Developers map path to brightening future

BOULDER – For real-estate developers, the meteor has struck, the Great Extinction has happened and the survivors are finally getting opportunities to get back to work.

The brightening future and the opportunities it provides were the subject of a panel on Thursday that focused on commercial and residential development. The panel kicked off the Boulder Valley Real Estate Conference, organized by the Boulder County Business Report.

The market crash in 2008 brought on some dark days for the industry, W.W. Reynolds Cos. chief executive Jeff Wingert said, but there are enough positive trends that developers with new projects are moving forward.

“We’ve come out of probably the worst real-estate cycle this country has ever seen,” Wingert said.

Banks now are less stringent with loans, he said, which allows development to go forward. The market is ready, too, with rents for offices hitting pre-recession levels in the Boulder area. 

“Right now downtown is the tightest sub-market in the Boulder area, and it’s ready for some new development and redevelopment,” Wingert said.

W.W. Reynolds is planning a major infill project in downtown Boulder at 1301 Walnut St. The 55,000-square-foot, four-story office building will be connected to the Colorado Building. Those plans are still in the entitlement phase.

The residential situation also has improved greatly, as pent-up demand is outstripping supply, said Chuck Bellock, president of Community Development Group.

“We’re having a sustained housing recovery that will influence all of you at some time in the coming months,” Bellock said.

The growth will be pushed east into Erie and cities across Interstate 25, because of growth limits in cities such as Boulder, which have limited the supply of new housing and driven up prices.

“For opportunities, every broker should know: go east,” Bellock said. “You can’t find them here.”

Meritage Homes Inc. bucked that trend when it decided a few years ago to move into the northwest Denver market, Colorado division president Christina Presley said.

Meritage, which is now the third largest developer of new housing in the Denver and northern Colorado region, studied the data closely before investing $38 million in land in the northwest Denver region.

“All signs pointed us to the northwest Denver area,” Presley said.

Sometimes, but rarely, great opportunities fall into a developer’s lap, said Jim Loftus of Loftus Development. An unexpected phone call from a growing grocery chain has restarted a mixed-use project in Louisville that looked doomed, he said.

Loftus had hoped to build apartments in the shopping center formerly occupied by Safeway at the corner of South Boulder Road and Centennial Drive. The project fell apart because of community opposition, but now Alfalfa’s, a Boulder-based grocer, is looking to move in.

“By pure dumb luck, we now have essentially a pre-leased retail project that will be financed,” Loftus said. “We’re going to have our opportunity after all.”

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