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Posted: November 02, 2012

Business as usual: Developer pedals beyond walk score

Mike Taylor

The "walk score" has gained ground as a metric in real estate, with a dwelling’s proximity to restaurants, bars, movies, grocers and other destinations more important than square footage for many.

The Nichols Partnership may want to introduce a "bike score" as the Denver developer nears completion of a 61-unit, high-end apartment project in Denver’s City Park West neighborhood that sounds like a heaven for cycling enthusiasts.

"We’re calling the project ‘Cruise,’ as in cruiser bikes," says Dan Schuetz, project manager for Nichols who happens to be an elite road racer. "It’s in kind of a dense, walkable, urban location. We’d like to kind of celebrate that lifestyle by encouraging people to ride around on bikes. Cruiser bikes are kind of synonymous with urban fun, and that’s kind of what we’re selling in the project."

Actually The Nichols Partnership is not only selling the bike theme with the project; the developer is also giving it away – as in a free Electra cruiser bike for anyone who signs a one-year lease at Cruise.

"I’ve been told by everybody from the property-management company to other developers, ‘Hey, you don’t need to give away bikes to lease this building,’" Schuetz says. "But it’s something we’ve committed to, and we think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I think we’ll get some good PR out of the idea and it’ll just be cool."

Other cycling elements planned for the Cruise include bike-themed artwork throughout the building and a bicycle service station in the basement with bike stands, tools, lubes and tubes.

"All you need is a mechanic and you’ll be good to go down there," Schuetz says.

Schuetz, 37, grew up in Wisconsin working in bike shops and started racing competitively while at the University of Wisconsin, where he earned a degree in civil engineering. After graduating he moved to Colorado and was a project engineer for the Zephyr Mountain Lodge mixed-use project in Winter Park. Later he earned a master’s in real estate and finance from the University of Colorado.

"That’s a heck of a place to ride a mountain bike," he says of Winter Park. "And then I went to school in Boulder, so I’ve been fortunate to be in locations where it’s really easy and really fun to ride a bike."

While Schuetz is the most serious cyclist on The Nichols Partnership team, he’s not the only enthusiast. Randy Nichols, the firm’s president and founder, often rides one of the city’s B-cycle rentals to work, swiping his credit card and checking out one of the red bikes at a B-cycle station near his Cherry Creek home and dropping it off at a station outside the company’s office in LoDo.

The Nichols Partnership has developed some of Denver’s most notable projects in recent years, including the 42-story Spire downtown, and Clayton Lane, a 600,000-square foot mixed-use project in Cherry Creek North.

The Cruise, slated for completion in early December, will represent another sizable feat in residential development for reasons other than its bike theme. Nichols Partnership bought the vacant, four-story, 50,000-square-foot former office building for $2.1 million in 2009.

At the time, Schuetz says, "It didn’t look very good, it wasn’t good for the neighborhood, and it really isn’t a good office location but it’s a fantastic residential location."

After the purchase of the building it took another 32 months to close the federally insured construction loan, so construction on the Cruise didn’t begin until January this year.

"We totally gutted the inside. All we’re retaining is the structure," Schuetz says. "It’s a really nice cast-in-place concrete structure with super high ceilings. It’s a completely new building with the exception of the structure, so we’re spending real money."

Schuetz says the Cruise is a response to demand from today’s renters, especially those in their 20s who want to live in an environment that’s "amenitized" but don’t need a lot of living space.

"I’m really excited about high density, highly amenitized, walkable urban locations such as downtown Denver," he says. "I think nationally, downtown Denver is kind of on the radar screen. It’s where people want to live. There’s a lot of people moving here, and they want to be downtown."

Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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