Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Plans for University Boulevard high-rise taking shape

Two hundred high-end rental apartments above three restaurants, a coffee shop and a boutique food market on the ground floor of an 11-story building.

That’s developer Phil Caplan’s vision for what is now being called the Shops and Apartments at Observatory Place, a bold transformation of the southeast corner of Evans Avenue and South University Boulevard.

Gone as soon as late fall would be the structures there now, in particular the two-story, red-brick Wesley Apartments at 2100 S. University and the five properties directly south that the developer owns. In their place — and open as soon as late 2010 — could be a high-rise apartment containing a food emporium on the order of Whole Foods, Marczyk’s, Tony’s Market or Cook’s Fresh Market. All are under consideration, Caplan says.

“We want the best combination of restaurant and retailer we can find,” he says, noting that he already has four letters-of-intent from restaurants eager to open in the building.

“I’m more worried about filling up the apartments than the retail,” he quipped during a Feb. 11 briefing before the University Park Community Council. Neighbors peppered Caplan with questions reflecting concerns from how the project would affect parking and traffic to whether Caplan could land a Trader Joe’s store for the site.

The developer patiently answered all queries, noting that the project still has a lot of unknowns. Chief among these is financing, which is not in place yet, and design, which is envisioned to be masonry, glass and “as much brick as we can afford.”

The building design is being put together by Shears Adkins of Denver, the architectural firm that designed University Lofts on the northeast corner of Evans and University.

Also unclear is the scope of the project. Caplan and partner David Elowe have acquired six lots on University, from the Wesley Apartments south to the former Pioneer Apartments at 2156 S. University Blvd. The contract to buy Pioneer fell through, Caplan said, but it is being renegotiated.

As that unfolds, key decisions are being made. Among these is that the project will not be designed as student housing. It will be higher-end rental units marketed to “young professionals, couples, DU faculty and staff, empty-nesters and seniors.”

Units will be 70 percent studios and one-bedrooms and 30 percent two-bedrooms, with rents in the $1,700 to $1,900 range. Residential parking will be on three interior floors above the retail shops, with 100 retail parking spaces below ground. The main entrance will be from the alley between Josephine Street and University Boulevard.

“This is totally flexible, drawings on a computer,” Caplan emphasized. “But we’re gonna do the best we can to make it look nice.”

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