By Joshua Lindenstein
BOULDER – Boulder-based real estate development firm ElementProperties LLC and Sopher Architects LLC submitted concept plans with the city of Boulder this week on a proposed redevelopment of the former Sutherlands Lumber Co. site that could cost up to $180 million.
The plans call for 680,000 square feet of building space, including room for apartments, office, retail and restaurant uses as well as a 140-room boutique-style hotel. There will also be a large public plaza that could someday serve as a train platform for a FasTracks commuter rail stop.
Dubbed Spark – short for Sutherland Park in homage to the longtime owners of the site – the development will sit on roughly eight acres. That includes the 5.9-acre parcel at 3390 Valmont Road owned by the Sutherland family that was home to their hardware store and lumberyard. It also includes the adjacent parcels at 3195 Bluff St., the site of Columbine Plastics Corp., and 3200 Bluff St., home to an Airgas branch store.
The site lies within the city of Boulder’s Transit Village Area Plan, commonly known as Boulder Junction, which was adopted in 2007 and is bounded roughly by Valmont Road to the north, Foothills Parkway to the east, Pearl Parkway to the south and 30th Street to the west.
“Boulder’s center of gravity has been shifting eastward over the last few years, and Spark will finally provide a place for startups, entrepreneurs, artists and creatives to live, eat, work and play,” Element principal Scott Holton said Thursday.
The Sutherland family retains ownership of the 3390 Valmont property and is a partner with Element in the redevelopment. Holton said Element is under contract to purchase the 3195 Bluff property, which is owned by William Leipold. Holton said the nature of Element’s relationship with Airgas-Intermountain Inc., owner of the 3200 Bluff site, is proprietary and couldn’t be discussed.
The development plan involves razing the buildings on the sites, including the former Sutherlands store. Sutherlands closed the 25,000-square-foot store in 2010, renovated it and has leased it to various businesses, including anchor BCinteriors, a commercial furniture dealer.
The Sutherland family at that time worked with Morgan Creek Ventures on the renovations and leasing, and had discussions about full-scale redevelopment of the site, said Bob Sutherland, managing owner of Sutherlands’ Rocky Mountain region. But those talks never materialized. Elaine McLaughlin, a planner with the city, said Morgan Creek did a pre-application with the city but never submitted concept plans. Morgan Creek does still manage the property for Sutherlands.
“I love working with those guys,” Sutherland said. “I just think it was a timing issue with them and us. We just never really came to an agreement with how to do it. It was just always in the realm of what-ifs.”
Holton said the new development team would love to accommodate some of the current businesses in the new plans. He added that redevelopment of the Sutherlands building would likely come in one of the later phases of the project, but said he didn’t have a timeline for tearing that building down.
Overall, developers are hoping to break ground by the end of 2014, with build-out likely taking two to five years.
“It’s going to require some careful phasing to make sure it meets the needs of the market appropriately,” Holton said.
Within Boulder Junction, the site is specifically in the Rail Plaza character district. The site has been tabbed by the Regional Transportation District as a desired future stop for FasTracks. With FasTracks’ arrival to Boulder possibly decades away due to funding issues, Holton said the public plaza could serve a variety of uses in the meantime as a community gathering space. If FasTracks does make its way to Boulder, developers would work with RTD to convert some of the commercial space near the tracks into a ticket office or lounge area.
Plans call for about 248,000 square feet of office space, 6,500 square feet of restaurant space, 12,610 square feet for retail and about another 61,000 square feet of flexible street-level commercial space. That’s in addition to the hotel and apartments. Junction Place, a street running north-south would be connected all the way through to Pearl Parkway to the south to link the area to places like the under-construction Depot Square development that includes a bus rapid transit station.
The Spark mix of buildings is mostly four and five story buildings up to 55 feet in height, with developers seeking variances from the city for that where three stories and 38 feet is allowed by right. Developers are also seeking to include about 700 parking spaces, about half of what is required by the city.
“I would say all of those requests allow us to conform as closely as possible to the transit village plan for a lively and engaging place,” Holton said.
McLaughlin, the city planner, said a concept review and public hearing before the planning board is slated for early March where the board, city staff and community members can provide feedback and suggestions to developers.
McLaughlin said the general idea for the area is certainly to add density, a mix of uses and a more urban character.
“It certainly seems to be, on first blush, consistent with TVAP,” McLaughlin said of Spark, adding however that it’s too soon in the process to say what aspects of the project work and what might need tweaking.. “We haven’t really dug into our analysis, yet.”
If it comes to fruition as planned, the project could become the first of its kind in Colorado.
Developers are seeking a LEED-Neighborhood Development Platinum status. Rather than achieving LEED status for individual buildings, the ND designation looks at the entire project holistically. The transit-oriented location, walkability and districtwide renewable energy efforts would all play into achieving the designation.
Holton said only 12 developments in the world, including nine in the United States and none in Colorado, have achieved the LEED-ND Platinum rating.
“The transit-rich environment and walkability aspects of the Boulder Junction area are major contributing factors in our effort to plan Spark as a LEED-ND Platinum project,” said architect Adrian Sopher. “This level of sustainable development aligns with the values of the residents and businesses we’ll attract.”