The former First Avenue Hotel at 101 N. Broadway stood condemned, vacant and boarded for many years.

The four-story Italian Renaissance Revival style beauty serves as the entry to the Baker neighborhood, and has for more than 115 years on the northwest corner of Broadway and First Avenue.

Zocalo Community Development Inc. CEO David Zucker remembers pangs of sadness hitting him as he drove by the derelict shell. He used to eat at El Diablo for many years – the only part of the historic structure that was active until the City of Denver condemned the building and it closed in 2013.

“In some ways, it was the most important building in the Baker neighborhood … one of the most historically important, residential, mixed-use neighborhoods in the city,” Zucker said.

Fast forward eight years. The building now houses The Quayle – a 102-unit affordable housing complex, with trendy and popular pancake restaurant Snooze set to open its 55th location on the ground floor Nov. 16. Chef Ken Wan and wife Doris Yuen confirmed with The Denver Gazette they plan to open MAKfam in 2023, a sister restaurant to their Meta Asian Kitchen. It’s a staple at the Avanti Food & Beverage hall at 3200 Pecos St.

The story of the building’s transformation stands as a testimonial to patient development and the value of public-private partnerships in not only providing affordable housing, but in honoring Denver’s history and carrying it into the future.

“I think there’s a certain breed of developer that sees the value of preservation,” Zucker said. “One that really respects not just the history of the buildings, but also the important legacy that we want to carry forward.”

Out of condemnation, The Quayle rises

After the building’s former owner declared bankruptcy, the building was taken in foreclosure.

Zocalo won the auction held by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and got 101 Broadway for $6.2 million in 2015.

“We ended up winning, assuming it was going to be a hotel,” Zucker said.

But plans changed and Zucker said they explored other options with “our investor partner – a wealthy, civic-minded family.” Those options included market-rate apartments, condominiums or possibly office space.

They ended up on the plan to build a five-story, affordable housing complex, behind the historic building and blend the two.

Zocalo had experience building affordable housing, and had long been building sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings since they proved the business model would work with its first development, the Solera apartments, 1956 Lawrence St. It sold in 2011 for $37 million – then a record per-unit price of $308,333. The 120-unit luxury complex was Denver’s first LEED Gold Certified multifamily rental project, Zucker said at the time.

Before any construction on the Quayle could begin, Zocalo had to shore up the original building’s structure and bring it into compliance with Denver building codes. That took a full two years, he said.

“This was, by far and away, the hardest project we’ve done,” Zucker said. “It was condemned because there were significant and imminently present structural issues that put the building in imminent risk of collapse.”

It was challenging to work through the permitting and inspection process with officials from the city’s Community Planning and Development department.

“It was very tough to work through the entitlement process,” he said.

After that, officials had to assemble what Zucker described as an “absolute, multi-level wedding cake of finance.”

They secured the building’s historic designation status to earn state tax credits. The City of Denver approved $2.5 million of tax breaks in 2018. Denver’s Economic Development Office chipped in more. The project earned $4.6 million in tax credit equity, and $915,000 in state historic tax credit loan proceeds, according to Novogradac.

Partners included: Bellwether Enterprise, a financial institution that specializes in affordable housing projects, securing a $13.5 million loan for the Quayle; First Bank; Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA); Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA); Collegiate Peaks Bank, the Baker neighborhood and the West Corridor Transportation Management Association.

“It was incredibly complicated,” Zucker said. “This project would not have been possible if even one of those pieces fell through.”

Construction wrapped in 2019, with the total cost of $39 million exceeding the projections Zocalo officials gave the city of Denver of $36.5 million in 2018.

“We spent four times the amount of staff time on a $39 million project with a 102 units than we did with a project that was more than three times its size,” Zucker said. “Which is why I say with certainty that every other developer that was competing for it is glad that we won and they didn’t.”

“The neighborhood is our biggest amenity”

Residents of The Quayle – named after its architect Charles Quayle – are income qualified. Which means rent is based on 60% of the average median income. For one person in Denver, that was $42,000 in 2020 or $48,000 for two.

With Denver area rents and real estate prices soaring in recent years, it’s the only way lower-income people could afford to live near center city.

Scott Brinker, 50, moved into the Quayle six months ago after living on Zuni Street in the Highlands for almost a decade. He works at Denver Health, which is just down Broadway off 6th Avenue.

“Living over here has allowed me to be virtually car-free,” Brinker said.

The Quayle, 49 W. 1st Ave., offers two electric bikes residents can check out, and it’s more walkable than his old neighborhood, he said.

“With the Baker neighborhood, you bump into actual neighbors,” Brinker said. “It’s nice to walk up and down the street. … You literally walk out the door here and there’s just a wide variety of options” to eat or drink.

Zócalo’s Lisa Jefferies, senior director of real estate, said they took care to make sure living at the Quayle felt like living at market-rate apartments. Some of the complex’s amenities rival luxury complexes – including thousands of dollars worth of art from local artists adorning the walls.

“We see it as no different than market-rate,” Jefferies said. “The residents really feel that, too. Their stories are heartwarming in the sense that some of them have never lived in a building so nice, or where they have the kind of events we do where they don’t have to pay for them.”

Those events include things like a farmer’s market in the parking lot, with residents getting a $25 voucher to stock up on fresh vegetables. They partner with non-profit organizations, like the Horizon Housing Foundation, to provide free financial education classes. They have walking challenges and fitness challenges. And there’s a free pantry, funded by Horizon, near the laundry room.

“They’ve been phenomenal for our residents’ events,” Jefferies said. “They grant us $250 a month and we buy things like non-perishable foods or even household products that are sometimes very expensive. … If someone needs something, they take it. If they have extra, they put something back.”

But the location, Jefferies said, “is our biggest amenity.”

“The Baker neighborhood is very welcoming,” she said.

Brinker said he enjoys the diversity of residents living at the Quayle.

“It’s a welcoming community with a wide variety of people here. I’ve met a lot of folks,” he said.

Affordable housing is key to that diversity.

“This city is very expensive, and a lot of folks down here have a lot of money because it costs money to live downtown,” Brinker said. “But you need a workforce here, too. The waiters, the folks who work at the hospital, those who pick up your garbage. It’s important for them to be a part of the city as well and to be able to live downtown.”

Zucker said providing that shelter to those who “get the first stable housing that they might have have ever had in their lives” is more fulfilling than making the absolute most money possible off market-rate developments.

“What’s really working for a community is that we create a broad spectrum, that there’s heterogeneity – not the homogeneity that we have sometimes,” he said “Life is more interesting that way.

“If it were not for some of our affordable projects, some of these folks would not know where they’re spending nights. It’s not because they’re destitute. It’s because they’re hard working. It’s just that they’re hard working at lower-income jobs. And rents have zoomed out of attainability… It’s a privilege to be able to build shelter for those who are hard-working, but shut out.”

Now when Zucker drives by building, with lights on all floors and workers bustling to ready Snooze for its November opening, any feelings of sadness are long gone — replaced with pride.

"I know we did a respectful job and delivered on the area residents' goal of bringing back this jewel of the crown of the Baker neighborhood." 

City Editor

Dennis Huspeni is a 30-year newspaper journalist who is the City Editor and covers metro Denver business.

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