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Real Estate & Construction  February 25, 2011

The Villa headed for a fall

GREELEY – The sprawling, tan stucco complex at 1750 Sixth Ave. just southeast of downtown Greeley has had several incarnations in its 80-year history, including serving as a drug rehabilitation center, community corrections center and senior assisted-living facility.

Last November, the seven-building, 85,000-square-foot Southwestern-style complex on five acres was sold at auction to Denver-based Central Street Capital, an investment and development company, for $550,000. The company said immediately after the sale that there were no specific plans for the complex, which closed in 2008 and has numerous structural and asbestos issues.

But Mike Francone, vice president of development, said Central Street has now decided to raze The Villa and replace it with a student housing facility.

“I think we’ve now confirmed that’s the direction we’re heading – a 300-bed student housing facility on the property,” Francone said. “It looks like we’ll take down what’s there. The buildings are old and their size and shape really wouldn’t fit what modern facilities need.”

Francone noted that Central Street has experience developing student housing projects, including The Regency student housing community in Denver on the site of a former hotel. Last September, Central Street announced it would build a six-story, 57-unit luxury apartment project at 17th and Central streets overlooking I-25 and downtown Denver.

In fact, The Villa started as a student housing project in 1931 when Hadden and Hays Halls were built just north of the still-existing Jackson Field. But the University of Northern Colorado, whose campus is just two blocks to the west of The Villa, shut down the dormitories in 1982 because of declining enrollment and a stronger interest in west-of-campus locations.

Project details still unknown

How soon The Villa will be razed and a new facility will break ground is still unknown at this point, Francone said.

“We’ve just started talks with the city of Greeley to come up with plans that work for us and the city,” he said. “But it’s moved to the forefront of what we’re working on.”

Francone said no budget for the project has yet been set. He emphasized that the project, while mainly focused on the college student market, would be privately owned and not part of UNC.

The demand for the project by UNC students, however, is not likely to be great initially, according to Jenna Finley, UNC’s director of residential education. Finley said UNC recently completed some extensive on-campus housing projects that are less than 100 percent occupied and there seems to be little demand for off-campus housing.

“I think students are finding plenty of options right now,” she said.

UNC – which saw an enrollment increase of about 100 more students in fall 2010 over fall 2009 – has a total enrollment of about 12,000 students.

Finley said one gap that might be filled by a new off-campus facility would be to house faculty and staff. “If they were really smart, they’d market to faculty and staff,” she said. “That’s a niche that’s needed.”

Redevelopment of The Villa site could be one of the first projects in the creation of a University District, a concept that’s been percolating between the city of Greeley and UNC and is now getting input from nearby residents, business owners and the overall community.

The idea behind the University District, with the UNC campus as its hub extending south to U.S. Highway 34 and north to 13th Street, is to create a thriving urban business and residential zone that attracts visitors and local residents.

Becky Safarik, Greeley’s community development director, said redevelopment of The Villa property, which sits on the eastern edge of the University District, is an opportunity to help revitalize the area.

“This gives us a chance to have some fresh development on that property and return it to something productive as it was earlier,” she said. “We want to maximize its potential.”

The heart of Greeley

Safarik said the University District is part of the heart of Greeley, with a diverse business and residential base surrounding UNC, one of the jewels of the city.

“It’s a really diverse area,” she said. “It’s got employment, education facilities, extensive retail and services, and it’s got a variety of residential areas and things people want to come see and do. You’ve got this really complete area with some natural synergies.”

Safarik said the city and UNC have been quietly working on the concept for about a decade. She said UNC is strongly supportive of the idea.

“They know their reputation and appeal is dependent on how they’re viewed in the community,” she said.

Charles Leonhardt, UNC’s vice president for university relations, agrees with Safarik’s assessment. “The impetus is to focus on an area that hopefully we can have a profound impact on,” he said. “We think this is a great partnership between the city and the university and the community, because in the end it is about improving the community.”

On Feb. 4, about 100 people gathered to start work on the University District and its five major goals: enhance neighborhood livability; cultivate a vibrant economy; create engaging destinations; foster growth through education; and strengthen neighborhood design.

Leonhardt said UNC will continue to play a strong role in the development of the University District. “Now comes the work of fine-tuning these priorities and ultimately creating action plans and projects that will have an immediate impact on the district,” he said. “We’re committed to making that happen.”

Safarik said she believes the first steps have now been taken toward making the University District a reality. But it won’t happen overnight, she noted.

“I think it’s going to be a nice work-in-progress for the next several years.”

GREELEY – The sprawling, tan stucco complex at 1750 Sixth Ave. just southeast of downtown Greeley has had several incarnations in its 80-year history, including serving as a drug rehabilitation center, community corrections center and senior assisted-living facility.

Last November, the seven-building, 85,000-square-foot Southwestern-style complex on five acres was sold at auction to Denver-based Central Street Capital, an investment and development company, for $550,000. The company said immediately after the sale that there were no specific plans for the complex, which closed in 2008 and has numerous structural and asbestos issues.

But Mike Francone, vice president of development, said…

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