Building for the Future

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Crawford has made a reputation seeing possibility where others see ruin. Larimer Square. The Acme Upholstery and Edbrooke buildings. The Oxford Hotel. While developers in other cities struggle to revitalize their downtowns, she and her real estate and development company, Urban Neighborhoods, Inc., count their successes. And she'd like to add the Flour Mill Lofts to the list. "I've had my eye on that building for twenty years," she says.

Crawford secured loans, including $1 million from the city (which is developing a major park just outside), hired the world's eighteenth-largest construction company and broke ground last October. If all goes well, she'll finish the mill rehab in June and begin on an adjacent condo complex this fall.

Lofts range from $300,000 to $700,000 and come with exposed concrete ceilings, industrial-sized windows that filter train and traffic noise, and great views. Jacuzzis, skylights and elevator surveillance cameras are extra.

In addition to a sunken courtyard, the Flour Mill Lofts will have another unusual amenity: Realizing the role teens played in the history of the building, Crawford hired a photographer to document their graffiti art and plans to leave examples of their work in a fire-escape stairwell. "If some of them came here and learned how to do art, that's a good thing," she says.

Still, Crawford is a little sensitive about the stories surrounding the Silos. When a patrolman visited the construction site recently and joked about a sacrificed baby, Crawford frowned. "You're going to kill this project like that," she said.

For Crawford, the choice was simple: Renovate the building or lose it. Had the old flour mill remained abandoned, it would have been demolished--and the street kids forced to move, anyway. As lofts, it has a future. "For these historic buildings to survive," she says, "they must have new economic lives."

In the past month, Crawford has telephoned prospective clients, posted an open-house sign off 20th Street and given tours. More than thirty people have visited; nine units are pre-sold. Crawford is saving a fourth-floor loft for herself.

"I do a lot of entertaining," she says. "So when I look around here, I see a lot of people. I feel compelled to live here. I laugh and say it's my Kansas roots, but I'm completely taken by this building."

It's dusk now. Cold. Traffic rumbles along 20th Street. Inside the old mill, the sandblasters are silent and the construction gear is locked away. The building cuts a gray rectangle into the purple sky.

In a few months, lights will flicker alive inside rooms where bonfires once burned. Dana Crawford and others will host dinner parties and toast the success of another landmark saved.

Somewhere outside, street kids will be bedding down for the night. Some will stay at the shelters. Others will pool panhandled money for a room on East Colfax. Many will unroll sleeping bags in dark corners that police haven't found yet. They will find a place. They always do.

A few might even wander by the Flour Mill Lofts. "For the memories," as Casanova says. Others, like David, may stop outside and look up at the new tenants. He'd like to ring a doorbell and ask for a tour. He'd like to do that once, just to see. He'd like to walk on the polished wood floors and gaze out the big clean windows at the shimmering Denver night. "Hey," he'd say. "I was here."

Contact Harrison Fletcher at his online address, [email protected], or by phone at 303-293-3553.

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Harrison Fletcher