Whetstone candidates present a range of approaches

Selection committee to choose developer in the next two weeks

By Katherine Nettles

Gunnison County’s project team involved in coordinating a major North Valley workforce housing development hosted a developer presentation and open house last week to give the public a chance to get to know its final candidates for a development partner. As the five firms from Colorado, Nashville and Texas presented their qualifications and ideas, a theme of balancing affordability and quality emerged, while each also acknowledged the short building season in the high country and the current financial challenges of inflation, high interest rates and high construction costs. A decision is expected from the county in the next few weeks on which developer they will work with as they look deeper into each candidate’s experience, vision and specific proposal.

The county has targeted adding about 230 units to the North Valley with the Whetstone Community Housing project on a 13-acre, county-owned parcel across from Brush Creek Road along Highway 135. Gunnison County commissioners approved of the sketch plan in February 2023, and as the county narrows in on its top developer choice, the open house on Wednesday, May 10 gave each firm a chance to present their ideas and qualifications. Gunnison County assistant county manager for operations and sustainability John Cattles introduced each candidate and allowed a 15-minute presentation from each. An open house format, in which firms could showcase their own materials, concluded the evening. 

The Elmington Capital Group, LLC that is headquartered in Nashville with a Denver office, went first and emphasized that affordable housing is their company’s focus. Ryan Tobin, Elmington’s vice president of development, said quality is key in their building process and showcased several high-end looking properties with prominent use of large windows and upscale finishes. Tobin said they have recently expanded into the mountain communities which helps them leverage capital and federal subsidies to finance more projects like Whetstone. “We’re looking to be a significant investor in your community to see this outcome achieved,” he said.  He spoke of collaborating and forming partnerships in the community as their main strategy. 

 Second to present was the Corum Real Estate Group, based in Denver. Corum president Eric Komppa emphasized the group’s understanding of mountain environments and seasonal building constraints, and reviewed several sites they have completed or are currently building in Summit County. He said the main objective was to drive costs down and keep subsidies low, while balancing quality and sustainability. He discussed the company’s management strategy, which includes maintaining ownership of many mountain town properties and working with local organizations who want master leases. He introduced several members of his team, who proposed phasing the project in several stages as financing allows.  

Coburn Development, Inc., a design/build firm based in Boulder with an office in Crested Butte, presented alongside High Mountain Concepts in taking a collaborative approach to the project. “I guess we’re the local guys,” said Coburn principal Pete Weber. “And we’ve got a pretty interesting recipe to show you tonight.” He and president/founder Bill Coburn reviewed several deed restricted and commercial building projects Coburn has built in the North Valley, and John Stock from High Mountain Concepts reviewed several projects he has completed throughout the Gunnison Valley. The team said they would use multiple developers, including Stock’s non-profit SOAR program with local high school students, Habitat for Humanity and even the county, given a tough financial market. They also planned to use low-income tax credit subsidies and said the project would require several phases and a third-party property manager. 

Gatesco, Inc. which is based in Houston and recently did its first mountain town project in Gunnison, presented next with representative Griffin Gibson giving an overview and digging into the details of their proposal. “Our preference is all rentals,” he said, with 80% of the units at 200% AMI (area median income) or less in a variety of units and “neighborhoods.” Gatesco would own and operate the development and had ambitious forecasts of having the first phase of 95 units ready for occupancy by 2026. Gibson said the units would come in at around $400,000 per unit, or $338 per square foot. Gatesco would prefer not to use any government subsidies in order to expedite the process and said they, like the other candidates, would commit to meeting the county’s sustainability requirements including all electric, solar ready and possibly geothermal energy sourcing.

The final presenter was Servitas Management Group, LLC, also based out of Texas and specializing in public and private partnerships. Servitas executive vice president Angel Rivera reviewed projects the company has completed in Telluride, Pagosa Springs, Summit County and Park City, Utah with varying design styles to match local preferences. Rivera said building quickly and being a good neighbor throughout construction was important. He argued that “nobody benefits” from a phased approach to the development, due to prolonged construction and inflation increases. He proposed keeping costs down and quality high with non-profit or public ownership structure to keep profits within the county and providing 100% deed restricted units focused on middle income folks, such as teachers, nurses and office workers or business owners who are often lost in the mix of affordable housing.  

The county’s selection committee is now considering each proposal and the public input that came in using a formal online format shared during the open house forum. 

“We expect to take a couple of weeks to perform diligence on our preferred candidates. We will be calling references, checking the conceptual proforma with finance professionals, and asking clarifying questions,” said Cattles. 

A final selection is expected sometime in June. 

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