What do we do with aging buildings and how do we create attainable housing? For many situations, these two questions can be answered with the same solution: convert the building into condominiums. Flywheel Capital implemented this solution at Circa West Condominiums, located at 4600 W. Colfax Ave. The property was previously a Four Winds Best Western hotel, and later a senior housing community. In 2019, with help from our firm and The Agusta Group, the property was converted into 64 entry-level condominiums with prices starting at $175,000.
This project provided several challenges and opportunities unique to this type of conversion project. Throughout the process, several lessons for future condominium conversions came to light, including the importance of site selection, infrastructure, and the existing character of the property and building.
Site Selection is key
The surrounding area must be able to support the new residential use and appeal to potential buyers. For Flywheel Capital, this meant choosing a site in a rapidly growing area of Denver with existing infrastructure and a location along a major thoroughfare. While the site provided many opportunities, it was not without its challenges. A neighboring lot intended for some of the parking could not be utilized, but this challenge was mitigated by the site’s location directly on a major RTD bus route.
In addition to site selection, adequate, reusable, and existing infrastructure must be in place. For Flywheel Capital, this was the biggest challenge and opportunity. While the building’s former use as a hotel and senior housing community provided the basic infrastructure for condominium conversion and its non-historic status allowed for flexibility in design, there were still several unknowns. “The biggest challenge was trying to reuse as much of the existing floor plans and infrastructure while dealing with unforeseen conditions,” said Ben Hrouda, managing partner for Flywheel Capital.
Overcoming the unknown
The absence of drawings and plans from the original build amplified this challenge as the details and construction quality of the build could not be ensured. The unknown is often the biggest hurdle to overcome. For this particular project, it meant spending necessary time to assess the as-built conditions. Field measuring, scoping the plumbing, assessing the existing demising walls, evaluating the accessibility, and testing the sound mitigation were all demanding. While most of the plumbing could be reused, all of the balcony railings had to be replaced because engineers would not certify the safety of the existing rails without the costly and timely process of checking every single railing weld. The existing wall system passed the sound inspection; however, it could not adequately be adapted to the newer configurations and was mostly removed and replaced. Issues with existing ceiling heights, accessibility requirements, and adding new openings provided additional challenges.
Consider what exists
When adapting an existing building, it is important to capitalize on the existing character. “Circa West is different because it embraces the vintage character, while it is completely new and modern. In addition, each residence has a large private balcony to enjoy everything Denver has to offer,” Hrouda said. In addition to the private balconies, the character of this building can be found in its double tee construction. While the ceiling height is lower than what is typical in new construction today, the exposed tees throughout the building give the units and amenity area a unique look and feel.
The benefit of lower construction costs, quicker timelines, and the opportunity for a unique product make condominium conversions as attractive development opportunity, especially when combined with aging hotels and motels. Additionally, projects like Circa West can alleviate the demand for attainable housing in rapidly growing areas. While site selection, existing infrastructure, and character can provide a baseline formula to follow, the most important aspect of a condominium conversion is to plan for the unknown. Hrouda’s advice for other developers, “Plan for more unforeseen conditions than you might expect, and be flexible.”