There’s no question that RiNo is changing. The once-industrial neighborhood of warehouses and factories is now home to at least ten breweries, two wineries and two cider-makers. There are several hip restaurants that serve kale salad and $12 hamburgers, as well as the Source, an artisan market with a coffee roaster, a cheese shop and a French bakery. Meanwhile, new apartment complexes advertise one-bedroom units with stainless-steel appliances for $1,400 a month.
Several industrial buildings have recently been sold to developers for record-high prices. They include buildings occupied by pet-treat manufacturer Kasel Associates Industries that sold for a total of $4.6 million. At one time, the facility made pig-ear dog treats, which led neighbors to nickname it “the pig-ear factory.”
For years, those neighbors complained to the city that the factory was emitting a horrible odor. They often included graphic descriptions. One reported that it smelled “like dead animals or rotten meat;" another said he was “throwing up;" still another described the smell as that of “a rotten grease trap filled with decomposing bodies.”
City inspectors responded, but they never detected odors above the legal limit. Then, in early 2012, the neighbors learned of a clause in the city’s air-pollution ordinance that allows a property owner to be fined if the city receives five complaints about it in a single day. Soon thereafter, that’s exactly what happened, and Kasel was fined $500.
But rather than pay, company owner Ray Kasel filed a federal lawsuit against three of his neighbors, four city employees and his city councilwoman, alleging that they conspired to harass him with the odor complaints. The lawsuit — the subject of a December 2012 Westword cover story, “Raising a Stink” — was eventually thrown out by a judge.
Last March, city records indicate, Kasel sold five buildings on Walnut Street between 33rd and 34th streets for $4.6 million. The buyer was SilveRino LLC, which is registered with the Colorado Secretary of State’s office as being owned by Jeff Oberg, who also owns REA Development Corporation in Denver. Oberg did not return phone calls for this story.
The combined size of the buildings is 45,233 square feet, according to city records, which means that they sold for approximately $102 per square foot. That’s a higher price than a different developer paid for the 32,900-square-foot Gold Star Sausage factory, which sold for $3.2 million — or $97 per square foot — that same month. Gold Star is five blocks south of Kasel, at 28th and Walnut streets, and the family-owned business has been in RiNo since 1936. In announcing the sale, president Rick Rue explained that Gold Star will move its food-processing operation to Nebraska.
Kasel, on the other hand, says he’s not going anywhere. “I have no intention of moving anytime soon,” he says, adding that he still owns property on Blake Street; city records confirm that he owns four parcels between 33rd and 34th streets.
“You have a very unclear understanding of me and all my companies and what I really do,” Kasel continues. He says that Westword’s 2012 story was one-sided, though he admits that he refused to speak with us at the time. “There haven’t been no complaints about any smell for two years, and we still run the same business.”
Rex Brown, whose wife, Sharon, was one of the neighbors Kasel sued, says the odor has indeed gotten better. He describes the smell these days as “fitful” and “bearable” — though he says he’ll be happy to see the pig-ear factory go: “We’re glad he finally sold.” He and his wife live across the street from Kasel’s properties; Sharon is a painter who runs a studio and gallery out of their home. “We’ll see what happens. Almost everything that’s sold is being renovated or torn down,” Rex says.
The Browns were among the first creatives to move to RiNo. In 1991, they bought an old building near 33rd and Blake streets and renovated it into a live-work space. They named it Pattern Shop Studio because the building used to be a shop where woodworkers made patterns for machine parts.
Over the next two decades, more artists followed. In 2005, some of them came together to establish the River North Art District. Today the district is described on its website as “a remarkable concentration of creative businesses, including architects, art galleries, ceramicists, designers, furniture makers, illustrators, authors, wineries, small-batch breweries, distilleries, urban agriculture, painters, media artists, performance artists, sculptors, photographers, and an array of studio spaces.”
In other words, RiNo is happening — and more people want to be part of it. In recent months, Brown has found three notes on his gate from developers offering to pay cash for his property. “Things are changing,” he says, “and they’re changing remarkably fast.”
Russell Gruber is the industrial broker who handled the Gold Star Sausage sale. In a statement from Gruber’s firm, the new owner, a Denver-based developer named Markus Lex whose company is called 1425 Market LLC, cryptically explained that he would “repurpose the asset to take advantage of market conditions.”
“That property was one of the first bigger properties to start trading down there,” says Gruber, a director with Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. “It seems like the market never looked back after that.” Case in point: Last month, Gruber sold a 21,875-square-foot property near 39th and Walnut streets for $3.5 million, or $160 per square foot.
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Gruber predicts that RiNo will look very different in the years to come: “You will see industrial pulling out of there. The uses that are moving in are all over the board. You’ve got retail, you’ve got office space, you’ve got multi-family.” He says the area is especially popular with millennials, who like its gritty roots and artsy feel.
“For a while now, Denver has been expanding” — and for good reason, Gruber says. “It is one of the greatest places in the world to live, and other people are starting to understand that.”
But will the pig-ear factory be able to hang for much longer with restaurants that serve pork-belly tostadas and chilled zucchini soup? Only time will tell.