The Bell Tower could be the most talked-about building in Denver that has yet to be built. Ever since real-estate developer Buzz Geller proposed putting a strikingly angled, 34-story condominium complex at the corner of Speer Boulevard and Market Street, folks have been talking about it — some grumbling, others saying it's the sort of iconic jolt needed for Denver's humdrum skyline. The debate seemed moot last November, though, when the Lower Downtown Design Review Board, a LoDo entity that works with the city's planning and community-development department on plans for that historic section of town, nixed the proposed tower because it was too big. But then Geller unveiled a new, slimmer version of the Bell Tower, which the board will review on February 5.
This week, Geller talked with Westword's Joel Warner about the challenges of building on the Bell Park site, near the spot where gold was first discovered; the likelihood of finding people willing to shell out millions to live in his creation, if it should ever be built; and his frustration with city planners — lots and lots of frustrations. "The nucleus of any great city is its downtown...Curtis Park, Capitol Hill, the Highlands — they are all related and connected," Geller told Warner. "Even Cherry Creek relates to downtown. And the reception that you get for your ideas and visions if you want to do something in the downtown area, the red tape is about four inches thick."
As for who might live in the Bell Tower's massive, multi-terraced, 6,200-square-foot units — well, let's just say it won't be anyone who currently "relates" to downtown Denver. "We are talking about probably the upper tenth of the top 1 percent of people in the world being able to afford this," Geller explained. "There are only 35 units, priced between three and seven million dollars a unit. I am looking for 35 people out of six billion. All of the interest has been from Asian and South American buyers."
Interest in buying the places, maybe. But we're willing to bet the design review board will be plenty interested in the latest plans for the Bell Tower. For Warner's complete interview with Geller, check out the Latest Word blog.
On the money: When the Santa Fe Tequila Company closed its doors last November, officials at the Denver Office of Economic Development must have been tempted to do more than a few shots themselves. That's because just a year earlier, OED had lent the restaurant $133,500 in federal grant money for furniture, fixtures, equipment and working capital — on top of the million dollars it had lent the Santa Fe Tequila Company's landlord, the non-profit NEWSED Community Redevelopment Corporation, which has been trying to revitalize west Denver neighborhoods for 35 years. Two troubled loans; one dead eatery.
But so far, Denver has held off on the salt and lime. On Monday, Denver City Council agreed to allow NEWSED to defer its loan payments for eighteen months while it looks for another tenant who might make the space at Tenth Avenue and Santa Fe Drive commercially viable.
"From time to time, we provide some relief to loan parties," explains Derek Woodbury, OED spokesman. "But that doesn't include an adjustment to the loan balance itself." So far, he says, the owners of the now-closed restaurant have continued to make their monthly payments, despite the fact that they also shuttered a second Santa Fe Tequila Company in Littleton (for more on that, go to the Cafe Society blog.) But while money is still coming in to Woodbury's department, the retail portion of the project is now 90 percent empty.
That's because the Santa Fe Tequila Company wasn't the only tenant to vacate. Another of NEWSED's tenants was Obama for America, which no longer needs the space now that Barack Obama has moved into the White House.