New potential buyer would preserve shuttered Berkeley funeral home

The Olinger Moore Howard Chapel, a funeral home that closed last year, is located at 4345 W. 46th Ave. in Denver. (Thomas Gounley)

A closed funeral home building in Berkeley could be getting a new life.

Bill Killam, a spokesman for neighborhood preservation group Historic Berkeley Regis, said funeral home operator Service Corporation International is under contract to sell the former Olinger Moore Howard Chapel at 4345 W. 46th Ave. to an entity that would keep it standing.

Killam declined to identify the potential buyer, although he said, “They are in the business of property development.”

“We’re very optimistic and looking for a close probably next month,” he said.

The deal in the works replaces a plan that would have had SCI sell the funeral home to Denver-based development firm Koelbel & Co, which wanted to demolish the structure to build residential units.

When the planned deal with Koelbel came to light last year, Historic Berkeley Regis requested the building be designated a landmark, a status that would have prevented demolition.

The city’s landmark commission recommended approval of the request, which was making its way to City Council when Koelbel and the neighborhood group asked for a pause to explore a possible solution.

Killam said last week that Koelbel and SCI essentially told Historic Berkeley Regis that if they could find a buyer who wouldn’t demolish the structure and was willing to pay a certain price, then Koelbel would step back and allow the sale to happen.

Killam declined to specify the price. While the funeral home property has a large parking lot, he said Koelbel indicated it had no interest in splitting the property and building on a portion of the site.

“It was all or nothing for them,” Killam said.

A Koelbel executive did not respond to a request for comment.

Killam said that Historic Berkeley Regis is withdrawing its landmark request as part of the agreement with Koelbel. That means that if the deal with the potential buyer falls through, Koelbel would be able to buy the property and could demolish the structure.

Killam said Historic Berkeley Regis also identified “at least one and potentially two” entities that would be interested in leasing space in the building. One is a nonprofit.

Killam noted that Denver City Council last year made several changes to the city’s landmark ordinance, including requiring a meeting mediated by a third party in the case of owner-opposed or so-called hostile landmark applications.

While the landmark process for the funeral home began before those changes were approved, Killam said that the neighborhood group and Koelbel did meet with a mediator present. Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who represents the area, also was closely involved in the process.

“If this closes … the way this negotiation worked out, we think we got a success story to tell here,” Killam said.

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