■ Panel discusses present conditions, market, needs & concerns
BY RORY SEEBER
The sky’s the limit for the East Colfax corridor.”
So said Tony Giordano, senior broker at Dunton Commercial Real Estate, one of five real estate professionals who comprised a panel gathered for “On Colfax,” the quarterly event hosted by the Colfax Business Improvement District (CBID) Jan. 18 to discuss the future of real estate along and near the avenue, primarily between Grant and Josephine.
The discussion, moderated by John Lucero, deputy director of the Denver Office of Economic Development, was held at the new Renaissance Uptown Lofts affordable housing development, Colfax & Pearl, and attracted a standing-room-only crowd of approximately 80 people.
The other panel members were Louis Lee, a senior investment broker with Dunton, Stockton Baker, senior vice president of Cassidy Turley/Fuller Real Estate, Ray Rosado, a broker associate with Cassidy Turley, and Timothy Finholm, a senior broker for Unique Properties.
All the panel members think there’s a bright future for commercial real estate on Colfax, although they remarked on two drawbacks for the avenue: a lack of parking in some stretches, and safety, or the general public’s perception of it.
“The challenge we have...is the credibility, the safety and the security of the area,” Baker said. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a great street (with) a great history...”.
The recent installation of a dozen HALO (“High Activity Location Observation”) police-monitored security cameras and the continuing addition of bond-funded landscaping and pedestrian lighting were noted.
“The people who have been (in Denver) for years perceive Colfax as something it no longer is,” Rosado said. “New residents don’t see that. They want this eclectic neighborhood.”
Rosado detailed that the corridor has approximately 468,000 square feet of retail space and the current vacancy rate is 7%. That rate in the city as a whole is 6%. He noted that it takes an average of 22 months to lease commercial space in the city, compared to about ten months for Colfax properties between Grant and Josephine.
“For me, the bottom line is one word: density,” Giordano said. “There isn’t another neighborhood in the city that has the density of Capitol Hill.”
Due to the sparsity of parking along some segments of Colfax, several of the panelists believe that most new businesses will likely be of the small, “Mom & Pop” variety, with national companies drawn to the sites with the most parking.
As noted by Lee, such properties draw more interest from larger retailers. As an example, he related that the former Salvation Army store at Gaylord has drawn attention from three national restaurant operations and a cell phone company.
Giordano foresees more of a “restaurant row” aspect on the avenue in the future, and one panelist noted that four out of five inquiries he receives are for restaurant sites.
In addition to parking and/or programs and projects to maximize usage of what parking is available, other needs for Colfax noted by the panelists, and by attendees during a question & answer period, included: more neighborhood-serving retail, specifically a large grocery (the former Ford dealership site at Jackson was mentioned); added retail activity with pedestrians after 5 pm, which heightens the sense of security; increased residential development (and more financing for developers); uniform signage; additional pedestrian lighting; “upscale” establishments such as galleries; and more “community spaces” such as gardens.
Asked how would they solve the parking problem if they had their way, Giordano replied that he was not sure it was a solvable problem without demolishing buildings.
“It’s infill property,” Giordano said. “It’s never going to be anything but an urban corridor.”
The panel stressed the importance of increased emphasis on mass transit (possibly including a streetcar), bicycles and pedestrian amenities... all keynotes of the avenue’s Main Street zoning.
It was noted that “retail follows residential” development. Josh Tidwell, a real estate portfolio manager with Guaranty Bank & Trust who attended the gathering, struck an optimistic note when he said of those in his trade, “We believe in this area. Bring deals, because we want to see it grow.”
Confidence in the future of Colfax was a dominant theme of the gathering.
Panelist Finholm foresees the existing commercial “pockets” along the corridor slowly “blending together” into a more unified business community.
When asked about the dichotomy between lease rates west of York & Josephine and the far lower rates east of those streets, Finholm replied, “It’ll come. There needs to be tenants willing to be on that side of the street (York/Josephine). It will take a tenant willing to pay what you’re asking, but it will come.”
A colleague of Giordano and Lee at Dunton spoke from the audience and stressed the importance of quickly finding the necessary funding to build the central recreation center planned for Colfax & Josephine. The property was purchased with bond funds by the city for that reason, but it is currently being used for a temporary dog park (and a community garden in the spring).
The man predicted a very positive impact from the center, both day and night, saying it could attract office workers and residents to the exercise facilities as well as meetings in its public rooms, subsequently providing foot traffic to local businesses.
“Right now we’ve got the momentum and the energy that we’ve got to capitalize on,” he said. “We need to fund it now.”