A firm that has been acquiring RiNo real estate since 2018 is planning its first ground-up development effort in the neighborhood, after striking a multi-step deal to buy nearly a full city block from a prominent nonprofit.
Edens has proposed multiple five-to-seven story buildings on the block formed by Larimer and Lawrence streets, and 26th and 27th streets, according to documents submitted to the city.
The bulk of that block is owned by the Volunteers of America Colorado. But Edens is under contract to buy the real estate from the nonprofit, with the exception of the corner office building that serves as VOA’s headquarters.
Up until now, Edens — which has cumulatively spent about $80 million on property in the neighborhood in the last four years — has been buying existing retail and restaurant buildings. It has lured big national brands such as Patagonia and Burton as tenants.
But Edens’ plans will significantly expand the firm’s presence in RiNo. The proposed structures would generally feature retail and restaurant space on the ground floor, and residential units above, plans show.
Before Edens breaks ground, however, the company needs to fulfill a couple commitments to VOA.
“It’s a true partnership,” VOA President and CEO Dave Schunk said of the arrangement.
Volunteers of America and Edens are neighbors.
If you stand on the sidewalk and look toward downtown Denver, the right side of the 2600 block of Larimer Street is nearly entirely owned by Edens. And the left side is nearly entirely owned by VOA, whose annual budget is about $30 million.
In addition to its main offices, VOA’s side of the street has industrial space where the nonprofit prepares meals for those in need. The other half of the block, facing Lawrence Street, is undeveloped and used for parking.
The only portion of the block that VOA doesn’t own is a small building that’s home to a liquor store. Edens bought it from the store’s former owner last year, knowing the deal with VOA was in the works.
VOA has an affinity for Larimer Street. The organization owns apartment buildings along the corridor closer to downtown.
“We have no intention of leaving Larimer,” Schunk said. “The VOA has been here for 125 years, somewhere on Larimer.”
Edens, meanwhile, owns a host of buildings nearby. In addition to national brands, it leases space to numerous local concepts such as 10 Barrel Brewing Co. and the Denver Central Market food hall.
Tom Kiler, Edens’ top local executive, noted that VOA’s block is on something of a border.
“This block is an important block,” he said. “It’s a bridge between a commercial area and a more residential area.”
Edens is generally all about retail real estate.
But in December 2020, Edens purchased a large industrial building at 4915 E. 52nd Ave. in Commerce City, paying $5.5 million, records show.
The purchase was a key component of its broader deal with VOA.
Kiler said the company will eventually transfer that building to the nonprofit, which will move its kitchen and warehouse operations there from Larimer. The new building is about 55,000 square feet, compared to 30,000 that VOA has had to use from those operations in RiNo.
“Our hope is that we can do that before the end of the year,” Kiler said.
Sometime around the middle of this year, Kiler said, Edens will purchase the rest of VOA’s block, with the exception of the company’s headquarters building right on the corner of Larimer Street and 27th Street.
Edens will then pay to fix up the 27,000-square-foot office building, which was completed in 2000. The nonprofit will continue to own it.
“Keeping this building was critical to us,” Schunk said.
Edens will demolish the remainder of the buildings on the block, including the liquor store and VOA’s former kitchen space. It will then build underground parking at the site, eventually transferring ownership of some of the spaces to VOA.
The deal has been in the works for years, and the two parties were at a “non-binding commitment” stage when the pandemic hit, Kiler and Schunk said in a joint interview. They paused discussions for a time, but eventually resumed them.
RiNo has been booming for years, and Schunk said Edens wasn’t the first company to eye VOA’s property for possible redevelopment.
For a while, the nonprofit felt it didn’t need to sell, he said.
Then, one day in 2019, Schunk got a call that a truck driver, struggling to operate in an increasingly congested part of town, had missed a turn and ran into one of VOA’s buildings along Larimer, causing damage that necessitated the addition of structure framing.
That, and comments Schunk got when he was hired in 2018, made him willing to think about other options.
“When I got here, one of the first things our board let me know, as well as some of our staff, was that we’d outgrown our space,” Schunk said. “Not from an administrative perspective, but our kitchen.”
Schunk said the nonprofit could have tried to buy an industrial building on its own, but making that happen would have been challenging financially. Edens, however, was willing to take VOA’s specifications and find an appropriate property, even though the company doesn’t normally buy industrial buildings.
“For us to go acquire one on our own … we’d be funding that ourselves, taking away from what we do for our clients,” Schunk said.
About 100 VOA staff work on the block now, Schunk said. About 60 will move to Commerce City when that building is up and running. That will leave about 40 people working out of the headquarters, although Schunk said he expects that figure to grow.
Plans that Edens submitted to the city last month call for the construction of multiple buildings with up to seven stories along Larimer Street, and up to five stories on the Lawrence side.
The plans also call for the development of several parcels across 26th Street from the VOA block. Edens purchased those properties from separate sellers last year.
The overall project could have about 85,000 square feet of retail space, and about 379 residential units on the upper floors, according to the plans.
Renderings the company provided to BusinessDen show an activated alleyway in the middle of the project, similar to the one that already exists behind Denver Central Market.
Kiler said Edens hopes to attract tenants that the company feels the area currently lacks. One need is a small-format grocery store, he said.
“For brick-and-mortar retail to succeed, it’s all about bringing people together,” Kiler said.
Edens may seek to partner with another firm on the multifamily component of the project, Kiler said. Construction would likely take two years.
The underground parking added as part of the project could free up the 11,000-square-foot surface lot across the street at 2631 Larimer St. to become “flex space,” used for community events instead of cars, Kiler said. But he doesn’t think the area really needs more parking when the massive Coors Field lots two blocks away often sit empty.
“The neighborhood has a parking frustration problem, but not a parking resource problem,” he said.
Edens’ emphasis on drawing people in will even extend to its renovation of the VOA headquarters building. Schunk and Kiler said the plan is to create a “heritage museum” on the building’s ground floor detailing the history of the organization, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year.
“The real point of the story will be how generous Coloradans have been in times of need,” Schunk said.