Grand Junction’s DDA tasked with redeveloping property after White Hall demolition & cleanup
Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Harry Weiss envisions new housing near downtown Grand Junction as one possibility for 600 White Ave., the former site of the historic White Hall.
The brick and white-pillared church built in 1923 was destroyed by a fire Sept. 15, 2011; the cause remains unknown. Grand Junction purchased the property when the owner walked away from the building, leaving the ruined remains standing at the edge of downtown.
“There were public safety concerns,” city engineering manager Trent Prall said. “A lot of people were breaking into the facility. There was vandalism as well.”
Plus, “it’s a prominent corner downtown, a burned-out shell of a building that could have sat there for years,” if the city hadn’t had purchased it, Prall added.
Currently, asbestos removal is underway in preparation of the building’s demolition later this month.
“Asbestos is pulled out (beforehand) to minimize risks to workers and adjacent properties,” Prall said. “Once clean, we can drop the structure, this week or next.”
Grand Junction City Council asked the Downtown Development Authority to take on the property as a project once the city completes the demolition and cleanup of the site later this month.
“It makes sense,” Weiss said. “Redevelopment is a mission we have.”
The DDA is interested in selling the property to a developer. Or, public meetings may be held to solicit community input as to what to do with the site.
The ideal plan, from the DDA’s perspective, would be to convert the site into “a privately owned and operated taxable property,” that could include offices, residential or a commercial mixed-use area, Weiss said.
White Hall’s main church was damaged beyond repair, while the later-added education annex just east of the sanctuary received minimal damage. That 12,000-square foot, three-story addition “will be easy to adapt and convert to other uses,” Weiss said.
The cost of demolition and asbestos abatement will cost $313,650.
A $85,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division will cover a portion of the environmental clean-up costs.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Brownfields Program awarded the grant to go toward asbestos abatement. The program encourages the cleanup of under-used contaminated properties by offering grants to qualifying local governments and nonprofits. The DDA will cover other costs involved before moving on to the next step of redevelopment.
There’s additional remediation to be done, Weiss said. Asbestos was found in the education annex as well, so it was decided that it would be more cost-effective to break up the two projects, the sanctuary being more complicated and an open-air abatement.
MILL TAILINGS DISCOVERED
“We also know there are uranium mill tailings on the site, and we can’t get to it until the sanctuary is removed,” Weiss said. “It’s under a concrete slab in the basement of the sanctuary.”
Radioactive mill tailings were widely used in western Colorado as fill dirt, and it was also mixed with building materials during the 1950s and 1960s. Mesa County residents collected the sand-like material for free from the old Climax uranium mill,formerly located in Grand Junction.
The mill tailings were used in replacing a cracked basement floor of the church and also as backfill around the perimeter of the newer education wing, built in the mid-1950s.
“The good news is it’s not underneath the education wing,” Weiss said.
“We’ve applied for another grant, and we’ll look under every rock for a funding source,” to proceed with additional cleanup and eventual renovation of the annex.
The next couple of months will include both feasibility and architectural studies, as well as developing cost estimates of various kinds of uses for the property.
“One of the things the DDA is very interested in is more housing downtown,” Weiss said. “Here’s a 12,000-square-foot building that would lend itself to apartments.”
The remainder of the property could perhaps be turned into office space, he said.
“We’ll do a certain amount of master planning for the entire site,” Weiss said.
“The education wing mainly (needs) an interior renovation. I think it would be an awesome housing site. It’s not on a busy street,” yet close to many downtown amenities.
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