A plan is underway to build up to 60 residential units that will belong to a well-known Denver nonprofit on a site that was once the home to a La Quinta Inn hotel.
The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, which is tasked with providing long-term housing for those lacking such assets, wants to build a new facility at 3500 Park Avenue West, just to the north of downtown Denver.
The site is in a part of the city populated with mostly one- and two-story commercial structures near Interstate 25.
Late last year the Denver City Council approved some $5 million in city funds to purchase the Park Avenue West site, which also includes a one-story building that has housed a series of restaurants, including most recently the Old West Pancake House.
"Motel and hotel sites have been a lifeline for people experiencing homelessness in Denver," John Parvensky, then chief executive officer of the Coalition, remarked in a statement at the time of the council action.
Upon the council vote, it was reported that the former hotel would be capable of providing up to 200 residential units.
As currently planned, both the hotel and restaurant will be demolished on the less than one-acre site in order to make way for construction of what may end up being two buildings, one four stories in height and the other topping out at three stories.
The Coalition has been extremely proactive in recent years in metro Denver, purchasing properties that can be repurposed into permanent housing. To date, the organization has created nearly 2,000 new housing units.
According to statistics provided by the Coalition, it also offers critical assistance to more than 20,000 individuals per year.
Work on the Park Avenue West site is expected to begin next spring.
By Garry Boulard
The West has once again proved to be one of the largest growing regions of the country, according to a new report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau, adding this rear more than 137,000 people.
While that figure represents undeniable growth, it still came in a little lower than the gains seen in 2022, with over 157,000 new people.
The report noted that while many Western states witnessed a certain amount of outmigration to other states this year, that pattern was to a degree balanced by "somewhat higher international migration and slightly fewer deaths."
In a pattern that has played out for the last several years, California continued to lose residents, while both Arizona and New Mexico saw population increases.
Overall, the country's population trends have returned to what is described as "pre-pandemic norms," adding more than 1.6 million people for a 0.5% gain. That's a marked improvement over 2021, when the gain came in at 0.2%.
In a statement, Kirstie Wilder, a demographer for the Census Bureau's Population Division, said both migration rates and a decrease in deaths are "driving the nation's growth."
"Although births declined, this was tempered by the near 9% decrease in deaths," continued Wilder. "Ultimately, fewer deaths paired with rebounding immigration resulted in the nation experiencing its largest population gain since 2018."
The total population of the U.S. as of the end of this year is just under 334 million. In the year 2000, that figure was just north of 282 million.
The South was by far the country's largest gainer this year, with a population increase of 1.4 million people. Gains in the Midwest were considerably more modest, with the addition of 126,000 new residents.
Reflecting an ongoing, long-range trend, the Northeast was the only region of the country to experience a decline in population. The region currently has 43,300 less people than it did last year, a decline prompted by population losses in the big states of New York and Pennsylvania.
By Garry Boulard
State funding has been secured for a series of security projects in the El Paso Independent School District, which encompasses some eighty campuses and more than 350 square miles.
The funding is coming in the form of a Safety and Facilities Enhancement grant, a program that is funded through the Texas State Legislature.
Just over $34.6 million in grant funding is being awarded to the district to tackle a series of district-wide facility and infrastructure security initiatives.
In a statement, Manuel Chavera, chief of the El Paso ISD Police Services, remarked: "Providing safe, comfortable environments where learners can be inspired and empowered to thrive is paramount to what we do."
In a separate statement, Diana Sayavedra, EPISD Superintendent of Schools, noted that the grant is "the second-highest amount awarded to a Texas school district," and will be used to "meet state-mandated safety standards."
The largest grant went to the Houston Independent School District.
The grants are designed to pay for such facility items as fencing, anti-scaling devices, and emergency egress gates, among other things. The grants are the result of legislation earlier passed by Texas lawmakers, additionally requiring school districts to have an armed security guard at every school.
By Garry Boulard
A move is on in the city of Grand Junction to purchase a two-story, L-shaped hotel and turn it into affordable housing space.
The hotel is located at 754 Horizon Drive on the northeast side of the city and in the last decade has undergone a number of brand changes from a Best Value Inn to a Horizon Inn and finally a Baymont by Wyndham property.
Plans, which have not been finalized, are calling for repurposing the structure into permanent housing, and in so doing making available some 90 studio apartments for housing.
How much Grand Junction will pay for the hotel is currently unknown, although the property was recently listed on the open market for around $4.6 million.
Built in 1978 and updated nearly two years ago, the structure has been designated as a Class B building and encompasses around 41,300 square feet.
The move comes in response to accelerated housing costs in Grand Junction, seeing average rents for a one-bedroom apartment jumping from less than $1,000 two years ago to more than $1,300 today.
At the same time, according to city documents, Grand Junction currently has an apartment vacancy rate of 2%, substantially below the national average of 6.4%, making the local rental market tighter and even more expensive.
If the hotel purchase is finalized, city officials have said that a reconversion of the property could be underway by the spring of next year.
By Garry Boulard
Small Businesses Feeling Buoyant About Conditions, But Still Worried About Lack of Workers, Says Survey
Nearly two-thirds of small business owners in a new survey expressed positive feelings about the state of their own businesses as the calendar heads into 2024.
The survey, undertaken by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also found that a strong 67% said they feel comfortable with their current cash flow, a result unchanged from late 2022.
Measuring attitudes through the Chamber's Small Business Index reveals a 61.3 average on small business conditions in general. This figure is very close to the 62.1 score seen in the final quarter of 2022, but a significant improvement from the 39.5 recorded during the Covid 19 spring of 2020.
Despite the more general upbeat attitude, small business owners say they remain challenged by a problem that just won't seem to go away: a lack of qualified workers.
A strong 54% of respondents said it remains hard to find a candidate with necessary experience, while 53% agreed that there is in general a worker shortage in the area in which they do business.
"Nearly half of small businesses report searching for, recruiting, or interviewing new talent in 2023," noted Thaddeus Swanek, with the Chamber's strategic communications department, in a narrative.
That figure is a "significant increase from mid-2021," continues Swanek. Altogether, 45% of respondents said they had been actively looking for new talent this year, indicating that the challenge remains current and vexing, compared with 36% who said the same thing in the fall of 2021.
"Not surprisingly, in this atmosphere of increased competition for workers, employers are having to pull out all the stops to find and retain talent," continued Swanek. That means offering everything from flexible work schedules, increased salaries, and even hybrid or remote work alternatives.
On a touchy issue that reaches into politics, some 54% of respondents to the small business survey said they think the U.S. government should issue more skilled worker visas annually, allowing those businesses to at least have access to a worker pool that is not completely domestic.
By Garry Boulard
Work could begin sometime next spring on the building of a 130-residential unit complex in El Paso.
The project is expected to cost upwards of $40 million and is being done jointly by the Miami-based GenX Capital Partners and the Prestige Development Group of Austin.
The complex will go up on the far east side of the city on currently vacant land at 6767 Gateway Boulevard. GenX earlier acquired the land for a reported $3.2 million.
As planned, the project will include studio and one- and two-bedroom units. The five-story building will also house a fitness center, theater room, conference room, business center, and around 12,000 square feet of overall retail space.
Additional amenities are expected to include a swimming pool, restaurant, and bar.
In a statement, GenX managing director, referencing the existence of the nearby Fox Plaza and Fountains at Farrah shopping malls, said the new development will "seamlessly integrate with the neighboring retail sector."
To be called Azul El Paso, the project just recently received City of El Paso final approval.
Gen X is known for developing properties with a value ranging between $2 million and $50 million. Earlier this fall, the firm announced it had secured some $24 million in financing to complete a luxury condominium project in Portland, Maine called The Mark.
Prestige Development in the last two decades has developed around 240 individual properties comprising more than 1.7 million square feet of commercial real estate.
By Garry Boulard
A new and extensive study is expected to begin sometime next year looking into the possibility of relaunching a passenger rail service connecting Phoenix and Tucson.
The federal Department of Transportation has announced that it is awarding Arizona a $500,000 grant to look at what it will take to get what will be an Amtrak service up and running.
In a statement, Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs celebrated the announcement of the grant, noting: “With this money, Arizona is working toward improving its connection to our largest cities through passenger rail, helping grow our economy, reduce pollution, and better connecting two booming communities.”
The new funding out of Washington builds on some $3.5 million in state funds which have previously been committed by state leaders for the project.
The 112-mile distance between Phoenix and Tucson was formerly covered by the national Sunset Limited service, which ceased operations in the summer of 1996 when the rail service was rerouted to the city of Maricopa.
With the ending of that service, pushing into Phoenix’s downtown Union Station, the city closed a chapter that had begun with its first rail line in 1887. When the last train left that station on June 2 of 1996 passengers and local residents sang a tearful chorus of Auld Lang Syne.
The ending of that service, which Amtrak officials said was part of a cost-cutting measure designed to save upwards of $173 million, made Phoenix the largest city in the country without direct rail service.
Both state and local officials have been trying since 1996 to restore the rail service. Earlier this year, in a joint effort, the Arizona Department of Transportation and Amtrak submitted a plan for a new service to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Corridor Identification and Development Program in order to secure the $500,000 planning grant.
In a statement upon the awarding of that grant, Kate Gallego, the Mayor of Phoenix, remarked that a restored train service between Phoenix and Tucson will “spur economic activity, help reduce congestion on the busy I-10, and ultimately kickstart private and public investments along the rail corridor.”
A proposed route for the new line would also include stops in Tempe, Avondale, and Marana.
By Garry Boulard
Crunch time will be coming sooner rather than later as lawmakers return to work in Washington on January 8, trying to avert a government shutdown.
“We have looming deadlines, and we all agreed on that,” House Speaker Mike Johnson remarked to reporters as he referenced previous agreements to keep certain programs running until at least January 19.
Those programs include military construction projects, and the operations of the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Veterans Affairs.
Beyond that, the vast majority of other government services and departments are funded only through February 2.
“But what we also agreed to was what’s written in the law, and that’s the Fiscal Responsibility Act numbers on top-line,” continued the Speaker.
That legislation, which passed Congress last summer and was signed into law by President Biden on June 3, saw a deal on increasing the debt-ceiling, while also capping federal spending.
As part of that deal between then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the President, just under $1.60 trillion would be spent on the 2024 fiscal year budget, which began in October.
Included in those negotiations was an additional $69 billion in non-defense spending.
Johnson has promised to not pass another short-term extension but is expected instead to push for an extension that will cover the entirety of fiscal year 2024.
Even so, Congressional observers say it’s hard to imagine how Congress will be able to effectively tackle so many thorny budget issues in such a short period of time.
“Lawmakers are at a loss for how they will overcome those hurdles,” reports The Hill, noting that to date even though both the House and Senate have passed minimal appropriations bills, “little more progress on those fronts is expected before the deadlines.”
By Garry Boulard
In a move to ramp up condominium construction in Colorado, state lawmakers in the Centennial State may be tasked with passing new legislation specific to legal issues.
Nearly a quarter of a century ago, the Colorado State Legislature gave its approval to the Colorado Construction Defect Action Reform Act, which required homeowners to let builders first know about any defects in their condos before taking legal action against them.
The idea behind the legislation, strongly supported by builders, was to allow builders a chance to avert litigation by either fixing any structural issue or simply paying the owner for the problem in question.
Six years later came the Homeowner Protection Act, which made it illegal for builders to insert language in contracts preventing their being sued. That was followed in 2017 by a sweeping bill requiring that homeowner associations must first secure the support of more than a majority of condo unit owners before any defect litigation could be undertaken.
It was thought that that 2017 legislation would break a condo construction logjam in the state prompted by builders wary of taking on projects that could end up in court due to expensive defect litigation.
Although condo construction did indeed pick up after the 2017 bill, industry leaders say it is still not where it should be, and the reason is that the incidence of litigation remains high. "The only people that seem to win are attorneys," Ted Leighty, chief executive officer of the Colorado Association of Homebuilders, recently remarked to the Colorado Sun.
Now lawmakers are expected to tackle legislation designed to further encourage negotiations over defects between condo owners and builders, while also isolating liability for defects.
Those efforts have won the particular support of the Homeownership Opportunity Alliance, which is partly made up of builders who say that the new legislation, if passed, will increase condo construction while also serving to reduce insurance costs.
According to statistics compiled by the Greenwood Village-based Common Sense Institute, the condo construction industry in Colorado is just a shadow of what it used to be: new unit building on just the east side of the state was 76% percent lower between 2018 and last year than it was two decades ago.
By Garry Boulard
Around $27.3 million in new funding may soon be available for a series of building and infrastructure projects on the campuses of Eastern New Mexico University.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department is recommending that state lawmakers, when they meet in January for the 2024 legislative session, approve funding for five separate and long-planned ENMU projects.
The largest capital outlay request, at $12 million, is for construction of a new student academic services building at the school's main Portales campus. That funding would go for the planning, design, and building of the structure.
The main campus may also see construction of the phase one work on a new $15 million Agriculture Science and Art annex building for which lawmakers are being asked to approve $5 million.
Up to $5.3 million may be allotted for the $7.1 million construction of an addition to the Aircraft Maintenance Technology building on the school's Roswell campus. Another $2 million will target the construction of a health sciences center, also in Roswell.
Plans to demolish one structure and build a new $6 million workforce training facility on ENMU's Ruidoso campus may also be in line for a $3 million capital outlay.
The three ENMU campuses enjoy a total enrollment of more than 7,200 students.
By Garry Boulard
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