A prominent real estate development seen by thousands of drivers-by every day has been sitting mostly unoccupied and apparently going nowhere for a year, but the people in charge are confident things are about to turn around.
Farmhouse is 15 live-work units on South Highway 89, just north of Flat Creek, that went on the market early in 2017 after a long development and building stage. Since then the units have sat, and it’s been apparent even to people passing at 40 mph that little was going on. Only one of the units has been sold, and the project is dark at night.
But Garth Gillespie, who with his wife, Christy, took over the listing late last year, doesn’t think that will continue. Gillespie, an associate broker at Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, the Christie’s affiliate in Jackson, said last week another unit is under contract and that he thinks more are about to be sold, especially the seven on the east side that look out over Flat Creek.
“I believe we will have the places on the river under contract within a month,” he said. “There’s a general buzz around the project.”
Gillespie acknowledged “a little bit of skepticism” about a project that after being completed got off to a stumbling sales start. He noted factors that have discouraged sales at Farmhouse: It’s right on a busy road, and there is some traffic noise; the Minnesota developer had been showing the units unfinished inside, discouraging any instant liking; and the limits of the town’s live-work use rules and associated lender confusion.
He thinks, though, that the project’s advantages guarantee that buyers will come around.
Whatever people think of the modern — some say semi-industrial — look of the outside of the buildings, inside the one finished and furnished unit the feeling is big, open, bright and surprisingly quiet. The contrast between it and the unfinished units, with studs exposed, is stark. It’s the difference between a sunny place to live and a very clean job site.
Showing the units unfinished was apparently a blunder.
“It’s hard for people to imagine how they would finish the space,” Gillespie said. “When the units are unfinished buyers have a hard time visualizing ‘What will this be like?’”
Jackson Realtor and developer Greg Prugh, who had the listing before Gillespie, agreed in general with people’s doubts about Farmhouse, and in particular with the difficulty selling the units when they weren’t finished inside.
Showing the units even without drywall, he said, meant that “people couldn’t see it” as a place to live and work.
Five units on the creekside are now being finished inside and are expected to be done in June. Gillespie said interiors of the remaining units will be completed after that.
Prugh “pioneered the live-work idea” in Jackson, building the only two similar projects in town. He’s still high on the concept. Finishing the Farmhouse units is a good idea, he said.
“I don’t think they’ll have any problem selling them when they’re done, but they need to be done,” he said. “We learned that them being completely unfinished, them being a cold shell, they were difficult to sell.”
The highway, Gillespie said, is good or bad depending on the people.
“For some people being next to the highway, that’s a big advantage, the exposure,” Gillespie said. “For others it’s not high on their list.”
The finished unit isn’t any noisier than a lot of units in town, partly because of construction, partly because it’s oriented away from the highway.
Lenders unfamiliar with the live-work concept and town rules are becoming accustomed to the idea, Gillespie said. Initially backers saw the development as a commercial deal, but then decided they could categorize Farmhouse as townhouses and offer standard 30-year fixed-rate mortgages.
Prugh said his two previous live-work projects sold well. Metro Plateau, nine units on East Gros Ventre Butte above the “Y,” went on the market in 2012. The seven units of Pine Box, on Alpine Lane across from Powderhorn Park, were sold the next year. The Metro Plateau units were advertised at $350,000 to $400,000; Pine Box units, about 1,200 square feet total, were advertised at $380,000 and were “gone fast,” Prugh said.
The live-work concept combines office or work space on the ground floor with an apartment above. Town of Jackson officials rewrote building rules and OK’d Prugh’s projects after listening to arguments that they would provide space for startups and small businesses along with connected living space, two uses thought to be in short supply. To encourage those uses, town rules were altered to allow greater density than if the parcels were developed only as condos or apartment buildings.
Town rules require that the working and the living are combined: The owner does business downstairs and lives above. There’s no splitting of the uses, though the rules would be satisfied if an owner were to live upstairs and not use the downstairs or operated a business downstairs and had an employee live on the second floor.
The spaces are not for retail or industrial uses but are geared toward people like photographers or lawyers, maybe a personal trainer or an architect, artists or massage therapists. The one occupied unit is owned by a graphic designer.
Farmhouse began in 2014, when Minnesotan Darren Senn and partners, working as Rzeka LLC, bought a 1-acre site on South 89 that had been the home of Rocky Mountain Supply, a brick and stone supplier that now does business on Gregory Lane. Senn won approval for the live-work concept in about 20,450 square feet in six buildings. (For a breakdown, see sidebar.) The site is just north of where Flat Creek crosses the highway, basically across from Smith’s Food and Drug.
Despite a bad start selling Farmhouse units, Senn said via email this week that he sees the project turning a corner. He and his partners, Senn said, “remain excited about the future of Farmhouse and believe it will become a vibrant neighborhood filled with unique and creative people living, working and playing in Jackson.”
Senn said that since the Gillespies took over “we’ve already seen a great deal of new interest and excitement in the project.”
Gillespie thinks that the underlying concept is solid and that in a market that limits new construction people will come around.
Given the product, he said, prices at Farmhouse “are one of the lowest price points on the market” in a town where “commercial space is at a premium.
“You get a lot of quality living space” at the project, he said.
Though the actual property line stops short of the creek on much of the parcel, he said it’s also a benefit that “it’s the only new product in town you can get on Flat Creek.”
Prugh agreed that live-work offers advantages and that there are buyers.
The concept, he said, “worked out well at Pine Box and up on the hillside. It works well for artists and for self-proprietors. Ultimately, I think, they have a project that’s well situated on the creek, and that’s in town, which is great. It will work itself out.”