Loveland developer Howard Perko — who has made his mark upgrading and restoring historic buildings — plans to reinvigorate the more than century-old Elks Lodge in downtown Loveland.
“It was really a vibrant part of the community,” said Perko, who with his wife Diana, plans to buy the building on the corner of Fourth Street and Railroad Avenue from the Elks Lodge and update it into offices, retail stores, a restaurant and event space while maintaining its historical integrity.
“We hope to bring that back. It is a key cornerstone to Fourth Street.”
Heart of downtown
“Fourth Street is the heart of downtown, and right now our heart is hurting,” said Perko, mentioning empty storefronts and buildings in downtown and the fact that some festivals designed to draw people to downtown have been moved. Revitalization projects, he said, are key to keeping the city vibrant.
“One gauge of the vitality of a downtown is its tax revenue,” said Perko, who has redeveloped the Sears Trostel building in Old Town Fort Collins and the A & B Building at Fourth and Cleveland (the home of the Flipside, offices, apartments and other retail space) in Loveland.
“Each of these development projects that brings old buildings back into use helps bring in tax revenue that helps all businesses around.”
He plans to buy the Elks Lodge, 140 E. Fourth St., for $1.8 million and bring it up to modern standards with new heating and air, new plumbing and up-to-date amenities while keeping its historic character.
The Vitrolite tiles that were restored in 2016 outside the lodge will be preserved as will much of the wood features and interior, and the outside will be returned to its former glory with retail space on Fourth Street, room for a restaurant on Railroad Avenue and the return of the former grand entryway and balcony on the west side of the building that faces the historic railroad depot.
Perko points to a historic photo of the old building as inspiration for his future vision.
“I look at fixing up old buildings as recycling,” he said, noting that instead of investing on Wall Street he invests in Fourth Street. “It’s one of the best things you can do for a city, fix up old buildings.”
Beginnings by the railroad
When the old downtown train depot was hopping in the early 1900s, bringing visitors to the city, businessmen saw the need for a downtown hotel, according to a historic assessment completed in 2012 by AE Designs. They raised $40,000 to build what was then known as the Lovelander Hotel, which was constructed in 1912-13 across the street from the train station. (The building next to the Elks Lodge, directly east on Fourth Street, is separate and now called the Lovelander.)
Perko said that when the original hotel was built, it was connected to the depot by a tunnel, which has long since been filled in, though the door remains. Legend has it that the tunnel was a pathway for bootleg liquor during Prohibition or for dignitaries to sneak to the hotel unseen by the public.
At the time it was built, the city’s population had tripled to 3,641 residents and, with the Great Western Sugar Factory and railway, the downtown was booming, the historic assessment states.
But when growth slowed and the rise of automobiles and tourist camps and cottages along U.S. 34 to Rocky Mountain National Park led to decreased train traffic, the building was sold in 1927 to the Loveland Elks Lodge.
The Elks remodeled the building and turned the second floor into a large ballroom, which still hosts local events, and then paid for another major remodel in the 1950s.
In recent years, the three-story lodge has been added to the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties, the exterior has been restored to what it looked like during the 1920s and ’30s, and studies have been done to assess how to restore the interior, including one of the oldest working elevators in the state of Colorado.
The Elks longtime home
The downtown lodge, which has hosted many different types of events over the century, has been the longtime home for the Loveland Elks, said Binky Geisler, treasurer of the local lodge.
The service group has socialized there, held fundraisers there and, from that headquarters, reached out into the community to support students and veterans in a variety of ways. The lodge has hosted dances, community gatherings and even volunteers for downtown festivals over the decades.
But within the past year, the membership — which has dwindled from 1,200 in its height in the 1970s to 750 just over a decade ago to 442 today — voted to sell the building and begin looking for a new home. The costs of upkeep were just too steep, said Geisler, explaining that lights and electricity each run about $800 per month, heating is “even higher,” plus insurance and other operations costs are mounting.
“It’s things like that that just kept adding up, and adding up, and adding up,” she said.
Even though many Elks are saddened at the thought of moving out of the historic building, their home for a century, where members have built memories and impacted the community, they decided it was time and put the building on the market.
“It’s a very big change,” said Geisler, noting that they are looking for a new place to call home, a place with adequate parking and within a 7-mile radius of downtown. The Elks hope to have a new space by November, when the sale to Perko is scheduled to close.
“It’s been difficult at times, but we rally,” Geisler said. “We do what we have to do. The lodge is a great old building. And the lodge is one of the best philanthropic organizations you’ll find.”
Their philanthropy and community involvement will continue, Geisler said, adding, “We’re a good group. We just need to find a new home.”
Old and new
LC Real Estate Group in Loveland listed the building for sale, and brokers Bruce Campbell and Patrick O’Donnell with Realtec in Loveland helped facilitate the sale of the 25,468-square-foot building to Perko, who plans to revitalize it, including creating an events space with the ballroom, a balcony from there looking out onto Railroad Avenue, and a rooftop garden area.
The Perkos and their business, called River Redevelopment LLC, also plan to include a wine bar or teen center in the basement, two retail stores on Fourth Street and a restaurant on Railroad with outdoor seating.
He hopes to incorporate the historic elevator into his plans, and restore the building to its former glory.
And he’s open to the possibility of opening some of the space up to the Elks Club if the leadership decides they would like to stay.
“I hope the Elks will stay,” said Perko. “Downtown Loveland needs more people moving in, not out. I’ll do what I can to help them stay (if they want).”
Leases and incentives
But, in order for his plans to come to fruition, Perko needs to cement tenants who want to be part of the space and he needs support from the city of Loveland and Downtown Development Authority to help defray the cost of bringing the historic building up to current code and standards.
Campbell and O’Donnell are representing him, not just for the purchase of the property, but also for leasing of the retail, restaurant, office and events space. They are actively looking for potential clients.
And last week, Perko requested tax increment financing through the Loveland Downtown Development Authority.
Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a way to leverage the future tax revenue that the development is expected to bring in and invest a portion of that into the cost of refurbishing the building.
Sean Hawkins, executive director of the Loveland Downtown District, said Perko’s project is estimated to bring in $5 million to $6 million in new taxes, both sales and property, over the 27-year life of the district.
If approved, a development agreement between the DDA, the city of Loveland and Perko could invest up to $2 million of those taxes into the cost of bringing the building up to code, which includes asbestos removal, Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, fire suppression and other measures.
“Howard, with this project, is creating this tax base, so we can refund some of that back to him,” Hawkins said
The needed renovations are vast and costly, so Perko needs the tax increment financing to make the project feasible, both he and Hawkins explained.
“It’s going to take this, or it’s going to sit empty,” Hawkins said.
Right now, the DDA board is analyzing the figures — from costs to potential tax revenue to lease revenue — to see if the project makes sense. Hawkins said the board expects to make a decision at its meeting in July. If the DDA approves the agreement, it will then go to the Loveland City Council, which also must approve the agreement as the city controls the fund that manages the tax increment financing revenue.
“Our board is fully supportive of us trying to make this happen,” said Hawkins, explaining that Perko’s project fits with the DDA policy if the numbers bear out.
While the details still need to be approved, Perko said he feels pretty confident the project will move forward. He plans to close on the sale in November, begin construction immediately after, and open in June 2022.
“The intent is to maintain the historic character of the building,” Perko said, “but make it safe and comfortable for the anticipated new tenants and public use.”
The Loveland Elks Lodge is accepting flags to be retired at an official ceremony on Flag Day.
Residents with flags to be retired may drop them of at the lodge, 103 E. Fourth St., from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through June 9. Members of the lodge will fold and prepare the flags for their official retirement.
Community members are welcome to attend the ceremony at 4 p.m. on June 12, a Saturday. The event will include a display of American flags by the Thompson School District ROTC students, a history of the American flag and a demonstration of folding the flag by Associated Veterans of Loveland.
Food will be served.
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