As you’re driving throughout the town of Longmont, you’ll no doubt notice how many streets are named after the Pratt Family. The Pratt family has lived and worked in Longmont since 1912, and has done quite a bit to get the community to where it is today. The Plaza Event Center, which consists of the Best Western Plus Plaza Hotel, the Plaza Convention Center, and Harold’s were all conceived and started by the Pratt family. Here’s a little bit of background on this amazing Colorado family.
The beginning of “Pratt” as a company started with Marion Pratt in 1912. He provided the community of Longmont with its first Real Estate and insurance business, both of which were a very new concept for the times.
The way in which you bought and sold houses in the early 1900s was much different than today. Back then you didn’t have a broker or real estate agent. When you wanted to sell your house, you found a member of the community who was wealthy enough or influential enough to be able to buy your house. It was pretty simple at that time. If the right person was willing to purchase your house, he would give you the money, and he would own an extra house! When you wanted to buy a house, you would go to the same person and ask if he had any houses he’d like to sell. He would say “sure” and it was done!
Marion continued his business until his son Harold Pratt, took over the business as president of the Pratt Agency in the early 50’s. At that time, Harold started what was to become the largest and most successful residential real estate agency in Northern Colorado. Ken Pratt, Harold’s son, joined the company in 1969 developing 11 communities in the area. The only one outside of Longmont is in Lyons. If you took a map of Longmont and colored everything that Pratt has developed, you would see just how much the Pratt family has affected the growth of the community of Longmont.
In the 50’s and 60’s after World War II, the Front Range was just starting to grow. A small house located in Boulder County could be purchased for under 16,000 dollars. What you see of the northern Front Range today, the foundations of the residential and business community, began with Hewlitt Packard and IBM. Both companies brought people into Longmont, and those people needed homes. Therefore, the Pratt’s residential development business boomed.
These technology companies would take whatever was personally developed or created by its employees and patent the work under the company’s name. At the time, most employers worked this way. A lot of the best and brightest, who works fro these companies began to think “I don’t need this company; I can do this on my own.” So these engineers started to develop products in their basements, garages, bedrooms, wherever they had space. After providing homes for the employees, Ken and Susan Pratt began realizing a need for “homes” for small business. At that point in time, Longmont was primarily agricultural, and there wasn’t a good location where new start up companies could live. As part of their research, Ken and Susan traveled from Silicon Valley in California to Boston, Massachusetts to find out what kind of office the high tech industry needed. Some of the items they realized they needed were curb appeal, space for exercise and walking, a well educated labor market, excellent transportation systems, cheap power & water, and being near like industries! Being close to like businesses creates synergy, which has been dubbed in the 21st century as a “cluster.”
After visiting both of those locations, they decided to sell Longmont as the “center of the universe.” At the time, they weren’t able to say “come to Longmont, CO and see what kind of industry we have” because the most complex technology at the time was the sugar beet factory and the Kunner cannery. Susan and Ken found that people did not mind driving 30 miles to work, if they had a nice place to work and the amenities they wanted. As a result, they took a map of Colorado, made Longmont the center, and surveyed what was available within that 30 mile radius. They found that people didn’t care what was available specifically in Longmont, but what was available within those 30 miles.
So what about the labor market? Longmont itself had about 45,000 people. Not a very large labor market, but if you go out 30 miles in all directions, you pick up part of Boulder, most of Loveland, part of Fort Collins, and a good portion of northern Denver, not to mention Louisville, Lafayette, Broomfield and a host of smaller towns. That labor market is closer to 1,000,000. But what high tech companies need out of their labor market is brains and computer related skills. On their research trips, they realized that local labor markets were driven by strong universities (Stanford, University of California, Harvard, MIT, etc.) Although Colorado was a great place to live, and the education system is strong, there lacked engineering schools teaching the high tech skills. The only one was the Colorado School of Mines. Therefore, Ken and Susan decided to approach the University of Colorado at Boulder to talk to them about what they could specifically do to improve the overall economic outlook of Colorado. At least in part due to these talks, CU now has a strong engineering schools. Other local schools have followed suit, and you can see that CSU is now recognized internationally as one of the top biotech schools in the country.
The next item of importance to high tech companies is cheap power and water. Since the beginning of Longmont, water has been regulated — because of these regulations, the town can continue to safely expand with ample water supply. As long as the mountains have water, so will the town of Longmont. Power in Longmont is the 3rd least expensive along the front range. The same founders of the water regulations saw the need for power and helped build two power plants. Today, these power plants produce enough electricity that there is surplus, which allows for revenue generation, and a lower power cost to the Longmont consumers.
The last item of importance was transportation. The Stapleton Airport at the time was state of the art. I-25 and 287 run north and south, and I-70, I-80, I-40, and Highway 66 run east and west.
Office Park Development
After the research was done, Ken and Susan returned to Silicon Valley to talk to the high tech companies. They did not talk about the sleepy little agricultural city in Colorado. They talked about power and labor market and transportation. They talked about quality of life, the fact it hardly ever rains here, there is clean air or traffic jams. Then they flipped the chart over and compared Colorado to California. Denver became San Francisco, Fort Collins became San Jose and Longmont was right in the middle. The advantage was that California was limited by the ocean to the west and mountains to the east. Colorado was only limited to the west. Companies locating here had room to grow, and grow they did! So did Pratt. Building after building was created, but similar to the housing developments, communities were created, this time for industry. The business parks created by the Pratt family were more than just buildings. They featured curb appeal, and places to walk & gather outside. This is the idea behind the Plaza Convention Center.
With the new buildings, new jobs were created. There became a need for maintenance, landscape and construction divisions of the company. When new business partners brought in people from out of town, there became a need for a hospitality division. The original hotel was built in 1982, and has been through several remodels and major additions over the years. What started as a Raintree Plaza hotel has flown a few different flags over the years, and is now a Best Western Plus.
In 1995 Ken Pratt passed away after a long battle with cancer. Susan continued to grow the business as she does actively to this day! She purchased a ranch in Kremling, built the Village at Burlington and the Village Gardener, which is now Oskar Blues, as well as continuing to build new homes for industry.
At the turn of the century, Pratt owned a little over 2 million square feet of commercial space, employed over 430 team members, ran 2 retail businesses, a cattle ranch, and 2 hotels. In 2005, Pratt Land, a portfolio of 2 million square feet of industrial, commercial, and research space was sold to Circle Capital of Denver. This sale represents the largest sale of its kind in the history of Colorado.
With the 100th anniversary of Pratt doing business in Longmont, the hotel was re-branded to stake a bigger claim for a strong future in hospitality. The Pratt’s still seek more opportunities in Real Estate as they hold properties for rent and are listing properties for sale and/or development.