DENVER-A bit of Denver’s history is being retained as Larimer Square Associates Inc. preps to convert the former Soapy Smith’s Eagle Bar into a class-A office building.

“It’s not a very large building,” says Brad Buchanan of the Denver-based Buchanan Yonushewski Group LLC, “but it lays out really well for an office building.” Plans call for a 3,600-sf addition to the 8,400-sf structure that was built in the early 1880s.

Last year at auction, Larimer Square paid $871,500 for the property situated at 1317 14th St. in the Lower Downtown historic district. “We looked at using it as retail or a restaurant, but because it has a basement and three upper levels, it wasn’t really obviously conducive for those uses,” says Joseph D. Vostrejs, general manager of Larimer Square. “And then we looked at the huge demand for office space.” He says the undertaking is expected to exceed a couple of million dollars.

The addition will house an elevator that will also service the adjacent Miller office building and a second staircase as required by building codes, says Vostrejs. The project, which will be completed in nine months, will command rental rates of more than $30 per sf, on par with the new office towers being constructed in the CBD. The owners are eyeing a single tenant, such as a law firm or high-tech company, says Vostrejs.

“We’ll really be pushing the market, with rates in the $33 to $35 (per square foot) range,” says Darrin Revious, the Grubb & Ellis broker listing the building. But he said there is so little space available in the lower Downtown area that the building could generate a lot of interest.”We’re publishing that the area has only a 4% vacancy rate, but I think it’s really a little tighter than that. I think with its location and unique features–it will have glass block floors to bring a lot of natural light through the building–it will be really attractive. I could see a strong Internet company go in there or some kind of strong private company wanting the building.”

“To us, this is a building that is literally and figuratively a Denver landmark,” says Buchanan. “It’s got a lot of current history and a lot from the past.” Originally called Euclid Hall, it was built as a home for Dr. Byron Albertus Wheeler, who had his office in the front. Its history includes rumors that it once had served as a brothel while facts show it at one point was a meeting spot for the Masons and Populist Party. From 1940 to 1971, it was the “Cootie Club,” a social club for the “Supreme Puptent Military Order of the Cooties,” a fun-loving spin-off of the VFW. In 1971, it had been converted into Maudie’s Flea Market and then Soapy Smith’s in 1977, closing its doors in 1999. The bar and restaurant took its name from Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith, who in 1885 ran a con game at 17th and Larimer Streets. Soapy had been known for hawking soap that could “wash away your troubles and wash away your sins,” according to Denver historian Tom Noel. Some of the soap bars supposedly contained $50 bills.

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