Now they are part of a team, along with A t l a n t a b a s e d G a b l e s Residential, a private real estate investment trust with a market value of more than $3 billion, that is developing an eight-story, 289-unit luxury apartment tower at 360 S. Monroe St.
“We are very excited to be in partnership with the Rifkins and Gables,” Smith said.
“And we are excited to be a part of Cherry Creek with this exciting new project,” Smith added.
The building will be one of the most expensive apartment towers ever built in Denver, Smith said.
It also will create 400 to 450 construction jobs at its peak, according to the general contractor, Swinerton Builders.
The relationship with Rifkin, Smith and Jones, which ultimately led to the building which is informally called 360 Monroe, goes back about a dozen years.
“I met Bobby and Jeff probably in 2002 or 2001, when they were working with Archstone,” said Rifkin, whose father, Monroe, better known as Monty, was a cable television pioneer, teaming up with Denver cable TV legend Bill Daniels in 1959.
After selling their cable TV company, the Rifkin family concentrated on real estate investing.
Bruce Rifkin developed the Monroe Pointe luxury condominium project at 333 S. Monroe St. in Cherry Creek, for example.
“We kind of kept bumping into Bobby and Jeff,” Rifkin said.
“They had just completed a project in downtown and they gave me a tour of it,” he said.
The Rifkins considered buying the site for Monroe Pointe and building luxury apartments there, instead of condos.
“Basically, the zoning was pretty restrictive back then and they couldn't put enough density on the site for apartments,” Rifkin said.
And the condo market was hot … until it flickered out during the Great Recession.
“We had some pretty amazing presales in 2006 and 2007 and had virtually no market from June 2008 until June 2012,” Rifkin said.
From mid-2012, it was like a light switch flicked and sales lit up.
“Now, we are down to the last five,” Rifkin said. “It has been pretty amazing.” During the boom days in the mid-2000s, Archstone was sold and Smith and Jones decided they wanted to stay in Denver and formed their own apartment development company.
The trio’s paths crossed once again.
“I think I ran into Bobby in the Cherry Creek mall and he told me they were starting their own company and they needed some office space,” Rifkin said.
“I told them we can help you out, because we have an office building at 360 S. Monroe, right across from Monroe Pointe,” Rifkin said.
Smith and Jones subleased space in the building around 2009, he said.
Monty Rifkin built the office building on the site in 1972 and headquartered his first cable TV company there.
“After they were there for a couple of years, one day Bobby and I were walking across the parking lot, and he said to me, ‘You know, this would make a good apartment development site.’” Rifkin had never thought of that, but the more they talked, the more convinced he became that it was a good idea.
The timing was good, because the city had created the Cherry Creek Area Plan to determine the best way to grow the trendy area.
“We got involved in the Cherry Creek Area Plan at its inception,” Smith said.
That involved attending numerous meetings with the city and neighborhood groups to determine how they would like to see that key 2.4-acre site developed.
Unlike many developments, which have faced heated neighborhood opposition, they had strong support from all of the registered neighborhood organizations, Smith said.
“We really listened to what they wanted,” Smith said.
They could have put a 12-story building on the site, but decided an eight-story building would be more appropriate.
“We were able to move to the next step and that was finding an equity partner,” Smith said.
Smith had a relationship with the former CEO of Gables Residential.
Gables was eager to enter the Denver market.
“We made a conscious decision to expand our footprint into Denver about two years ago, driven largely from both a desire to have a mountain states presence and based on the fact that there was a solid apartment demand story,” said Joshua Landry, area vice president for investments for Gables Residential.
He is thrilled by the Cherry Creek site.
“The location specifically fits our investment strategy of being engrained into core, established premium neighborhoods,” Landry said.
“We like the direct access to the Cherry Creek hike and bike trail as well as the proximity to premium retail and believe these types of adjacent amenities create irreplaceable locations where people want to live,” he said.
Landry said Gables and Smith/ Jones make a great team.
“Smith/Jones has introduced us to some great real estate opportunities,” Landry said.
He has found they are on the same page with Gables and their local knowledge and expertise has been invaluable.
“There is a synonymous fundamental fit in how we view real estate and their local relationships have been instrumental in navigating the various city processes,” Landry said.
The building itself should feel like a beautiful boutique hotel, according to Smith.
“It will have a very sophisticated interior architectural design,” Smith said.
“Semple Brown has designed a very elegant main lobby with a concierge reception area,” he said.
One unique feature will be an “interior hiking bike trail,” that will connect to one of the building’s greatest amenities – the nearby Cherry Creek trail, according to Smith.
“We think the proximity to the Cherry Creek bike path is an extraordinary amenity,” Smith said.
“We really wanted to embrace the outdoors,” he said.
The building, designed by Ziegler Cooper of Houston, will include a clubroom with a demonstration kitchen and huge exterior windows, “with a terrific view of the Rocky Mountains,” Smith said.
Other amenities will include a catering kitchen, a game room and “very large fitness room,” as well as an outdoor swimming pool and hot tub.
“By the pool, there will be an outdoor kitchen and grilling area,” Smith said.
“We are installing a radiant snow melt system to melt snow around hot tub,” Smith said.
The building also will include a “commercial-grade” washing area to clean everything from residents’ dogs to their kayaks, he said.
As is typical with new luxury apartment developments in Denver, there will be an area for maintaining bicycles.
Rents, while not set yet, will be commensurate with the top rates in the city.
“We think this project will be very suitable for a certain segment of the market,” Smith said.
“Our residents will be people who could afford to buy a home,” he said.
Renters will be drawn to the building “who want to live in a carefree, very amenitized environment,” Smith said.
The typical size of a unit will be 935 square feet, slightly bigger than a lot of the newer luxury units under construction.
The larger size will make the building attractive to everyone from young families to empty nesters who have moved out of single-family homes, he said.
“You are walking distance to the Cherry Creek mall and all of the restaurants and stores in Cherry Creek North, without being in the middle of all of the congestion and noise,” Smith said.
Also, because of its proximity to South Colorado Boulevard, it will be an easy commute to either downtown or the Denver Tech Center area, he said.
This isn’t the only project in Denver for Gables.
“We also have Gables Speer Boulevard under construction with Hanover and are exploring other opportunities that are too early to disclose,” he said.
Landry, however, is very cognizant of all of the rental units being added to the Denver market.
“As with any hot market, supply is always a topic of conversation,” Landry said.
“Absorption continues to remain strong in Denver and we believe that with the right product type, quality and location that you can be successful in spite of the cycles,” he said.
Plus, Gables isn’t looking to flip its properties.
“We are long-term holders and feel great about the current fundamentals,” he said.
At this point in the cycle, Gables is more interested in developing in Denver than acquiring properties.
“The current cap rate environment has steered us in the way of building vs. buying based on the current spreads,” Landry said.
“This may not always be the case but it has made more economic sense for us to develop in the short term,” he said.
“We will continue to evaluate fundamentals and adjust as the markets provide,” Landry said.
For the Rifkin family, this will be by far the biggest development they have been involved with.
The Rifkin family looks forward to the opening in about a year.
“We are really excited about this,” Bruce Rifkin said.
“We couldn't have found a better use for the property or better partners.
By John Rebchook
Colorado Real Estate Journal