Food hall planned as Westminster agrees to sell Shoenberg Farms

A pair of developers who are purchasing historic farm buildings in Westminster from the city want to turn a dairy barn into a food hall.

MJ Developers, a group formed by John Crays and Matthew Lawrence specifically for this project, is set to pay just $10 for 0.81 acres at 7231 Sheridan Blvd. and 5202 W. 73rd Ave. in the suburb north of Denver. The Westminster City Council approved the deal Monday night.

“There’s a need for an area where people can congregate, get together and dine – it’s a crucial part of human interaction – and we’re playing into that need,” Lawrence said.

The site is home to a dairy barn, farmhouse, pump, milk and carriage house and two silos. The structures were once the heart of Shoenberg Farms, which operated for the bulk of the last century.

Westminster bought the buildings in 2008 for $664,182 with the goal of restoring the structures to some degree and selling them to a private buyer. The city solicited multiple bids over the years. Fifteen years later, with $1.9 million spent on restoration efforts, there’s the deal with MJ Developers.

The farm was designated a historic landmark after the city purchased it, which means the buildings can’t be torn down. In addition, it also has a conservation easement, which requires the Colorado Historical Foundation to approve any exterior changes.

In part because of those restrictions, Westminster estimated in city documents that the property is literally worth nothing. The remaining restoration would cost roughly $3.5 million, it said.

Lawrence said he and his business partner haven’t decided how many stalls the food hall will have, but estimated around six. He described the project as an “incubator” for small businesses.

“Small businesses don’t necessarily have the capital or wherewithal to open a 2,000 square-foot store on their own. That’s a big risk for a small family-owned business,” Lawrence said. “They can come in (to the food hall) at a fraction of the price.”

The farm buildings back up to a strip mall, with a Starbucks a stone’s throw away. Crays said they hope to have food hall vendors secured in about eight months and open by spring 2025.

Crays and Lawrence both own development firms separately and have worked together before, but said Shoenberg Farms is a “passion project.” Lawrence said he typically works on larger retail development sites, while Crays focuses on “derelict” property development.

“Bringing a property back to life that’s been forgotten about or abandoned … this is pretty much right up my alley,” Crays said.

Shoenberg Farms was established on 70 acres at 73rd and Sheridan in 1911 by Louis Dudly Shoenberg to supply Denver’s National Jewish Hospital with food for its tuberculosis patients, according to city documents. Shoenberg gave the farm to the hospital, which sold it in 1921 to Jacob Tepper.

Tepper expanded the operations, adding over 700 acres and creating the “largest dairy and poultry operation west of the Mississippi River,” according to city documents. The farm closed in 2000, and the Tepper family has gradually sold off portions of it.

The original farm structures have been unused for decades. Crays said the dairy barn, where the food hall will go, hasn’t operated since the late 1970s.

“It feels like you’re walking around ghosts, and we’re trying to fix that so it’s a lively place again,” Crays said.

Crays and Lawrence said they’re working with the Colorado Historic Foundation to restore the site.

“It’s historically a Jewish dairy farm … it’s a great background and one we want to capitalize on as much as we can, remember our roots … and showcase those,” Crays said.

Just a two-minute walk south of the site, the duo has another deal in the works to purchase 0.69 acres at 5212 W. 72nd Ave. from the Tepper family. The lot was formerly a processing plant for the farm, which was torn down years ago.

Crays and Lawrence hope to build a retail center on this site, potentially out of shipping containers, but haven’t finalized any plans yet.

“We’re trying to identify the best use and supplement what’s going on at Shoenberg,” Lawrence said.

This story was reported by our partner BusinessDen.

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