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Saunders Construction’s Tom Alford On One River North And The Future Of Multifamily At Denver BMAC Event


After experiencing “unprecedented rental demand” over the past two years, Denver’s multifamily sector is cooling off, offering the market a chance to catch its breath. 

In Denver, there are more than 35,000 multifamily units in the construction pipeline. Once these units are completed, the region’s housing supply will increase by more than 12%. However, rising interest rates and elevated construction costs are slowing down a market where almost 53,000 units are needed over the next several years to keep pace with demand.

Tom Alford, senior vice president at Saunders Construction, a Colorado-headquartered construction company, said this surge in Denver multifamily construction is largely driven by the flight-to-quality trend taking over the Mile High City.

“Many of today’s tenants are searching for upscale amenity packages that include rooftop lounges, overlooks and outdoor space,” he said. “At One River North, one of our newest high-rise residential developments in Denver, we’ve worked collaboratively with our partners to provide exactly that and more.” 

Saunders Construction is an employee-owned construction manager and general contractor. Working across the Rocky Mountain region, the firm has delivered more than $9B worth of construction projects since 1972. 

To learn more about the Denver multifamily market, Bisnow spoke with Alford about the One River North development the team is working on, how this development reflects market trends and how Saunders helps its multifamily clients in the Denver area and beyond.

Alford spoke at Bisnow’s Multifamily Annual Conference Rockies on Sept. 6 alongside other multifamily leaders and professionals. 

Bisnow: What makes One River North such an exciting and challenging project for the Saunders team? What role has collaboration played in the project’s success?

Alford: The first thing we had to do was understand the client’s vision. Once we understood the vision, we could then work hand in hand with Davis Partnership Architects and MAD Architects to come up with unique and creative solutions to make the project a reality. 

Anybody who has seen the renderings of the project knows that there are some very unique architectural elements. There is a rooftop terrace with spa facilities and a swimming pool, as well as a four-story outdoor "canyon" that residents can walk through, lined with greenery and water features. These features are not often found in such a project, but as a team, we’ve worked collaboratively and employed exciting new technologies to achieve the vision and deliver a commercially viable real estate project. It took us about a year of pre-construction to reach this goal. 

Bisnow: How do you view the state of Denver’s multifamily market? What trends are you seeing? How does One River North reflect some of these trends?

Alford: The multifamily market is still relatively strong, but it is slowing a bit. And frankly, it’s what’s best for the market. We’ve had about a 40% increase in multifamily construction in Denver over the past couple years, so we can recuperate and move forward, which is a good thing. But there's still plenty of work to be had.

As far as trends, there's been a flight toward quality. There are enough new buildings coming on the market that we have to be intentional about creating something that's new and unique and that incorporates sustainable design and construction practices. One River North is all of these, and it’s coming onto the market at a time in which demand is high. With the flight-to-quality trend and the fact that new supply has slowed, it’s well positioned to be a transformative development for the River North neighborhood.

Bisnow: What is unique about Saunders Construction’s approach to helping its clients in Denver's multifamily market?

Alford: Saunders is committed to building what matters and creating places that make communities better. We are often invited to work on the more challenging and unique projects. We really relish the projects where we have to lean in and find ways to make them a reality through innovative practices and solutions. 

At Saunders Construction, our approach is to engage early in a solutions-oriented way. We begin by working with the design team and the client to understand the shared vision and how to make that vision viable.

Because of our size and in-depth experience in the multifamily sector, we understand what it takes to make a project work. Our expertise and ability to drive toward workable solutions help clients get past the cost, schedule and other barriers often encountered on projects. 

Bisnow: Where do you see Denver’s CRE market heading in the future, particularly the multifamily market?

Alford: I think activity will slow for a period of time. It’s an inescapable reality resulting from inflation and upward interest rate trends. However, it’s likely that there will be a relatively moderate and short economic downturn that may be a nice opportunity for the collective market to catch its breath. A short and small reduction in such work might benefit the market longer-term.

We're also seeing really thoughtful amenities packages. With One River North, the canyon itself is part of the amenities package and includes lounges, overlooks and outdoor space. This is really going to appeal to tenants because they get this truly unique outdoor-indoor living experience.

Bisnow: What motivated you to speak at Bisnow’s Multifamily Annual Conference Rockies? 

Alford: We wanted a chance to celebrate the collaboration and innovation that has made One River North such a success. To be a part of this opportunity to add to the Denver skyline has been an incredible experience. The team has done great work here. To make deals happen in this industry, it takes a lot of people working together. Effective collaboration has been a fundamental part of why this project has been such a success. These events are a great way for industry professionals to get together and make deals happen.

This article was produced in collaboration between Saunders Construction and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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