Its been a long time coming…like over a decade, but the “Train to the Plane” is finally here! My wife and I braved the new rail line with our 3 kiddos and some friends – we figured a dry run with no luggage and no pressure would be a good idea before embarking on the real thing. I’m happy to report that we only lost 1 of the 3, not bad! But seriously, the ride was smooth, uneventful and actually really fun! And when RTD says 37 minutes from Union Station to DIA, they nailed it…pretty impressive.
Our friends over at the Denver Post wrote up a fantastic summary so if you’d like to ready up a bit more, here you go (we spiced it up with some pics of our own journey!):
“The train to Denver International Airport is now in service, and that means big things beyond commuters and travelers looking for a convenient transportation option. For developers, the land around 23 miles of track has entered a new phase — from the site of future rail service to a destination for thousands of people boarding and disembarking every day.
“Until it’s there and people are really riding it and understanding it, there’s not a whole lot of interest,” said Jim Chrisman, senior vice president with Forest City Stapleton, the master developer of the Stapleton community and a landowner along the airport train line.
The A-Line — or the University of Colorado A-Line as it’s officially branded —
branded — began service Friday, ferrying its first passengers from the heart of Lower Downtown to DIA in about 37 minutes.
Transit-oriented development, or TOD, around the line’s eight stations is en route, as well, although how much and when depends on the station.
That leaves six stations still in the mix. Some are well into the process, with projects already complete, underway or in the planning stages. Others, though, face challenges that could delay any sort of major redevelopment for years.
3737 Blake St., Denver
This stop is a four-minute jaunt from Union Station, and the only remaining questions about transit-oriented development here are how high and how dense.
In recent years, industrial properties around 38th & Blake Station have changed hands at breakneck speed, much like the rest of River North.
Across the street from the station, the Urban Land Conservancy holds a 1.4-acre assemblage and is working with developer Medici Communities to build 108 affordable one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments in the first phase of development, spokeswoman Christi Smith said.
ULC and Medici are waiting for word from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority aboutlow-income housing tax credits for the project.
On the other side of Downing Street, Denver-based Elevation Development Group has strung together more than 2 acres for a large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment.
Details haven’t been announced, but principal Brent Farber said the project will include retail, office and a hotel. Construction is expected to begin this year.
“Most of the stuff you’re seeing is highly residential,” Farber said. “We feel the connection to the airport is going to change the way people do business.”
City officials are working with area stakeholders to clarify height and density guidelines for what likely will be high-intensity, mixed-use redevelopment around the station. Public meetings so far have indicated support for buildings as tall as 12 to 15 stories, officials said.
“There’s definitely some urgency given all the activity there,” said Denver citywide TOD manager Chris Nevitt. “We want to provide clear direction.”
40th & Colorado
4220 Garfield St., Denver
This station has seen a flurry of development activity on the east side of Colorado Boulevard. On the west side, not so much.
Denver-based developer Delwest has been working east of the station for more than a decade, creating a neighborhood of condominiums, townhomes, luxury apartments and, most recently,income-restricted apartments north of Park Hill Golf Club.
A pedestrian and bike trail that goes under Colorado Boulevard connects the new eastside residents to the train platform.
CEO Joe DelZotto said what first attracted Delwest to the area was the drive-by traffic on Colorado.
“We heard rumblings back in the early 2000s that there might be a rail stop happening somewhere in the area,” DelZotto said. “And I said, I’ll make the decision based on the traffic — and if the rail happens, it’s just gravy. It’d be great. And so we got both.”
To the west, however, infrastructure issues pose a challenge to development near the station, where today there is largely a mix of industrial warehouses and single-family homes.
Chief among the issues is an old railroad spur owned by the city that’s in a deep ditch directly west of the train platform, Nevitt said.
“If we can figure out how to fill that in and reconnect the road network, we would suddenly create a much bigger area that is transit-adjacent and thereby likely to become transit-oriented development,” he said. “Right now, people can stand at the side of the ditch and look at the station, but it would take them 20 minutes to walk all the way around.”
Denver’s TOD Strategic Plan envisions less dense but still pedestrian-friendly development around the station, with a focus on lower-scale residential and neighborhood-serving commercial uses.
8200 Smith Road, Denver
Travel another three minutes east by train to Central Park Station, and it’s a different story.
Forest City Stapleton owns all five vacant lots immediately to the south of the station, and the first wave of development announcements could begin within the next six months, Chrisman said.
Envisioned for the 35-acre site: a high-density, mixed-use “urban center” with buildings that front sidewalks and active, public open spaces.
“Overall, it could be 1.5 million square feet of office space, up to 1,000 units of multifamily, with support retail,” Chrisman said. “We’d like to do a hotel. We’d like to do condominiums when that market is able to come back.”
Vertical construction is likely a year or more away, but Chrisman said Forest City Stapleton is seeing tremendous interest in the site, which sits behind big-box retail at Quebec Street and Smith Road.
“This is the last, almost the crown jewel of the Stapleton development,” he said. “We’re really focused on it now pretty heavily.”
Already a busy hub for RTD bus service, Central Park is poised to become a regional employment hub, as well — an important part of the overall TOD strategy, Nevitt said.
Zoning there generally allows for buildings up to 16 stories high.
“We want transit to connect people to jobs,” Nevitt said. “If you live next to transit but your job isn’t next to transit, transit isn’t going to do much good. If we’re going to maximize our investment, we need to do a good job of having all parts of your life transit-accessible.”
11501 E. 33rd Ave., Aurora
Crossing into Aurora, the next stop is Peoria Station.
At the junction of the commuter rail line and future light-rail service paralleling Interstate 225, Peoria will be one light-rail stop away from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and Fitzsimons Innovation Campus when the R-Line opens this year.
Transit-oriented development at Peoria still could be years away, said Aurora interim planning director Bob Watkins.
“The challenge there is you’ve got fragmented ownership, a number of owners of smaller properties that have been industrial in nature,” Watkins said. “It may be one of the last TODs to actually happen.”
Station-area plans call for a walkable, urban street grid where there are now industrial facilities and few streets. Proposed land uses include office, transit-supporting retail and residential.
Also in the area are the Denver County jail, an Aurora water treatment facility and a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement contract detention facility.
The city has received grant funding to extend the regional greenway system in the area, connecting the station to the Sand Creek Regional Greenway to the south, Watkins said.
“At some point, it will appear to be valuable enough for somebody to go in and start, with partnership of the city, start putting those properties together for a larger development,” Watkins said. “That takes time. That’s hard work.”
3900 Salida St., Aurora
Near the Interstate 70-Peña Boulevard interchange, empty fields flank 40th & Airport/Gateway Park Station, but that won’t be the case for much longer.
Denver-based The Pauls Corp. owns much of that land and has been working for more than 20 years on the Gateway Park development, which encompasses 1,300 acres on both sides of Peña, president Paul Powers said.
The west side of Peña is approaching full build-out, with office buildings, hotels, restaurants and apartment complexes. Construction on the east side, closest to the station, could begin within a year.
Exact plans remain under wraps, but Powers said The Pauls Corp. is working with companies interested in locating offices near the station.
“It will involve hotels, office, residential, R&D and some industrial and, of course, retail,” Powers said.
Already in the area are a handful of industrial and research and development users, includingnatural food distributor UNFI and kitchen appliance company Roth Distributing.
Station-area plans envision “a pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use area that may be more of an employment area south of 40th Avenue, and a mixed-use area north of 40th Avenue.” A memorandum of understanding with DIA could allow for development in the Peña right of way abutting the station, Powers said.
“We always believed with the movement of DIA from Stapleton that this was a centerpiece of where the activity would be,” Powers said.
6045 Richfield St., Denver
The last stop before DIA, 61st & Peña Station, and the mostly undeveloped land surrounding it has been called many things: transit-oriented development, aerotropolis, smart city.
“The concept is to make it a smart, sustainable community, not just a business park,” said Ferd Belz, senior vice president of real estate for Denver-based L.C. Fulenwider. “It will be truly mixed-use.”
Panasonic’s 112,000-square-foot building should open late this summer, a four-minute walk from the rail station. Xcel Energy is building a smart grid to store excess solar power for backup use by the technology company.
The next project, a 220-unit apartment complex, should begin construction this fall, followed by the site’s first hotel and restaurant next spring, Belz said.
At full build-out, 61st & Pena could be home to 2,500 residential units, 1,500 hotel rooms, 500,000 square feet of retail and 1 million to 1.5 million square feet of office space.
“For the longest time, people thought it was the redheaded stepchild out that way. But the airport is such an economic engine for the entre region,” Belz said. “With the rail connection now, people are starting to realize this is the next quadrant of opportunity.”