After three years of negotiations, with interruptions from the pandemic, founders of an early education center at the edge of LoHi have purchased their building.
Highlands Academy, owned by Ben Bloise and wife Holli Martin, recently bought the building at 2860 Speer Blvd. it previously leased from HEC Speer LLC, according to public records.
The price was $5.8 million.
“They (HEC Speer LLC) really helped us,” Bloise said. “They could’ve taken it to the open market and gotten more, but that didn’t matter to them.”
The couple bought the 14,000-square-foot building two weeks ago, on the school’s 10-year anniversary. Bloise said its lease was up in 2030, and without the sale they would’ve had to rebuild somewhere new.
“It’s a huge win for us and for the community,” Bloise said. “It’s hard to find retail space in preschools anywhere, but specifically downtown with everything building up.”
Seller HEC Speer still owns property east of the school, which houses multiple businesses, including Keyrenter Property Management and Denver Community Acupuncture.
Martin has a master’s degree in early childhood and was previously the director of an early education center, but starting her own school was always the dream. With Bloise coming from a banking and real estate background, they said they made a great business team.
After starting Highlands Academy, Bloise and Martin opened two more early education centers – Centennial Montessori in 2015 and Mountain View Academy in 2022. In the case of those schools, however, the pair bought the property before opening.
“After starting Highlands and realizing we looked to expand, we wanted to be in control of our destiny and probably wouldn’t entertain a lot of leases,” Bloise said.
Highlands Academy has roughly 200 students and a “long” waitlist, Bloise said. All three schools serve kids from 8 weeks to 6 years. Monthly tuition ranges from $1,600 to $2,500.
Bloise said the couple want to open a fourth location in a couple years, hopefully in Cherry Creek or somewhere near Highlands Academy to assist with some of the demand.
Bloise said the couple face two major industry challenges: staffing and real estate. Staffing can be solved through high wages and treating employees well, he said, but real estate is a different story.
“Finding the location is going to be a massive issue going forward,” Bloise said. “I think Denver will continue to boom, and that forces land value to go up … it doesn’t give a lot of opportunity for the little guy.”