Aaron Young wants to set the standard for business development in downtown Grand Junction.
As the CEO of Kaart, a GPS mapping company, Young is reshaping a block of Main Street into the Grand Valley’s own tech district. He developed the building at 750 Main St. — which houses multiple businesses and is one of the newest office spaces downtown — and is nearing completion on the four-story project taking shape next door at 734 Main St.
“There’s not a lot of available commercial office space here, especially for over 100 employees,” Young said. “So if we wanted to stay in Grand Junction, we had to build it ourselves.”
Kaart has grown and now employs around 100 people. But its current home at 750 Main is too small, so it also occupies a part of the old R-5 High School building on Seventh Street.
That led Young to continue down his three-phase plan of developing the block into a downtown business hub. 750 Main was the first phase, 734 Main is the second and the dirt lot at the corner of 7th Street and Main Street — 701 Main St. — is the final piece to the trinity.
In its current state, the inside of 734 Main is bare. But as early as Thanksgiving or by the end of 2020, Young anticipates Kaart employees to be occupying it. The four-story building has designated office spaces on the first three floors, each one with large windows to emphasize postcard views of Main Street, Mount Garfield or the Colorado National Monument. At the top is a rooftop patio for employees to relax. Young said there’s about 15,000 square feet of available leasing space. The building is owned by Merritt Sixbey of the general contracting company Merritt & Associates, G.C. and 734 Investments, a company owned by Young.
Young’s desire for the third parcel of land, 701 Main, is to turn it into a six-story building with 80,000 square feet of space per floor, connecting to 734 Main via a sky bridge. He wants to fit residential and commercial leasing space and a restaurant in the building. There’s no clear time table for building No. 3 because Young wants to fill 734 Main and is unsure if he’ll have the energy to go through the process again.
But that hasn’t stopped local developers and figures from getting excited about what Young’s plan means for the rest of the city.
Brandon Stam, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, said that the project is an example of a homegrown business taking advantage of infill space, meaning they look at available lots within the city limits rather than beyond.
But the biggest message it sends, Stam and others said, is that it shows that Grand Junction is a viable market for economic developers.
Planting that seed of possibility is vital to Grand Junction’s economy blossoming, said Robin Brown, executive director of the Grand Junction Economic Partnership.
“One of our biggest problems is that we don’t have a lot of available Class-A office space. So much of our inventory is old, which can make it tough to attract some businesses,” Brown said. “This will show people that businesses do have faith in our economy and have taken risks.”
Stam echoed Brown’s thinking, saying that Kaart’s projects will show developers that they can also be successful and attract a wider range of businesses to diversify the city’s economy. Stam said that like minded businesses tend to cluster together, so the Kaart building can attract tech companies.
“If you’re driving downtown and you see our building or others being developed, it can make you more comfortable taking a risk,” Young said. “You see the work being done or the new buildings and think, ‘Oh, maybe they know something about this place.’ ”
Young, who trained in Cape Town, South Africa, came to Grand Junction 12 years ago working for the Bureau of Land Management. While he has mainly stayed for family, he has also made a point to keep Kaart in Grand Junction because it is a prime spot for companies looking for a rural area to move to. Many have been doing so because the COVID-19 pandemic has forced remote working and shown employers they can emphasize quality of life for their employees.
He spent about $8 million developing 734 Main, with some financial help from the DDA in the form of a $500,000 forgivable loan. Had pursued a similar project in Denver, he said, the price tag would have been 50% more — at least.
“Honestly, I haven’t found a better place to move to than Grand Junction,” Young said. “Because of its convenience, low cost of living and the outdoor lifestyle is good. I think more businesses should be moving here.”