A plan to redevelop an obsolete motel at 3015 East Colfax Avenue and transform it into a boutique motel and restaurant has cleared a major hurdle. "It's just a big relief that the process worked and we had the support at council, which was great," says Brian Toerber, the owner of the All Inn Motel.
On June 20, Denver City Council voted 9-3 in favor of public financing for the redevelopment of the All Inn, bringing to close a process that Toerber had kicked off in April 2019 when he applied for the funding mechanism.
"The redevelopment of this site, in addition to eliminating blighted conditions, will bring a new and exciting use to the historically significant building and generate new energy to this location along East Colfax Avenue," Tracy Huggins, executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, said during the June 20 council meeting.
With council's approval, DURA will provide a jump-start for the project through tax-increment financing, which helps cover up-front development fees that will be recouped by the city through future property tax revenue. Although the All Inn Motel has strong bones and is now on the National Register of Historic Places, it checks enough of the required boxes for official blight status in Colorado, according to DURA, which funds projects in blighted parts of town.
In concert with New Waterloo, a hotel operator based in Austin, Texas, Toerber plans to transform the All Inn, which has most recently been used as housing for low-income individuals and people experiencing homelessness, into an 81-room boutique motel. Fifty-four of the rooms will be revamped versions of the existing All Inn units, while 27 will be in a new, four-floor building that Toerber and New Waterloo plan to construct on the property. There will also be a restaurant, cafe and a pool that will be accessible to neighbors through guest passes.
"I appreciate the fact that you’re going to reuse the existing building. It’s good for our environment. It’s bad for our climate to tear down a building and send it to the landfill," said Councilwoman Kendra Black, who voted in favor of the DURA funding.
The All Inn has a storied legacy on East Colfax Avenue. Opened in 1959 as the Fountain Inn Motel, it capitalized on Americans road-tripping across the country at a time when Colfax was a main thoroughfare for travelers crossing the country. And the Fountain Inn drew locals, too, with the Gold Room, a restaurant where patrons could get lobster fresh from the “frozen fjords of Iceland” as well as prime Colorado beef, all while sitting next to a wall paneled in 14-karat gold. The Gold Room also offered live jazz piano performances.
But the Fountain Inn lost relevance as the construction of Interstate 70 wrapped up in many parts of the West in the ’60s and ’70s, removing Colfax's role as a major cross-country transportation artery. Crime also began to plague the avenue. The Gold Room closed in 1969, and motel operators and new restaurateurs shuffled in and out for decades.
In the late ’90s, Jong Min Kim, a Korean immigrant, bought what was then the Executive Inn; he renamed it the All Inn. The Kim family owned and ran the motel until it became swamped by debt, which led to the property going into foreclosure. The family was saved as motel operators in 2005, when Jesse Morreale, a Denver restaurateur and music promoter, purchased the All Inn. He retained the Kim family as managers of the motel.
Morreale wanted to transform the All Inn into a boutique motel, too, but focused on reopening the Gold Room as Rockbar in 2006. The joint, which was named for both the building's white rock facade and the band-themed booths in the bar, was a quick hit with hipsters and lovers of gritty Colfax nightlife. And when the Democratic National Convention arrived in Denver in 2008, Morreale temporarily rebranded the place the BarackBar, hosting such celebrities as Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon and Anne Hathaway there.
"I visited this motel and would go by it a lot, and also went to the associated Rockbar years ago when the bar was still open. It was interesting, even back then," Councilman Chris Hinds said during the hearing.
But Rockbar closed in 2012, when the City of Denver denied an application to renew its liquor and cabaret licenses in the wake of neighbor complaints.
Toerber purchased the All Inn Motel in 2016 with the idea of transforming it into micro-unit apartments. But when he met with Albus Brooks, the councilman then representing the area, Toerber discovered that neighbors, who had continued experiencing crime and safety issues in the area after Rockbar closed, wanted to see the property become a boutique hotel.
Not long after the connection with Brooks, Toerber linked up with New Waterloo. And eventually, they began pitching that vision to lenders, all of whom initially balked at the idea of a boutique hotel on this section of Colfax.
But even though Toerber and New Waterloo were ultimately able to land a lender, they also wanted to secure financing from DURA to make the numbers of the project work. By this point, Brooks, who had been supportive, had lost in a run-off election in 2019 to Candi CdeBaca, who voted against funding the project during the June 20 council meeting.
"When we allow someone to use a public-financing tool, there should be significant public gain. A pool with a daily pass for some people, 600 square feet or so of a community space without a current rate on what that space will cost or who will be in it, a rate jump from approximately $45 a night to approximately $181 a night — it doesn’t sound like there’s a substantial community benefit at the time we’re currently experiencing," CdeBaca said. Although currently located in CdeBaca's council district, District 9, the All Inn will move into District 10 following the April 2023 municipal election. Hinds currently represents that district.
Councilwoman Robin Kniech and Councilman Paul Kashmann also voted against the DURA deal.
Toerber had been waiting on the council vote before solidifying a deal with a lender for the project. "Things are moving ahead," says Toerber, who believes construction could start sometime over this summer. "I would say we'll be open in Q1 of 2024."
Toerber anticipates that a wide range of people will be interested in staying at the revamped motel, including clientele connected to the National Jewish Health hospital. "I think that, generally speaking, hospitals are big demand drivers for hotels," he says. But he'd also like to turn the All Inn into a motel where bands playing in Denver — at the Bluebird, Fillmore and Gothic, for example — feel comfortable. "We'd like to be an option for them. Certainly, their tour buses could park on our lot, and I think it makes sense that we'd be kind of a preferred location for traveling bands as well," Toerber notes.
But that's still almost two years away. Between now and the start of construction, DURA and Toerber are working to find stable housing for the eight individuals who still live at the motel, which stopped accepting new guests in March. "We just wanted to make sure that we found them safe, suitable housing options," Toerber says.