How Developers Gave a Vacant Historic Site in Lakewood New Life

By James Rodriguez – Reporter, Denver Business Journal

Hospice of Saint John in Lakewood was one of the nation’s oldest hospice centers before federal funding cuts shuttered the operation in 2013.

Today, a new ownership group has transformed the 1960s-era property into Eiber Village at Garrison Station, a 49-unit affordable senior housing project that recently welcomed its first tenants.

The property is comprised of three buildings located at 1320 and 1325 Everett Court, less than a block away from the Regional Transportation District’s Garrison Station light-rail stop. The new project retains the original single-story layout, and each unit comes with a private outdoor patio.

Other amenities include a fitness room, indoor common areas, a dog park, electric vehicle charging stations and outdoor seating.

The road to redevelopment began in 2014, when Lakewood-based Giving Tree Partnerships purchased the former hospice out of foreclosure. Pinnacle Real Estate Advisors connected the group with Hartman Ely Investments, which has a long history of redeveloping historic sites, and the two sides began exploring options for the property.

The groups spent 2015 evaluating the site, but decided to go their separate ways. Giving Tree continued to market the property as a potential site for high-density development, but was unable to arrive at a deal with anyone else.

In late 2017, Giving Tree reconnected with Hartman Ely, and the groups officially partnered to redevelop the property.

The new ownership group — which also includes Raymond James Tax Credit Funds and Metro West Housing Solutions — worked with the City of Lakewood to register the property as a local historic site, which made the project eligible for $2 million in State Historic Tax Credit funding.

The ownership group also received Low-Income Housing Tax Credits to help finance the roughly $14 million project.

Jim Hartman, co-owner of Hartman Ely Investments, said the ownership group decided to build senior housing after The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, which regulates affordable housing development in the state, determined that the immediate area was already being served by a number of affordable family housing projects.

“They thought senior use would be a much more complementary use for this part of Lakewood, and we agreed with that,” Hartman said, noting that the single-story layout of the complex makes sense for seniors.

The main challenge, Hartman said, was construction costs.

“We really fought the escalating construction costs that everyone in metro Denver has been dealing with over the last 5 or 10 years,” Hartman said. “It was originally gong to be a solar-powered project, but we just couldn’t afford doing solar.”

The coronavirus threw another wrench in the construction plans. Hartman recalled some “really tense” conversations in late March and early April, when the project team wondered if construction could move forward.

Those fears didn’t come to pass, and general contractor Palace Construction delivered the project within a week of the anticipated completion date, Hartman said.

In June, the project received a Lakewood Sustainability Award for the energy-efficient design of the new apartments and the reuse and recycling of original elements of the buildings. The project preserved the original gardens at the property and incorporates landscaping that requires little watering.

The apartment community welcomed its first tenant in mid-July. Hartman admitted that leasing has been slow due to the threat of the coronavirus, which has been shown to be particularly dangerous for seniors. Hartman noted that many in the senior community are opting to stay put for the time being.

The property is currently about 10% leased, Hartman estimated.

“We thought we’d be much better by this stage,” Hartman said. “But we think it’s going to pick up quite a bit as life picks back up in general.”

The property manager, Metro West Housing Solutions, has implemented a number of precautionary steps such as a check-in/out procedure, sanitization of units before move-in and closing down indoor common areas.

A one-bedroom that’s restricting to tenants earning 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI) rents for $1,100 a month, including utilities and WiFi. The property also includes a few cheaper units that are rented out to tenants earning 30% of AMI.

Three-quarters are one-bedroom units, while the remaining units have two bedrooms.