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ARCHIVED  February 1, 1997

Growth of Greeley linked with that of Wheeler name

GREELEY – Not long ago, anyone inquiring at a local real estate office about purchasing a commercial property would have been passed from agent to agent until someone recalled that ol’ Bill had sold a few commercial pieces, so maybe he could help.That’s because commercial real estate specialists in Greeley were a rarity as recently as the late 1980s, said Dan Wheeler, president of Wheeler Management Group Inc.
“I’m not sure there was a commercial broker even making a decent living in Greeley [then], and now you have a handful who are doing very well,” he said.
Wheeler owns Wheeler Management, which focuses on property management, leasing and commercial brokerage. Based on Wheeler’s recent leasing and management figures, the company is one of that “handful who are doing very well.”
He said the company manages more than 500,000 square feet of retail space, primarily in shopping centers. All of it is 100 percent occupied, he said.
Using Wheeler’s estimate that retail rentals in Greeley average $10 per square foot (or about $2 less than the Fort Collins average), and that prime space goes for about $15 per square foot, it isn’t hard to determine that Wheeler Management is indeed making “a decent living.”
The road to Wheeler Management’s success began in the years between 1940 and 1982, when Wheeler’s father, John R.P. Wheeler, now deceased, opened and operated Wheeler Realty.
During those years, John Wheeler became a leading Greeley developer, building shopping centers and adjoining subdivisions that still thrive today.
Dan Wheeler said that his father’s “brilliance was selecting the location for the commercial and then securing the right anchor for the shopping center. After that, the rest of it fell into place.”
The best anchor in a neighborhood center is a grocery store, Wheeler said, and two anchors are better than one. A good example of a “double-anchored” shopping center is the Hillside Mall, developed by his father in 1970. It has a King Soopers grocery store on one end and a Target store on the other.
Two of his father’s other developments are Hillside Center, Greeley’s “original shopping center,” developed in 1959, and Bittersweet Plaza, built in 1980 and anchored by Safeway and Longs Drug.
Wheeler Management still manages those centers and more, including Brentwood Plaza in Greeley and Stanley Village in Estes Park.
Like the entire Front Range, Wheeler expects Weld County’s growth to continue for many more years.
“In my long-term view, and without quantifying it, I don’t see an end to it,” he said.
But Wheeler doesn’t want to see Greeley’s steady and controlled growth turn “explosive,” like that of Fort Collins, where rapid growth brought “traffic problems and a gridlock” when it comes to getting things through channels, he said.
Like most Greeley observers, Wheeler sees the city’s major growth, both commercial and residential, moving west.
“I think it will be slow developing there, though, because to develop it properly, you need a grocery anchor, and I think that niche is saturated for the moment [in Greeley].”
These days, Wheeler is focusing much of his attention on Greeley’s downtown area.
A director of the Greeley Town Center Business Association, Wheeler became involved in the original task force formed three years ago to revitalize Greeley’s downtown.
The association’s most-recent move was to hire a consultant, Chip Steiner of Steiner & Associates in Fort Collins. Steiner was active in rebuilding that city’s downtown, known as Old Town.
“One reason to remain optimistic about revitalizing Greeley’s downtown is to remember that Old Town wasn’t an overnight success,” Wheeler said.
“It struggled very early, and it appears it took restaurants and boutiques to get it up and running,” he added. “We’ve recently added new restaurants, which we’re hoping will lead us out.”
Wheeler Management bought the downtown building that houses its offices at 812 Eighth Street Plaza in 1993. The management company occupies two-thirds of the 5,000-square-foot building and leases out one-third.
“A lot of the reason I’m down here is because I’m committed to [downtown], even though my business is centered in the shopping centers,” he said.
A third-generation broker, Wheeler is the first in his family to concentrate his efforts totally in the commercial real estate business.
His grandfather, Charles Wheeler, started in 1915 “as an independent operator” working from a downtown office on Ninth Street. Although that building doesn’t stand today, it turns out that it was right behind the current Wheeler Management offices.
In 1985, three years after he sold Wheeler Realty, Wheeler’s father opened Wheeler Management. That same year, Wheeler joined the family business.
In 1990, Wheeler took over the management company from his father. It wasn’t long before he made the decision to phase out all residential real estate activities and concentrate on the commercial end of the business.Comparing commercial real estate to residential, Wheeler said residential is more clear-cut, more structured than commercial.
“You put a residential under contract, and you go through steps A, B and C, but in commercial, it may not be that structured to close the deal.
“In commercial, you’ve got to have a lot more patience because the deals take longer,” Wheeler said. “You’ve got to be creative in structuring it and financing it and know that no one deal is ever the same as another.”
Today, Wheeler’s “small shop” consists of himself and two other brokers, Ed Fickes and Frank Moore Jr.
“That’s as big as I want to get,” Wheeler said.
A year ago, Wheeler teamed up with Fort Collins commercial brokers Bill Neal and Fred Croci of Wheeler Commercial Properties to form Wheeler Commercial Alliance.
The alliance isn’t a new or expanded business, Wheeler explained, but a joint marketing effort for the two separate commercial companies “to establish a presence in Greeley, Fort Collins and Loveland through name identification and signage and to exchange information and referrals.”
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GREELEY – Not long ago, anyone inquiring at a local real estate office about purchasing a commercial property would have been passed from agent to agent until someone recalled that ol’ Bill had sold a few commercial pieces, so maybe he could help.That’s because commercial real estate specialists in Greeley were a rarity as recently as the late 1980s, said Dan Wheeler, president of Wheeler Management Group Inc.
“I’m not sure there was a commercial broker even making a decent living in Greeley [then], and now you have a handful who are doing very well,” he said.
Wheeler owns Wheeler…

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