along an important corridor.
“I think it’s a very hopeful sign for North Avenue,” said Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. “It and of itself isn’t going to drive a development decision. On the other hand, businesses kind of have a herd mentality, and when they see businesses making investments in a particular corridor, they start paying attention to the dynamics of that corridor.”
Developer Bruce Milyard was among a group of people who purchased the 2.2-acre site five years ago during the height of the construction boom. Then the recession demolished the real estate market, and the property that used to be home to a car wash sat quietly until last spring, when Milyard and his partners broke ground with the help of a Housing and Urban Development loan and the city’s agreement to pay more than $167,000 in various fees for the project.
Peppermill Lofts, which opened earlier this month, has already proven popular. Roughly half of the apartments — rent starts at $775 for a one-bedroom unit and $875 for two bedrooms — are already occupied or scheduled to be moved into, according to property manager Dax Marutzky.
“The interest and the demand has been strong to this point,” he said, noting that renters include young professionals, teachers and hospital employees.
For years, North Avenue was the financial epicenter of Grand Junction. But its luster has faded in recent decades with the opening of Mesa Mall and as other commercial areas have thrived. Major retailers such as City Market and Hobby Lobby departed, taking anchor tenants away from shopping centers and creating a domino effect for businesses that remain.
Slowly, though, North Avenue is attempting to regain its footing. The city adopted corridor plans for the entire four-mile stretch of road in 2007 and last year. It’s currently working on creating an overlay zoning district to help create standards for new development. Business owners are in discussions about possibly taxing themselves to help pay for improvements.
There’s been other activity, too. JF Strothman Distillery, 2862 North Ave., opened at the end of last year and StarTek plans to move its office on South Seventh Street back to its original Eastgate Shopping Center location.
The city recently was awarded a $1.2 million federal grant to pay for infrastructure improvements between 12th and 23rd streets. That kind of investment tends to spur private investment, Schwenke noted.
Grand Junction Planning Manager Lisa Cox said Peppermill Lofts is a significant because it provides a needed housing type and it’s an infill project.
She also noted in introduces a residential component to a stretch of North Avenue that has historically been the domain of businesses.
“That’s the kind of activity that’s there before and after business hours,” Cox said. “It provides eyes on the street, it provides vitality and life.”
Cox said she expects North Avenue to transform itself in the next three to five years as the economy improves.
“We hope to have some tools in place with North Avenue to incentivize people to return to this corridor, which has been so important in our history,” she said.