April 29, 2022
 | 1:43 pm

The future of Pueblo’s past

Projects illustrate adaptive reuse possibilities in the Steel City

SPECIAL TO THE PUEBLO STAR JOURNAL
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Adaptive reuse is a term many people probably don’t recognize. That may soon change as the number and scope of these projects become more evident in Pueblo.

While gentrification remakes a low-income neighborhood into an area designed for wealthier residents, adaptive reuse essentially is recycling old buildings. It is the process of giving them new life and purpose. This isn’t like the renovation shows that are streaming everywhere, but taking something with historic value, breathing new life into it through a variety of upgrades, and using the space in a completely different way than it was originally intended.

adaptive reuse: Holmes Hardware building/Fuel and Iron project in Pueblo, Colorado
The long-vacant Holmes Hardware building is being renovated as part of the Fuel & Iron project. The main floor will house Pueblo’s first food hall and restaurant incubator. (Bryan Kelsen, special to the Pueblo Star Journal)

Fuel & Iron

The multi-faceted, ambitious project currently under construction on Union Avenue in the old Holmes Hardware building is the first phase of the Fuel & Iron project. Co-founders Nathan Stern and Zach Cytryn, both Denver real-estate developers, have a vision for their project and what it can be in the greater community.

Introducing Pueblo’s first food hall, Fuel & Iron seeks to meld the blue-collar, industrial past with the diverse and delicious present of Pueblo’s food and culture. The project aims to make Pueblo “the best place in Colorado to start a food-related business,” according to Stern.

The second goal for the project is to provide opportunities for the youth of Southern Colorado to explore hospitality careers in the fields of restaurants, packaging and agriculture.

“For kids growing up in that region, we want them to know that they can have a rewarding hospitality (career) in any of those three sectors without leaving the region because, I think all too often, a lot of people don’t know the opportunities exist in their communities and think they need to move to a bigger city in order to achieve their hospitality-related dreams,” Stern said.

The first floor of the Holmes Hardware building is being transformed into a space for everyone’s inner foodie. Featuring five restaurants and a coffee and ice cream shop, residents of Pueblo will be able to enjoy the distinctive cuisine. The food hall will take on a lot of the operations in the front of the house, allowing the restaurateurs to focus on the evolution of their products.

“The goal is, if you are up in Denver or Fort Collins or wherever and you’ve never been to Pueblo, you can come into the food hall and you’re having a unique culinary experience. And not only are you experiencing Pueblo, but none of the concepts are concepts you can see anywhere else,” Stern said.

Stern emphasized that supporting local entrepreneurs is paramount to the Fuel & Iron project. Getting to renovate and reuse one of Pueblo’s historic landmarks was an added bonus. The upper two floors of this part of the project will become affordable housing units that will serve first the employees of the food hall, then other residents. 

The next two phases of the project will focus on other aspects of the food and hospitality business with the goal of drawing local entrepreneurs front and center. Part of these phases will include more housing and some sustainability practices.

In addition to the food hall in Pueblo, Stern said they wanted to find a way to promote Pueblo in Denver. A bar of the same name, Fuel & Iron, is about to open near Coors Field and will feature unique Pueblo flavors and food, including slopper sliders and Mosco (as in chile) mules.

adaptive reuse: Watertower Place in Pueblo, Colorado
Watertower Place is a large adaptive reuse project in Pueblo. Owner Ryan McWilliams wants to create a "vertical urban village" inside the former meat-packing plant. (Bryan Kelsen, special to the Pueblo Star Journal)

Watertower Place

Vying for the prime spot in Pueblo’s new old gems is Watertower Place, an epic undertaking spearheaded by Ryan McWilliams. Using the old Nuckolls meat packing plant on Santa Fe Avenue to create a “vertical urban village,” McWilliams is steadily transforming the massive complex and Pueblo’s image from the inside out.

The unique construction of this once cutting-edge facility allows it to become a space that can accommodate virtually any use imaginable. McWilliams originally intended the building to be a rail-related project since his background is in that industry, but it became evident that it could be much more.

“I made a sharp right turn and sort of changed everything I was doing, took a little bit to unwind some of that. We then said, well, let’s actually do an adaptive reuse project that is mixed use that will have multiple quality-of-life-related facets to it,” he said.

It has taken several years of love and labor to get the building to where it is now, and it’s not near completion. Over the next few years, multiple spaces — from a wellness center to a rooftop restaurant and office space to an innovation hub — will be added. All of this and more will fit easily into the 6 acres under the roof. Parking is also plentiful with 6 acres of outside space.

“It’s really that village mentality that we want to bring back to the core of downtown, adding in some urban density, while cleaning up the biggest eyesore in the state,” McWilliams said.

The project has not been without pitfalls. Theft of equipment has totaled close to half a million dollars, McWilliams said, and contractors are facing equipment challenges with the thickness of the walls and floors. Aggressive security and some ingenuity have helped alleviate a lot of these issues, he said.

“Our goal from day one has been to be the glue in the community to do two things. One: create conversation to, for example, get the city to talk to the county… We want to be the positive story in the community to sort of be the glue that brings people together,” McWilliams said. “The second thing is to actually show that if we can take the literally largest eyesore in all of Colorado and turn it into one of the shining stars, gems of the community that actually has a new purpose now, then we would be successful.”

With only about a third of the project and its budget done, it will be a few more years before it is complete. McWilliams looks forward to the days when the building will serve the community he loves.

adaptive reuse: Keating School in Pueblo, Colorado
A local nonprofit group has plans to turn the Keating School, built in 1927, into a commercial and residential project to serve the community’s needs. (Bryan Kelsen, special to the Pueblo Star Journal)

Keating School

Built in 1927 and originally known as Central Junior High School, Keating School has been dormant for more than a decade. This striking building across from Central High School is envisioned as a point of revival for the local community. The nonprofit Keating School is leading the charge to reimagine what the old school can be.

Corinne Koehler, chair of the nonprofit, spoke of the history of the building and the possibilities of use for the spaces within the school. The project is still in the early stages — the nonprofit is working to find the right developer and has been talking with one out of Denver recently.

“You have to have a meeting of the minds and who knows if the meeting of the minds will actually be met,” Koehler said of the hunt for the developer that will best suit the project.

She stressed the need to find a use for the school because it’s more efficient and saves a historic part of the community. Reusing a building is better for the environment and the public, she said.

“You never get that same quality of building because it has those old stone columns and it has the beautiful old woodwork and so many of the things that would not be put into a new building,” Koehler said. “On top of that, when you’re tearing down an old building it all gets taken to the dump. You have to look at the fact that you’re filling up the dump then using new materials.”

By utilizing some of the land on the back side of the school, Koehler said, new housing could be put in and the second story of the building could be converted into rentable housing. All of this could be helped along by the use of tax credits. After five years of ownership by the property owner, per the tax credit requirements, residences could be sold.

Koehler was especially excited about the potential restoration of the school theater to its 1920s glory. It still has all the old seating and woodwork and could be a place for the community to enjoy a movie or theatrical production from local theater groups, with the potential for other events such as town halls.

By implementing adaptive reuse in Keating School, the potential for the building isn’t the only thing being unlocked. The economic impact going forward could benefit the neighborhood and city with increased tax revenue and commerce.

According to Koehler, the heart and soul of this project is to commemorate the nostalgia and memories of the past while preserving it and reworking it to serve the community for many years to come. With a location not far from the Riverwalk and other downtown amenities, she hopes the Keating School will be an ideal location for residential and commercial growth in the not-too-distant future.

“You never get that same quality of building because it has those old stone columns and it has the beautiful old woodwork and so many of the things that would not be put into a new building.”

Corinne Koehler

Adaptive reuse: Planning Pueblo’s future

City planners have had their hands full with growth in Pueblo. With a rise in the construction of new single-family homes and more construction on the horizon, adaptive reuse can be a preferred, if not necessarily easier, method by which to house and benefit Pueblo’s residents.

Ideally, planners look at using existing infrastructure to serve the public and adaptive reuse makes that easier. It also presents its own challenges, though, which the city, county and other partners have had to work on together.

Through trial and error, the Pueblo Planning and Community Development department has learned how to attract and assist developers who want to take on the buildings that are ripe for adaptive reuse.

“Every Wednesday we have a development review committee and (developers) can come in and talk to every single department and every single utility all at once, and so get the red flags, all the issues,” said Wade Broadhead, senior planner for the City of Pueblo.

Broadhead said Pueblo’s approach is to help developers as much as possible in the form of information and assistance, addressing potentially outdated or illogical regulations or requirements.

The city’s renaissance is at hand with many irons in the fire and some of its potential now blossoming into reality. Leaders of these adaptive reuse projects are stepping into the city’s future while paying homage to the past — and inviting the community not only to participate, but become part of the experience.

Rebecca VanGorder
Rebecca is a freelance journalist. She is a graduate of Colorado State University Pueblo with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications. Her purpose is to find the truth and share it with anyone and everyone. She is a Christian, a wife, a mom, a friend, a chicken and duck tender, a flawed human being and many other things. She eschews labels in favor of learning more about those around her.
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