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Ted Steers is part of an investment group planning an automated modular housing factory in Grand Junction south of Community Hospital, seen in the background. (Jason Blevins, The Colorado Sun)

GRAND JUNCTION — On a baked patch of clay next to a growing hospital, a group of investors plans to ease the Western Slope’s housing crisis with a $45 million automated factory that could turn out 100 ready-to-assemble apartment units a month.  

“No one has ever built something like this in the U.S.” said Ted Steers, who is part of a Front Range investment group planning a European-inspired factory in Grand Junction. “This is a key part to solving the workforce housing crisis. We need to build housing faster, better and more inexpensively.”

This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.

In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.

The investors have acquired 177 acres in Grand Junction south of Community Hospital for a development they’re calling Centennial Park. The site is zoned for 2,000 units and the group has already sold lots to apartment builders planning 700 units. Soon, the group plans to break ground on a 237,000-square-foot facility developed by Mosaic Housing, a new modular housing company that proposes using computers and robots to build apartment buildings. 

The plan mirrors Scandinavia’s modular home factory — the largest in Europe — that deploys robots to build 25,000 square feet of housing every week. The Lindbäcks Bygg facility in Sweden can build apartment buildings that are 16 stories and can be assembled in a matter of days. A new ilke Homes factory in Great Britain is delivering 2,000 modular homes a year, each built in less than 12 weeks.  

The first apartments planned for the Grand Junction site will be modular and built in factories in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. It costs about $8 a mile to ship about 1,000 square feet of modular housing, so shipping alone adds close to $2.5 million to the cost of the modular housing erected in Colorado but built at factories across the country. 

There’s a growing embrace of modular housing in Colorado. Buena Vista’s Fading West factory will soon start turning out two fully built, ready-to-assemble homes a day. Simple Homes in Denver’s Globeville neighborhood is pre-building structures with an indoor assembly line of home builders. The indieDwell modular affordable housing factory opened in Pueblo last year with a capacity to produce 160,000 square feet of housing a year. 

And Colorado lawmakers want to bolster the state’s modular housing market with a $40 million loan program for manufacturers who can build homes to offset a statewide housing shortage.  

The European model — with a $17 million robotic factory inside a $29 million building — will differ from other modular factories that deploy trades workers inside warehouses to build homes just as they do outside. The computerized process will require machine operators — Steers estimates the factory would employ as many as 160 at full production — more than construction workers.

“The Grand Valley is the right place for this,” Steers said, speculating that modular buildings could be distributed across the Western Slope as well as Utah and Arizona. “Take the shipping costs away from ordering modular buildings in Pennsylvania or Houston and we can make a big dent in the region’s housing crisis. Building this in Grand Junction makes the most sense.”

Commercial real estate is red hot in Grand Junction right now. Sales of commercial properties reached $250 million in 2021, a 50% spike from 2020.

Halliburton is developing a former industrial parcel on the Colorado River into a 44-acre warehouse and office campus. Steamboat Springs’ opportunity zone investment firm Four Points Funding is building a 96-unit affordable apartment complex in the city’s Las Colonias Park. Ohio-based national retail giant Washington Prime Group is redeveloping Grand Junction’s Mesa Mall next to the Centennial Park project. On the other side of the project, Community Hospital is constructing a new 130,000-square-foot cancer center.

The 177-acre site where Mosaic plans its housing factory has been vacant for decades as the original owners — who grazed sheep on the parcel — mulled development. 

Diane Schwenke, the head of the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce, said the housing factory project is well timed. A 2021 Grand Valley housing needs assessment showed the number of building permits for multifamily units peaked in 1981 and has not rebounded to previous highs set before the last recession in 2007. That study showed Mesa County needing 3,572 more rental homes by 2030.

“And this is just today. As the community grows, we will need even more housing stock,” Schwenke said. “The housing need is immediate in our area and the fact that this project can manufacture multifamily units and products other than single family homes in a timely manner is not only appealing but necessary if we are to begin closing the housing gap.”

Jason Blevins lives in Eagle with his wife, daughters and a dog named Gravy. Topic expertise: Western Slope, public lands, outdoors, ski industry, mountain business, housing, interesting things Location: Eagle, CO Newsletter: The...