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NAIOP Colorado real estate competition gets underway at Denver infill site

Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge
Graduate students tour the Denver Shops site at 5151 Bannock St. in Denver. (NAIOP Colorado/Susan English Photography)

Be realistic. Be creative. Take some risk.

Graduate students heard that advice and more Feb. 1 at the kickoff for the 17thannual Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge.

“We are sitting in a very historic part of Denver,” Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock told University of Colorado and University of Denver students gathered at the 40-acre Denver Shops, formerly the Colorado Trade Center. A former Burlington locomotive service facility that the Denver Post proclaimed in 1923 made Denver the “railroad center of the entire West,” the Denver Shops remains a vital employment center with companies leasing nearly all of its 700,000 square feet of industrial space.

Through the real estate challenge, students will work with experts, and each other, over the next few months to create a financially viable, future vision for the site, which commercial real estate expert Jonathan Alpert of Westfield Company Inc. said could be a destination for Denver, not just the hundreds of employees who work there.

On May 2, a finalist team from each school will present its ideas to a panel of commercial real estate judges and an audience of around 700 industry professionals at the NAIOP Colorado event, which will be from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Denver at Colorado Convention Center.

Hancock urged students to incorporate sustainability into plans for the property at 5151 Bannock St. while also respecting its place in the neighborhood and its history.

Rocky Mtn. Real Estate Challenge

Students listen to a presentation from a panel of commercial real estate experts. (NAIOP Colorado/Susan English Photography)

Conscience Bay Co., which owns the Denver Shops and is the project sponsor for the real estate challenge, has a sole vacancy at the property, the original Blacksmith Shop. The 20,000-sf space has been transformed into creative light-industrial space that is for lease. The rest of the site comprises a conglomeration of original and expanded refrigerated warehouse and light-industrial space. It’s leased long term, but, “It’s going to have another life at some point,” said Conscience Bay President Eli Feldman.

After touring the property at the kickoff, CU’s William Dolenshek said the biggest challenge may be “tying it all together, trying to make it look cohesive.”

“It’s working with what’s already here, and there’s so much already here,” added Elizabeth Grazer, also of CU. CU’s Luke Kelly said it will be important for any development plan to respect the property’s history while ensuring it is useful to the community.

Denver commercial real estate veteran Evan Kline of NAI Shames Makovsky urged student competitors to take advantage of access they will have to industry expertise as they formulate their plans, saying, “You’re never going to have a better opportunity to do that.”

“It’s the interaction with the industry professionals and the exposure to the industry beyond the academic setting” that student Jordan Shabot said he is most looking forward to as he works toward a chance to represent DU in the real estate challenge.

DU’s Graham Silver agreed the event offers a rare opportunity to talk to and learn from commercial real estate professionals “on their level.”

“I’m hoping to get a start-to-finish experience on development, beginning to end, everything in between, all the moving pieces that come together to do a development from the ground up,” commented Robbie Nichols, also of DU.

Many students competing in the Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge go on to careers in the Denver commercial real estate community. Ben Woolf, Conscience Bay director of commercial investments, who is heavily involved in this year’s competition, is a past competitor.

DU’s Maggie Coats has a slightly different aim. She is a law student who hopes to extend her knowledge of the legal profession into commercial real estate.

“I know the law pretty well from all my fabulous classes, but there’s no way to learn the business side other than doing it. So, this is a fantastic opportunity for me,” she said.

Land Title Guarantee Co. is the major sponsor of the Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge. For more information about the event, visit NAIOP-Colorado.org.

Featured in CREJ’s Feb. 20-March 5, 2019, issue

Kris Oppermann Stern is publisher and editor of Building Dialogue, a Colorado Real Estate Journal publication, and editor of CREJ's construction, design, and engineering section, including news and bylined articles. Building Dialogue is a quarterly, four-color magazine that caters specifically to the AEC industry, including features on projects and people, as well as covering trends…