EnviroFinance Group LLC – South Sloan’s Lake and Crossroads Commerce Park

Business practices have evolved substantially over the last century. Methods and materials that were not previously considered dangerous – or not considered at all – now are recognized as harmful or even hazardous. With the renewed emphasis on reducing sprawl in metropolitan areas and the growth of urban infill projects, reclaiming sites hampered by their industrial past has become a valued niche in which EnviroFinance Group LLC (EFG) specializes.

“We’re essentially a land developer or a horizontal developer,” explains Cameron Bertron, executive vice president of development services. “We prepare the land in terms of abatement, demolition and remediation as necessary. By focusing on remediation and infrastructure, EFG sets the table for the vertical developments that follow. This is land recycling.” 

EnviroFinance usually sells the land it reclaims for vertical development by others. “Our company acquires sites that have outlasted their historical, original use, where there is something about that prior use that hinders the site from being able to be redeveloped,” Bertron continues. “That may be environmental or it may be a lack of infrastructure. We work with the municipalities and the neighborhood to envision a new purpose and use for the site, and then implement redevelopment of that site by partnering with the local agencies and/or contractors.”

Two recent Denver projects demonstrate EnviroFinance Group’s capabilities. The first is located on land where the 180-bed St. Anthony’s Hospital was established by the Poor Sisters of St. Francis in 1892 in what was then a remote area of Denver. After more than a century of service to the community, it was decided in 2005 to build a new hospital in nearby Lakewood, Colo. In 2006, a task force was formed to consider new uses of the hospital’s original site. 

St. Anthony’s Hospital was located on approximately 18 acres on the southern shore of Sloan’s Lake, now a short distance west of downtown Denver. EnviroFinance Group purchased the site in January 2013 with the intention to remediate, redevelop, install infrastructure and resell the site for a mixed-use neighborhood. 

“We spent the year 2013 abating and demolishing the building, and we spent 2014 doing earthwork and began the installation of site-wide infrastructure, reconnecting the utilities through the site and the installation of new roadways,” Bertron says. “We’re actually completing the last of the phases of the internal and external street improvements this quarter. Now we’re just waiting on city acceptance.” However, many challenges had to be met to complete the project.

Extensive Remediation

More than 34,000 tons of concrete, six tons of metal and 2,500 tons of asphalt were recycled from the St. Anthony’s site. “The hospital itself was over 800,000 square feet, so it was a multimillion-dollar abatement project across a variety of regulated building materials, the largest of which was obviously asbestos,” Bertron remarks. “But as a hospital that was originally constructed in the 1880s and then added onto, adapted and renovated over more than a century, it had built up quite a collection of building material types. Those materials had to be understood and dealt with on the abatement side and the regulated building material side.”

Besides materials now considered hazardous, just the materials in the devices with legitimate uses in the hospital added up. “When you have a building of that size, you have thousands of smoke detectors, fluorescent light bulbs, etc. that have a lot of mercury in them and small radioactive components that have to be handled smartly,” Bertron points out. “There was some historic ground remediation related to former underground storage tanks and incinerators, and also a lot of residual medical waste you have to properly handle.”

Bertron estimates that 98 percent of the non-contaminated or suspect material in the former hospital building that was demolished was recycled for use in roadbeds and other construction purposes. A few structures including the parking garage, a medical office building, a former convent and a small chapel were preserved and will be adaptively reused as part of the newer mixed-use development.

That will include development of seven-and-a-half blocks of land for roughly 1,100 residential units – a mix of apartments, townhomes and condominiums – and between 130,000 to 150,000 square feet of commercial space, of which 50,000 square feet will be the repurposing of the office building. The rest will be new retail and entertainment.

“We sold the first two of those blocks in the summer of 2014 to Trammel Crow Residential, which began the construction of a two-block, 370-unit apartment project that utilizes the existing parking garage from the hospital, which was about 700 stalls,” Bertron announces. “The first phase of that apartment project will open in the fourth quarter of this year.”

An additional amenity of the former St. Anthony’s site is that it is situated on the banks of Sloan’s Lake. “Sloan’s Lake is the second largest park in the Denver park system,” Bertron maintains. “It’s a 175-acre park with a good-size lake – people water ski on it. It’s a nice recreational amenity for west Denver, and it’s inside the city limits.”

Plans are for the development to be named South Sloan’s Lake or Sloan’s. “We were able to execute the project in a timely enough fashion to absorb it in the current real estate cycle,” Bertron points out. “It’s really been about two years from acquisition to completion. This is a nice outcome for a variety of reasons and a testament to the quality of the contractors on the site that we worked with, but also nice for the neighborhood that we’re able to get it done so fast.”

Proving Their Metal

Another EnviroFinance Group remediation project in Denver is at the 77-acre former site of a metal smelting operation called ASARCO Globe Plant, which declared bankruptcy in 2005. On-site smelting began in 1886 and involved separating impurities from gold, silver and copper. In the following century, the company handled lead, high-purity metals, arsenic trioxide for insecticides, medicines, glass and cadmium. Elevated levels of cadmium, lead, arsenic and zinc were in the groundwater, surface water, sediments and soil at and near the plant. 

The site – which had been unoccupied for approximately 15 years – is being developed into Crossroads Commerce Park, a business park offering 750,000 to 1 million square feet of new commercial space for uses such as light and flex-industrial, warehouse distribution, offices and possibly retail. Site preparation began in 2012 and remediation was completed in the spring of this year. Infrastructure improvements such as utilities and roadways are scheduled for completion by the end of this year.

“The site has what’s called a ‘no further active remediation’ designation by the state of Colorado and the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment,” Bertron explains. “What that essentially means is that the cleanup as called for by the state has been fully implemented. So now we’re in a monitoring phase. That means that we will check groundwater readings for two to three years following development to make sure that the remedy continues to perform.”

The remediation work at the ASARCO plant was a combination of abatement, demolition and soil and groundwater remediation, which was overseen by EnviroFinance Group in conjunction with Alexco Resources Environmental Group. Backhoe Services was the primary subcontractor to Alexco. “Backhoe performed a variety of roles, including the installation of various groundwater treatment facilities and an enormous volume of earthwork and soil amendment,” Bertron says. Backhoe Services treated the soil with high metal content, buried it above groundwater level and capped it so safe development could occur on top. The company also was the lead subcontractor to the demolition contractor.

Moved a Hillside

As part of remediating the site, EnviroFinance Group was able to reconfigure an estimated 40-foot drop in the elevation across the ASARCO site. “Historically, it was a hillside and totally undevelopable by modern standards,” Bertron says. “We were able to reconstruct that into an upper pad and a lower pad. The upper pad is about 40 acres, and the lower pad is 20 acres. We created large flat areas out of a hillside, and in doing so, found a home for the contaminated material.”

The project is now in the redevelopment stage. Even as EnviroFinance is finishing installation of new infrastructure at the site, Trammel Crow Commercial has acquired the upper pad and is under construction on more than 640,000 square feet of new industrial buildings. “It’s nice to see a former industrial site come full-circle and once again be a major employment center for the north side of Denver,” Bertron says. Development of the rest of the site is anticipated within two to three years.

“It’s a big site with a complicated history,” Bertron emphasizes. “It’s also a site that straddles the county line. Part is in the city and county of Denver and part is in unincorporated Adams County. So all of the design, approvals, entitlements and engineering had to be cooperatively done between both Adams and Denver County. It made for what I would call a very regional public/private partnership to envision, design, improve and finance. So it was very much a group effort on the part of a variety of different public and private entities.”

Bertron attributes the company’s success to “having the in-house expertise to both design and implement plans in a way that results in success, and getting fully through the regulatory and remediation process by understanding both pieces – understanding not just the cleanup side of the equation, but also the land development side of it. If you weave those three things together, you have a much higher chance of being successful.” 

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