Fruitdale Lofts coming together in Wheat Ridge.
Fruitdale building designed by Temple Buell.
Fruitdale being redeveloped by Jim Hartman’s Hartman Ely Investments.
If it isn’t historic and if it isn’t difficult, Jim Hartman doesn’t want to tackle it.
The Fruitdale School building in Wheat Ridge meets those two benchmarks. In spades.
Making the historic building at 20803 W. 44th Ave., even more attractive as a redevelopment candidate to Hartman, is that the building was designed by Temple Buell.
“That is one of the main reasons I have great pleasure of taking this on,” said Hartman, an architect, developer and principal of Boulder-based Hartman Ely Investments.
Hartman met Temple Buell, best known for designing the original Cherry Creek Shopping Center and the Paramount Theater, in the mid-1980s.
“He was 90 and I was a 25 and working on the Paramount Theater, so I took Temple to lunch at a restaurant at the Odd Fellows Hall that I had designed,” Hartman recalled on Tuesday.
“I was a young architect meeting with the old master. He took me to his office and we talked about architecture and development,” Hartman said.
Hartman initially learned about the Fruitdale building, designed by Buell in 1927, after a longtime broker friend read a Denver Post article that the Wheat Ridge Housing Authority was seeking requests for proposals to redevelop it.
“She said this has your name written all over it,” Hartman said.
But the WHRA had already decided to turn it over to a charter school.
“That made sense to me, as it would keep it as a school,” Hartman said.
That deal fell apart and about 18 months ago, the WHRA contacted Hartman to see if he is still interested.
He now has it under contract to buy it for $10, He has renamed it as the Fruitdale Lofts. It will be a combination of affordable and market-rate units, but even the market-rate units will be affordable, he said.
Of course, the purchase price is not the true cost of turning it into a 16-unit rental property.
“We’ll be putting $5.5 million into it,” said Hartman, who has a long history of redeveloping historic buildings. Some of his past developments include the Steam Plant Lofts, Hangar 2 and Officers’ Row Lofthomes, all in Lowry.
It will be extremely energy-efficient with solar arrays on the roof of an addition added to the building in the 1950s and solar on part of the 1.5-acre site.
The solar panels will not be visible from the street, as the National Park Service, which put the Fruitdale School on its National Register of Historic Places in 2013, frowns on that, Hartman said.
Hartman Ely Investments is an expert on solar, as well as historic redevelopments.
In addition to the solar, HEI also will be super-insulating the attic in the Fruitdale Lofts.
HEI also will return the site to its roots, so to speak, by planting a number of fruit trees on the site.
“Trees, of course, help to combat climate change by putting more oxygen into the air and absorbing CO2,” Hartman said.
Other sustainable features will include free charging stations for electric vehicles and low water use systems.
Rents in the five affordable units will range from about $700 a month for a 1-bedroom unit to $1,100 a month for a two-bedroom unit.
“But even the market rental units will have pretty modest rents,” Hartman said.
“These won’t be super expensive like the luxury projects being built in Highland and the Central Platte Valley,” Hartman said.
Rather, he describes even the market-rate units as drawing “working class” residents.
Rents will average $1.56 per square foot when it opens in 2017. Units will range in size from about 500 square feet to about 1,000 square feet.
Despite his enthusiasm, the redevelopment is not a sure thing.
For example, he has applied for a State Historical Fund grant of $175,000, “which is absolutely critical,” for making the numbers work, he said.
Indeed, he said if not for “heavy subsidies” from the WHRA, the City of Wheat Ridge and the Jefferson County Community Development, as well as solar tax credits, the redevelopment would not pencil out at all.
There is a need for both for-sale condos and rentals in Wheat Ridge, he said.
“It was our decision to make them apartments,” Hartman said. He said they are putting so much time and effort into it, he didn’t want the long-term advantages of the equity to go to the buyers. Rather, he performed the long-term income stream of rental units.
And the Fruitdale Lofts will be profitable, he said.
“We wouldn’t do it, if we would not ultimately make money,” Hartman said. “We believe every project has to be economically viable.”
Not that there aren’t more profitable real estate deals to pursue.
“It truly is labor of love. It’s by far the most difficult building I have ever done. But I feel like we are on the goal line.”
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