Funeral home at center of landmark fight sells; buyer looks to build around it

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

The closed Berkeley funeral home that was at the center of a landmark fight last year has sold to a developer planning to preserve it — and potentially wrap it with a three-story apartment building.

Denver-based GM Development, led by Ben Gearhart and Charles Moore, paid $4.5 million this week for the former Olinger Moore Howard Chapel at 4345 W. 46th Ave., according to public records.

The building, which sits on a 2.05-acre lot, was sold by Service Corporation International, which operated the funeral home at the site prior to its January 2019 closure.

Denver-based developer Koelbel & Co. originally went under contract to buy the site, with plans to demolish the funeral home and build townhomes. But Historic Berkeley Regis, a neighborhood preservation organization, requested the building be landmarked, a designation that would prevent demolition.

Koelbel subsequently agreed to step away from the deal if a buyer interested in preserving the building could be found. BusinessDen reported in January that a new party was under contract.

Historic Berkeley Regis said Thursday that GM now plans to apply for the landmark designation for the building; the group’s initial request was paused as part of the deal with Koelbel.

The neighborhood group also said that Redemption Church Denver plans to move into the chapel portion of the funeral home. The congregation had been meeting in the nearby school. About 9,000 square feet of the building remains available for lease.

The future of the property, however, involves more than just the funeral home structure.

In January, an architect working on behalf of buyer GM Development submitted an early-stage development proposal to the city, showing the funeral home wrapped with a three-story, 142-unit apartment building.

At the time, the architect — Dave Marquez of MmD Architect — said that the developer, whose identity was not yet public, had “multiple concepts for the land” and that the 142-unit proposal was submitted “for purposes of understanding all the site impacts through all Denver jurisdictions at the highest impact level that could be potentially developed.”

GM’s Gearhart reiterated that Thursday, saying the firm hasn’t decided on what it will build.

“We’ll be certain to engage the neighborhood,” he said, adding he doesn’t expect to break ground this year.

If GM’s submission were to be developed as proposed, it likely would bring more residents than Koelbel’s proposal. That firm originally proposed building 58 townhomes, later dropping that to 40 townhomes and 3,000 square feet of retail space before bowing out of the deal.

Gearhart said the firm is focused on the landmark request and finding tenants for the building, which needs some work.

“There’s a significant amount of deferred maintenance, as well as some things that are dated that will need to be brought up to code,” he said.

GM Development previously renovated a neglected former hostel in Uptown, which it later leased to hotel operator Sonder. The firm successfully requested the building be designated a city landmark during that process.

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