Workforce housing is in constant demand in our town of Jackson, Wyoming. After months of designing, listening and refining, Design Associates and Mercill Partners have been awarded the chance to develop 105 Mercill into a vibrant mix of housing and retail.

We at DA couldn’t be more excited about this chance to utilize our forward-thinking process in this project which will benefit Teton County and the Town of Jackson. In order to achieve this opportunity, we created a design and a development partnership. We wove together ideas, people and resources, ending up with a ​design that offers 31 units with 45 bedrooms, an outdoor courtyard with 6,700 square feet of common space, underground parking and over 6,500 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor. As we move forward, some of those statistics might adjust because we will engage the county into our in-house process of listening to the client (Teton County) and growing a detailed project from discussion and experience.

We first got started on the project when Teton County sent out a Request for Proposals (RFP) in March, 2019 concerning the rather large parcel of land currently occupied by the Children’s Learning Center and a cabin. The cabin will be moved and the property redeveloped with workforce housing. When we heard about the request, DA jumped at the chance to join the effort to produce at least 22 units of much needed housing in town. It has a lot of value to us to get this kind of project — not just in a fee, but also in experience, getting this project out there, on our portfolio. We can’t wait to show the community what we can do.

Usually, a developer will seek out an architect to get a project going. We were able to reverse the process because our methods and our software are so efficient. Utilizing Archicad and 3-D modeling, we put together a vibrant mixed-use design and then went in search of partners. Things went so well, we actually provided two of the five submitted proposals.

The first proposal was a stick-built version of the project with JH Builders doing the construction and Tyler Davis and Joe Rice working as a development team. Tyler Davis develops real estate and is co-​owner of Wyoming Property Management where he manages long-​term rentals, HOAs, and employee housing for several big employers in the area. Tyler brought in Joe Rice, founder of the Blue Collar Restaurant Group, a successful operation which employs over 400 people in many businesses throughout Jackson. JH Builders have worked on over 170 commercial and residential projects in Teton County. We put together a strong team for the first proposal.

The second proposal we presented was a prefabricated version with United Development Solutions, another strong partner.

Because we had two versions of the same basic building, members of the Housing Supply Board could compare apples to apples on the costs of the two different technologies — stick-built versus prefabricated. The Board was tasked with presenting the County Commissioners with a recommendation. The Housing Supply Board narrowed the field to four contenders, eliminating our prefabricated option. They decided the prefabricated technology wasn’t what they wanted for that property. Throughout the discussions and comments, we were able to constantly tweak and refine our design to meet the expressed needs. We modified it to the feedback we were getting.

You like this more than this? OK we will change it. The other development companies didn’t do that, they just stuck with their original design. It was just too hard to go back and

regenerate the designs. The Board, and ultimately the County Commission, saw that we were responsive to their comments.

Even when the Housing Trust showed up and argued for bigger units, we were able to show what 500 square feet units versus 1,000 square feet units would mean to the number of beds and the parking, etc. We showed them we were flexible to do a small-unit, high-density project or a large-unit, low-density project. Everything just adjusts. We wanted to impress them with how willing we were to get this job; how much we were willing to put into it to get it.

When the question of where the Jackson Hole Children’s Museum would end up, we even had options for that. Commissioners liked the proposal from the Jackson Hole Community Housing Trust which provided space for the museum. Because we included retail space on the ground floor, and an underground parking garage, our proposal is flexible enough to work with any non-profit seeking that space.

Parking is usually a limiter on how much you can build. Because we did an underground parking garage, we had all the parking we would ever need. Once the building settles out, then we’ll know how much parking we will need and we can scale back. Whatever we have reclaimed is space we can sell. The Children’s Museum, or any other non-profit, could have two floors and the lower floor would be quite cheap.

Another proposal aimed to be carbon-neutral. Winter energy demands in Jackson meant that their design ended up a bit austere. We feel we can address sustainability and green options with meeting or exceeding LEED Silver qualifications. In addition, we intend to include features with an eye to the future. For example, conduit lines in the parking structure to provide charging for electric cars.

It is DA’s forward-thinking and flexible position that led the Teton Board of Commissioners to officially chose our proposal on July 30. We will now engage the commissioners as a client. We will listen, respond and adjust as we do for all our clients. We aren’t just building this much-needed housing for today, but for tomorrow. We want this to serve our community well into the future.