This month, owners will start moving into the north tower of Glass House, a condominium high-rise that has brought moderately priced urban living to downtown Denver. Situated within the 28-acre Riverfront Park complex in Denver's trendy downtown LoDo District, the $90 million Glass House—whose south tower opened last month—ranks among this market's fastest-selling residential projects.
“I've covered real estate for 23 years, and for a development this size, nothing in Denver has sold out that quickly,” says John Rebchook of the Rocky Mountain News.
Within six weeks of its sales office opening in April 2006, most of Glass House's 389 units were gone. “The customer base was pretty deep,” says Chris Frampton, vice president of sales and marketing for Avon, Colo.–based East West Partners, Glass House's co-developer. “A lot of [downtown] renters are paying a 50 percent premium over the rest of the metropolitan area.”
FIT TO A “T” While it's obvious now that Glass House had tapped a pent-up–buyer vein, East West and its development partner, Marietta, Ga.–based Wood Partners, had plenty to be anxious about in a Denver market where construction of for-sale condos in downtown and surrounding neighborhoods had fallen steadily over the previous four years, and where fewer than 500 downtown condos had been sold annually, on average, over the previous decade. Mike Rinner, a vice president with The Genesis Group, a market research firm based in Englewood, Colo., says sales of condos priced higher than $400 per square foot (pretty much everything Glass House competed against) had all but stopped since 2000.
Glass House's primary targets were young first-time buyers and empty-nesters, and its main attractions were floor-to-ceiling window walls that offer stunning views of Denver's mountains, parks, and skyline, as well as the apartments' comparatively reasonable prices. The developers could market Glass House's condos profitably, within a price range that averaged $375 per square foot, by scaling down the building to what Ryan Dearborn, a Houston-based director for Wood Partners, describes as a “Model T” interior design whose sole option was three colors of wood flooring.
“It's essentially the same apartment, stacked 23 stories,” says Dearborn. That made life easier for the Denver office of JE Dunn Construction, the project's general contractor, which was on a tight, 91-week schedule. But—thanks in part to a mild winter—Dunn controlled construction costs and delivered the towers 34 days ahead of schedule.
Dustin Liljehorn, senior project manager for Dunn's Rocky Mountain division, says Glass House's exterior window-wall system can be assembled quickly, which allowed Dunn to use steel-framed “form work tables” to pour concrete for the floors and ceilings. The concrete dries to a tensile strength of 3,000 pounds per square inch within 18 hours, at which point the tables are moved through the side of the building to the next-highest floor. This construction technique is effective, explains Liljehorn, only when workers erecting the building's “skin” can keep up with the concrete pouring.
A subsidiary of Dunn's had worked on Wood Partners' first for-sale projects in Atlanta, which were designed by the same architect responsible for Glass House, The Preston Partnership, based in Atlanta.
“One thing that's fundamental to managing construction costs is the repeat use of a project's team members,” says Rick Mercer, who heads up Wood's design and construction group. He calls Preston's signature window-wall exterior design “aesthetically pleasing” and “practical.” The design attracted the attention of Washington-based Robert Charles Lesser & Co., the consulting firm that advises East West on Riverfront Park.
When Wood wanted to expand its Texas operations (which it opened in 2002), an alliance with East West in Denver seemed the perfect fit. And Wood Partners' successes with this kind of construction in Atlanta contributed to shortening the time it took to get site approval for Glass House to less than six months. “We already had something we could show planners,” says Dearborn.