After years of sitting vacant, RiverView development sells bulk of land in downtown Steamboat
Buyers include Snow Bowl Steamboat parent company and Natural Grocers, which is planning 4-story building with new store, apartments
A sometimes controversial project, RiverView has been a touchstone in the conversation surrounding the future of downtown Steamboat Springs. Now, after decades of uncertainty, the development has nearly reached a conclusion.
Plans for the property, totaling nearly 5 acres of land sandwiched between Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street between Third and Fifth streets, have gone through several iterations since it was first purchased in 2004. The initial developer’s intent was to transform the land into mixed-use sites for condominiums, hotels and retail stores. The Great Recession of the late 2000s, however, stymied much of the development’s progress until 2017, when the project was overhauled and rebranded.
Following years of sitting vacant, several of the project’s land parcels have been sold in the past two months, making room for the addition of single-family homes, duplexes, medium- and high-density residential, mixed-use commercial and a new grocery store.
Back to the beginning
When it was first purchased in 2004, the RiverView development was known as Riverwalk and included 72 residential units, seven deed-restricted affordable units, 35 hotel rooms, more than 32,000 square feet of commercial space and 108 underground parking garage spaces.
To make room for the project, about 150 people were displaced after the Westland Mobile Home Park was demolished, a process permitted by the city of Steamboat. While it drew ire from community members, the project was recognized as important to downtown’s growth.
The project’s developers made $2 million in improvements on the site in 2008, including cost participation in moving sewer lines and building new box culverts to get Spring Creek out of the flood plain where it approaches flows under Lincoln Avenue.
Steamboat Realtor and developer Jim Cook led Riverwalk in its early phases before Chicago-based investment firm Green Courte Partners assumed control.
“With the Great Recession of 2008, and frankly the advent of the iPhone, those development plans — what was called Riverwalk at the time — stalled and have been stalled since then,” said Mark Scully, managing director of Green Courte.
Scully had previously worked on other downtown developments such as Alpenglow and Howelsen Place.
The project was revived and rebranded as RiverView in 2017, when it became a planned unit development, a designed grouping of both varied and compatible land uses. A planned unit development may include a mix of housing for homeowners with different price points along with convenient access to workplaces, shopping, education and recreation.
A timeline of the RiverView development in downtown Steamboat Springs.
• July 24, 2018: RiverView development listed for sale for $31.9M
• July 16, 2018: City to consider vacating Yampa River easements
• Oct. 22, 2017: Development gets OK to form metro district
• Sept. 23, 2017: Stakeholders expect to start building in spring
• June 10, 2017: 3 hotel operators interested in development
• May 18, 2017: Development gets initial OK from council
• April 28, 2017: Planning Commission OKs parcel rezoning
• July 20, 2008: Riverwalk set for infrastructure work
• Nov. 19, 2006: Riverwalk’s first phase approaching final OK
• March 28, 2006: City OKs mobile home park demolition permit
• Jan 28, 2006: Westland Mobile Home Park could be demolished
• Jan. 12, 2006: Riverwalk plan progresses
• June 21, 2004: Council to hear Riverwalk pre-application
Steamboat Springs City Council’s approval of the project came with a list of other investments, including 25 new public parking spaces, an enhanced bicycle and pedestrian crossing located at Fifth and Yampa streets and a 0.25% transfer fee on the sale of residential properties that will be dedicated to restoring and preserving riparian habitat in the Yampa River.
As further infrastructure projects were completed, the entire development was publicly listed for sale in 2018 at $31.9 million with individual parcels priced separately.
“I’m already talking to hotel partners and developers (for this site) at the front door of downtown,” Scully told city planning commissioners in 2017. “We’ve owned the site for over 10 years, and it’s time to evolve to the next phase of life. … The overall project is probably $300 million to $400 million, so it’s a lot of development coming to Steamboat.”
Change of plans ‘a blessing’
A couple from Castle Pines was the first to close on one of RiverView’s single-family home lots. On Sept. 23, they purchased the land for their future home along the Yampa River for $1 million.
Two weeks later, RiverView closed on seven more parcels — five for single-family homes and two for residential duplexes or single-family homes — for $7.4 million. The buyer was Huffman Holdings & Investments LLC.
Natural Grocers was the first to break RiverView’s years-long dry streak when it purchased the lot it had been leasing for customer parking on the corner of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue, for $3.65 million on Sept. 17.
The most recent closing was that of a parcel at the northeast corner of Fifth and Yampa streets on Oct. 13. It was sold for $2.5 million to Western Centers Inc., which owns Snow Bowl Steamboat and The Boat Yard, an upcoming food truck venture on Yampa Street.
Founded in 1991 by Arnold Meranski, Western Centers’ plan for the two buildings, located at 24 Fifth St. and 430 Yampa St., is to focus on maintaining the existing tenants and lease the two vacancies to others who “provide good synergy to the existing tenants and downtown area.”
“We are excited to own another key asset in the downtown Steamboat market,” said Corey Wagner, executive vice president of Western Centers. “This acquisition demonstrates our continued confidence in what Steamboat has to offer.”
So far, Green Courte has generated $14.55 million from the sales.
Only two parcels remain — one that spans Third and Fourth streets south of Natural Grocers and Table 79 Food Bar, which is zoned for high-density residential, and another straddling the area on the Yampa River immediately east of the parcel at Fifth and Yampa. That space is designated for medium-density residential. Both properties have had serious activity, according to Scully, and he’s looking forward to their sale.
“I’m really pleased with the outcome of our effort and our work,” Scully said. “It took way longer than I’d like, of course, but as a lover of Steamboat, I’m very happy the outcome.
“It’s almost a blessing,” he added. “The outcome today is truly a better plan and reflects today’s world and is better for Steamboat.”
Part of the original plan involved much more retail space as well as a hotel.
“In America, we have massive amount of excess retail, and I would submit, even in downtown Steamboat, we have excess retail,” Scully said.
Striking a balance in retail is a new challenge for urban planning, he said.
Another change from original plans were the lots along the river. They were changed from duplex only to single-family or duplex.
“(It) really met the market for Steamboat where you have a lot of single-family home demand,” Scully said. “The world of downtown living, especially in Steamboat, I think is the sweet spot. I think it’s the most valuable land in Steamboat. It’s a desirable place to live.”
With the RiverView development finally winding down, Green Courte will soon mark the end of its presence in Steamboat.
“I’ve been here for 15 years; I love Steamboat,” Scully said.
Though, when asked if RiverView, in the end, was a worthwhile financial venture for Green Courte, Scully declined to comment.
“I’m very proud of the legacy we’re leaving behind in Steamboat,” he said. “I’m also proud to get it done.”
Natural Grocers to evolve with RiverView purchase
Natural Grocers’ multimillion-dollar purchase of the lot at the southeast corner of Third Street and Lincoln Avenue is the first step in a project that will bring a new store and housing to downtown’s east entrance.
The parcel Natural Grocers purchased from RiverView — formerly the site of a gas station, a Blimpies sandwich shop, a convenience store and a laundromat — will be home to a three- or four-story building featuring a new Natural Grocers store on the ground level, a parking structure and several floors of apartments above.
“In the long run, it will allow us to have a more modern store that has more of the amenities that our stores currently have,” said Kemper Isley, co-president of Natural Grocers and the son of its founders.
Isley envisions the project taking at least two years to complete.
Natural Grocers was first introduced to Steamboat almost a decade ago and has since leased its building at 335 Lincoln Ave.
“That location we’re in now is kind of inefficient — it’s a cobbled-together building,” Isley said.
The new building will be better designed, he noted, but it will lose some of the “charm” of the current building, “but I think we can make up for that.”
Natural Grocers is the latest to address concerns regarding local affordable housing as it plans to dedicate at least 10 units strictly for its workforce in the new building.
“These aren’t going to be super luxurious apartments — they’ll be more utilitarian,” he said, adding they would remain affordable for employees in addition to other people who live and work downtown.
“I think it will help the whole downtown in adding some more living spaces for people that work there,” he said. “I think that’s important.”
Natural Grocers, which operates 162 stores across 20 states with 41 stores in Colorado, has no other locations that include housing. Being particularly focused on retail, Isley said Natural Grocers will likely seek a partner to help develop the housing units.
“I think that our store’s been a pretty good partner for downtown Steamboat,” Isley said. “The store’s been a great asset to the whole downtown area.”
To reach Bryce Martin, call 970-871-4206 or email bmartin@SteamboatPilot.com.
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