BusinessDen headed out east for our “The Future of Aurora” event this week.
Much of the discussion revolved around two large areas with development potential within the city: the thousands of acres out by Denver International Airport and the approximately 50 acres that remain of the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center campus, which closed in 1999.
About 150 BusinessDen readers attended the event at Aurora’s Dry Dock Brewing Co., which was presented by The Aurora Highlands and featured a panel discussion with five individuals doing business in the city or otherwise guiding Aurora’s growth.
Carla Ferreira is the director of on-site development and principal of The Aurora Highlands, a 4,000-acre master-planned community that will eventually feature about 13,000 residential units along with schools, a hospital and other commercial space.
“We really get to start from scratch and build a city, so we get to plan the best use of the land,” Ferreira said. “We get to decide where the houses should go, where the parks should go, where the schools and hospital need to be, and where shopping, dining and other activities should be allocated in a way that functions for everybody. And master plans are really unique in that we have a price point for everybody because we want every single person to find their home in the Aurora Highlands.”
Along with Ferreira, panelists included Suzy Hart, general manager of the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center; April Giles, vice president of business development at Fitzsimons Innovation Community; Brian Wynne, president and co-founder of Wynne Yasmer Real Estate; and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman.
Hart told attendees that the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center’s parent company Ryman Hospitality Properties purchased 130 acres surrounding the hotel last year and has a 10-year plan to expand.
“The 130 acres are almost in a U-shape around the resort, and we have got fantastic plans,” Hart said. “We’re in development now and design with architects in what those 130 acres will look like, but it will be things that complement the community and also complement the resort. We’ve done this in Orlando and Dallas, and we’re not ready yet to disclose all those plans, but we’re going to fit right in with the fabric of the community with local businesses, entertainment and many different aspects to come.”
Just west of I-225 at Montview Boulevard, adjacent to the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus, Fitzsimons Innovation Community is guiding development of a 125-acre science and technology campus where the Army center once operated.
Giles noted that Fitzsimons Innovation Community is aiming to grow the life science industry.
“There are 80 companies that are all life science-focused in our community, so we really help to partner with those companies, from a startup entity that might be one person, all the way through large-scale commercial companies that have a product approved through the FDA and are literally delivering product right across the street to one of our hospital systems,” Giles said.
Just south of the campus, Wynne Yasmer Real Estate is constructing a 370-unit apartment building. The firm and its partners are also building the One River North 16-story apartment building at 3930 Blake St. in RiNo that will feature a gash of greenery.
“We looked at the Anschutz Medical Campus, and there are currently 30,000 plus jobs, nearly 40,000, which is an absolutely extraordinary employment note when you look at the extremely fractured employment locality in the metro area. So, that was extremely exciting to have that concentration,” Wynne said.
Mayor Coffman touched on a number of topics concerning Aurora, including his proposal for a new water conservation ordinance, which would in part ban new golf courses and turf landscaping in front yards as the city and state face worsening drought conditions.
“Aurora has the best prospects for growth. If we do nothing and continue to grow, we’re going to procure incredibly expensive water rights because the easy ones are all bought up,” Coffman said. “It’s going to affect water rates and water cap fees across the city and make us less competitive in terms of our economy, so the time to address it is now.”
Although The Aurora Highlands is in the early stages of physical development, Ferreira said they are already starting to think about how they can comply with the potential changes the mayor wants to make.
“This certainly presents a challenge, but it’s a challenge we were made aware of recently, and we’re going to work creatively to overcome it,” Ferreira said. “I’m from Las Vegas and we have a lot of xeriscaping, so we know ways to create beautiful landscaping and amenities without overusing plants or grass that need a lot of water. We are actively researching all the ways we can overcome this and assist Aurora with this challenge.”