“Developer” Can Be a Dirty Word in Denver — Meet Five Exceptions to the Rule

September 2, 2016 | News

“Developer” Can Be a Dirty Word in Denver — Meet Five Exceptions to the Rule

Charlie Woolley at the Lowenstein.
Charlie Woolley at the Lowenstein.

Charlie Woolley
St. Charles Town Company
When Charlie Woolley bought the old Lowenstein Theater in 2005, other developers thought he was crazy to take on a project along the city’s blighted East Colfax Avenue. Though dissenters wanted the Lowenstein to return to its roots as a theater, others in the neighborhood welcomed the redevelopment of the building, which had stood vacant for twenty years.

Today the $16 million project serves as an anchor for the long-awaited redevelopment of East Colfax. It houses some of Denver’s best-known independent retailers, including the Tattered Cover Book Store and the Sie FilmCenter. Twist & Shout Records, which has been there from the beginning, owns its own building in the complex; so does the Denver Film Society, which runs the Sie. “It was neighborhood revitalization, it was historic preservation, and it supported locally based businesses that were under assault by chain-store competition,” Woolley says. “That’s all changed. The chain stores are gone, and the independents are still standing.”

Woolley says that his biggest challenge is determining what type of tenants will be the best fit for a project. They must blend into the neighborhood, and developers must be careful not to default to the easiest solution. In the case of Woolley’s redevelopment of the Hardware Block in LoDo, that would have been a restaurant. But he was determined to find a clothing store to occupy the three old warehouses at 15th and Wazee streets, and ultimately landed Player’s for the retail space. The development also includes 50,000 square feet of office space and 25 for-sale lofts, thirteen of which were scheduled to close on 9/11 in 2001.

Woolley earned a bachelor’s degree in city planning from the University of Massachusetts and an MBA from the University of Denver. He started his real-estate career in 1985 after serving as the director of a history museum for eight years. He founded St. Charles Town Company in 1993 to focus on urban real-estate development, investment and management. Since then, the company has completed development projects valued at more than $300 million. He is a trustee for the Denver Botanic Gardens and History Colorado.

Other Woolley projects include the Equitable Building, the Wazee Supper Club, 1800 Glenarm and the former Benjamin Moore Paint Company warehouse and manufacturing buildings.

In the past few years, Woolley has acquired a stretch of 16th Street in LoHi, where he’s planning to develop a 164-room boutique hotel that will be affiliated with Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio, a collection of high-end independent hotels that use Starwood’s distribution, loyalty and sales platforms. Planning the five-story project, which will include a pool deck, restaurant and bar, has not been without its struggles, he says. “Everyone’s nervous that we’re at the end of a cycle, and financing is more difficult to find,” he explains. “Our plans have been logged into the building department. We’re pushing forward. It’s just a very slow and tough project — but they always are.”

The property is zoned for commercial mixed use and structures up to five stories, so Woolley could have developed an apartment building or office building for the site. But a hotel that targets both business travelers and vacationers will fill a need in the neighborhood and solidify 16th and Boulder streets as the core of the community.

“If you pick something that engages the neighborhood and is a good fit for the neighborhood, you rarely have problems,” Woolley says. “Generally, if you’re trying to do the right thing, it is both profitable and is supported by the community.”

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