The way Ron Abbott tells it, he and his two business partners could not believe their fortune. Seedstock Brewery, their labor of love for the past four years, will be the very first Denver craft brewery to call West Colfax Avenue home, a rare pioneer in a booming industry. "We were shocked that we were going to be the first," said Abbott, who has been homebrewing with his brother for more than two decades. "We think it's the perfect location."
The rustic, back-to-basics brewery is scheduled to open this fall at 3610 W. Colfax Ave., the anchor of an adaptive-reuse project transforming an old auto-body shop at Lowell Boulevard into a hip, neighborhood-centered retail hub.
With the redevelopment of the old St. Anthony Hospital campus picking up speed, retail interest is increasing along a thoroughfare best known for its jumble of used-car dealerships, repair shops and motels.
Alamo Drafthouse -- famous for its film-geek programming, full-service menu and zero-tolerance of cellphone use -- is building its second Colorado location at Colfax and Stuart Street, the commercial anchor of the seven-block St. Anthony redevelopment.
Highland Tap & Burger, a popular spot in the Lower Highland, has also announced it will be the first ground-floor tenant in a Trammell Crow Residential apartment complex on Raleigh Street, just one block north of Colfax.
At 4409 W. Colfax Ave., two blocks to the west, Little Man Ice Cream has purchased a 6,300-square-foot building, with plans to move its production there and open a tasting room.
"There was a lot of optimism before the recession that West Colfax would be one of those places that would be next. There's been that sense for a while -- West Colfax is next," said Dan Shah, director of the West Colfax Business Improvement District.
"Now, what we're seeing, beyond just a sense that this could happen, is a probable sense that it is happening. People are showing up and making investments."
Susan Powers, a longtime Denver real estate developer and former executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, said with the St. Anthony project as the catalyst, West Colfax is starting to see organic, property-by-property revitalization.
"The rest will fill in," Powers said. "It's not going to be a progression that moves its way down Colfax. It just starts with individual projects, and it changes over time. There may be years where there are blocks that haven't caught up, but eventually they will."
"I see the same thing happening in Sun Valley," she said. "Suddenly, west of (Interstate 25) is the new frontier."
A surprising neighbor
Little Man owner Paul Tamburello, a pioneer in the redevelopment of the now-booming Highland area, said he's not sure he even knew that Alamo Drafthouse would be his neighbor when he bought the building at 4409 W. Colfax Ave. last summer.
The building -- a one-story brick storefront that dates to the late 1940s -- will house a small-batch creamery and tasting room, as well as Little Man's production facilities. Both could open in the spring, he said.
Currently, Little Man ice cream is being made in a commercial kitchen in an old Victorian house at West 32nd Avenue and Tejon Street, down the road from the shop's iconic milk can-shaped shop. Moving out of northwest Denver was not an option, Tamburello said.
"We just saw this great opportunity to be part of an emerging and existing community," he said. "There's a lot of great stuff already there, and we're quadrupling our space."
For the Alamo Drafthouse, moving into a large urban-infill redevelopment such as St. Anthony made sense, partner Tom DeFrancia said. The theater will be able to reuse an existing parking garage as part of its project.
"It's a location that had to have a lot of vision -- it has a reputation -- but I feel like there's so much momentum now in the neighborhood," DeFrancia said. "The feedback we've gotten has been really strong."
DeFrancia likened the Colfax spot to a theater that Alamo opened a number of years ago in Austin, Texas, transforming an abandoned supermarket into a edgy, vibrant destination for film buffs. In the years since, the area around the theater has thrived.
Alamo should draw from a much larger area than just West Colfax, too -- Highland, Sloan's Lake, Edgewater, Lakewood and more. The closest first-run theaters are in Belmar, Old Town Arvada and downtown Denver, DeFrancia said.
"Knowing that we'll bring in new filmgoers from the area and our loyal following, I've always felt that we could be a catalyst for change in the area," he said.
Cameron Bertron, senior vice president of development services at EnviroFinance Group, the master developer of the St. Anthony site, said getting the movie theater to take a chance on West Colfax was a "real home run."
"Once that project is open and it's a destination not only for West Colfax, but for the west side of town more broadly, that will be the spark that will really help people think differently about West Colfax moving forward and all the opportunities that are there," he said.
Corridor's high costs
Redevelopment projects along West Colfax still face a number of challenges, Shah said, starting with the corridor's high costs.
Because of long-standing deferred maintenance and underinvestment, the built environment on West Colfax is much different than, say, Highland Square at West 32nd and Lowell.
"It didn't take a lot of investment (there), because the bones, the buildings, were there for people to come in and do something that was really quite different from what was there previously," Shah said. "There are bones on West Colfax, but those bones need so much work. Even though people are really interested and ready, it just becomes so expensive so it doesn't pencil out."
That's a challenge commercial real estate broker Win King and his partners have faced firsthand on their adaptive-reuse project at 3610 W. Colfax Ave., where Seedstock will open.
Finding tenants willing to pay the rent needed to recoup the investment they made into the old auto-body shop has been a exercise in patience, King said.
They had hoped to do minimal work on the building to keep rents attractive, but decided they needed to invest the money for a full renovation, he said. They restored the building's brick facade, added a retro metal awning and upgraded all of the utilities.
"We have had a difficult time getting the attraction over to the neighborhood," King said. "Even though the demographics have changed, there's still a strong perception that it's a depressed community."
In addition to Seedstock Brewery, they hope to eventually draw a coffee shop, deli or yoga studio to the space. West Colfax currently has no coffee shops between the Auraria campus and Wadsworth Boulevard, save the social enterprise run by Girls Inc. inside the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch Library at Irving Street.
"We think West Colfax is probably going to look a lot like East Colfax around South City Park. That's the sort of energy we can create," King said. "We may have been a year or two early."
The West Colfax BID is also working to tackle the perception that Colfax is a car-only environment, Shah said.
A recent event, Re-Imagine West Colfax, demonstrated for one Sunday in August what a pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly Colfax could look and feel like, installing temporary bike lanes, medians with pedestrian refuges, enhanced crosswalks and "parklets." More than 600 people participated.
"From a consumer standpoint, people see most arterials as a through corridor, not anywhere you would stop," Shah said. "Having that brewery open is going to be the first big mind-set changer, game changer. There's finally going to be a watering hole that people want to go to."
When Seedstock began searching for a location, West Colfax wasn't on the radar, Abbott said.
"A lot of the other brewers were in River North. You think about all the great places on East Colfax and South Broadway, but there really wasn't anything happening on West Colfax," he said.
After some debate, though, they decided it was the right fit for their simple, community-oriented approach. Having Alamo Drafthouse opening down the street didn't hurt, either.
"If you dropped me in the middle of Denver and said, 'Where do you want to be? Where do you want to live? Where do you want to go out?', there's a lot going on on East Colfax and Broadway and RiNo," Abbott said. "But why not right over here? There's light rail and all this development coming in."