Renovation of Historic Denver Apartment Hotel Underway

The Colburn Hotel, courtesy of Google Street View.

By Kevin Villegas, digital marketing manager for Encore Electric

They say history is written by the victors. If that’s the case, then the remodel of the Colburn Hotel, and a rededication to its
mission to provide affordable housing, is a big win for the Colburn Hotel residents and for Denver.

Encore Electric project team

Originally built by Judge Ernest Colburn in 1928, the hotel, located at 9800 Grant St. in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, featured two towers, one of which was built to be luxury apartments, and catered to guests looking to get away to Denver for a variety of reasons. Denver at the time was just beginning to come into its own, and some very well-known people, including Beat Generation figures Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg, are believed to have passed through its doors.

The hotel closed in 1988 but reopened later as ‘efficiency’ apartments for low-income residents and has remained that way ever since. In 2018, the 88-unit Colburn Hotel apartments were purchased by Wisconsin-based Gorman & Company for $8.18 million, according to county records, and renovations began. Gorman & Company is an organization that works to revitalize and restore communities through groundbreaking housing partnerships all over the United States.

“Gorman utilized a variety of funding sources including low income housing tax credits, historic tax credits, and City and State funding sources to not only preserve the existing tenancy, but work on the rehab of the entire building,” said Lauren Schevets, director of development for Colorado at Gorman & Company.

Eventually, it is hoped that the Colburn apartments property will be placed on the National Register of Historic Places, a goal that involves careful renovations. Gorman & Company is working toward that eventual outcome by completing renovations in a manner that will allow its inclusion.

For Colorado electrical contractor, Encore Electric, renovations will consist of complicated updates and additions in each of the units, as well as some of the building’s amenities. In the basement, there will be a brand-new fitness center. Perhaps the largest electrical change, however, is the upgrade of the electrical rooms to bring them up to code and to ensure the safety of everyone who uses the buildings – tenants and commercial occupants.

“From an electrical standpoint, the challenge has been camouflaging our new work. We had to change our route three or four times until we finally found a way to bring the electrical up from the basement without running wire and cable through the
corridors,” said JR Casias, superintendent for Encore Electric. “There were also some challenges when we were in the units, including being careful to not just cut away some of the historical trim that has been here from when it was first built. We’re
working around that and preserving it as much as possible.”

Encore Electric is using a variety of updated techniques to deliver the best possible electrical power and technology to the residents of the Colburn Hotel.

“I really like the electrical dimming and the way they set up the electrical in the apartment now, how the light covers a wider area,” said James, a resident of the Colburn since 2018. “The lighting covers the whole room, which for me is comforting.
The energy savings for me as a conservationist I really appreciate too.”

In addition to lighting and power upgrades, the life safety system was updated with a full fire alarm panel with new devices in each unit, allowing the fire department to pinpoint where an issue may occur. Prefabrication techniques are being used to quicken the pace of the project, as each floor is renovated one by one, and necessitates the temporary displacement of the residents who live there.

Each floor, from the third to tenth, has 11 apartments. The team is tackling one floor at a time but only has 30 days to complete each one, so using those prefabrication techniques is vital to ensuring that residents are displaced for the least possible amount of time. In addition, there are increased power requirements for the new electrical equipment and upgrades in each of the units, requiring a new Xcel Transformer on site. Power was previously coming into the building from a utility pole in the alley behind the building, a less-than-ideal situation for reliability and for safety. Not only is there a new transformer now, but each apartment is on its own circuit, allowing minor electrical issues to be confined to a single unit.

At the job’s peak, there will be a total of eight Encore electricians working on the site. The renovation is currently scheduled for completion in October 2020.

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