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Posted: February 11, 2014

Real Estate Roundup: Reclaiming Brighton Boulevard

Projects in the works to transform corridor from I-70 to downtown

Margaret Jackson

Long eyed by Denver planners for its potential, the Brighton Boulevard corridor is attracting the attention of developers and businesses wanting to locate in what once was a tangle of rail yards and large industrial plants.

Though slow to evolve, the renaissance started with the early vision of urban pioneer Mickey Zeppelin, whose 20-acre mixed-use project TAXI was catalytic to the development of River North (RiNo) – a neighborhood north of downtown that Brighton bisects. Firm believers in the area, Zeppelin and his son Kyle recently opened The Source, an urban artisan market on Brighton. They’re also planning a 50-unit family housing project expected to break ground this spring.

“The next chapter is really thinking about families and how different demographics can have living spaces here,” Kyle Zeppelin said.

Revitalizing the area is also a priority for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who, during his State of the City address last July, said a coordinated push on six key projects will turn the corridor into an inviting entry to downtown.

Six key projects

1.  Improving the National Western Stock Show facility

2.  Collaborating with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) on the reconstruction of Interstate 70

3.  Working with the Regional Transportation District (RTD) to plan the new light-rail stations that will serve the area

4.  Reclaiming the South Platte River

5.  Improving the infrastructure along Brighton Boulevard

6.  Ensuring the Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhood plans are aligned with each other

National Western Center

In July 2013, Denver, the Western Stock Show Association, Colorado State University, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and History Colorado agreed to collaborate on the redevelopment plan for the National Western Center: a year-round destination that aligns education, economic development, tourism and entertainment to celebrate the city’s Western heritage.

A group of 30 neighborhood business owners, residents and public officials formed the National Western Center Advisory Committee in October to help guide the planning process.

“Whatever plan we come up with has to be finished by December 2014 to be approved,” said Jin Tsuchiya, associate account executive at CRL Associates Inc., who is helping guide the committee. “We want to work with the current City Council so we can get to a decision more quickly.”

South Platte River

A recent study commissioned by the City and County of Denver found that the South Platte River corridor has the potential to attract investment of nearly $260 million that could generate 773 construction jobs and 352 permanent employment positions with an average annual salary of $55,370. About 1,230 new residents would live near the river in new developments and spend $8.7 million each year on taxable goods.

The Greenway Foundation has been working with the city on a plan for the river and has about $20 million to put toward improvements.

“When you invest in your city’s waterways, you not only add recreation value, you’ve also accomplished one of the greatest economic development opportunities a city can create,” said Jeff Shoemaker, executive director of the Greenway Foundation.

Residential rising

Two major apartment developments were recently completed in the River North neighborhood. Cypress Real Estate Advisors assembled a 28.8-acre site from 13 different sellers to build The Yards, a 301-unit complex at Denargo Market that previously was occupied for light-industrial uses.

Since Prospect LLC opened Block 32, a 205-unit apartment building on Brighton, the building has been performing at 25 percent over its pro forma, both in terms of occupancy and rental rates, according to Jim Johnson, founding principal of JG Johnson Architects, which designed the building.

“It’s built on cheaper land, so it’s not as dense as downtown properties,” Johnson said. “If you go across the barrier where Brighton turns into Broadway, you have a much more expensive development platform.”

Industry Denver, a 120,000-square-foot collaborative work space on Brighton between 29th and 31st streets, also includes a residential component. Dean Koebel of Koebel and Co. plans to develop 65 townhomes on the site, and San Antonio-based Lynd Group will build an eight-story condo project.

“We’re truly creating a neighborhood,” said Josh Marinos, a partner at Industry Denver. “The 120,000-square-foot office building is the epicenter.”

But all the development is raising concerns that existing residents will be displaced. Denver City Councilwoman Judy Montero is working to ensure that the low-income residents in the Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods are not forced out.

“One of the challenges is balancing diversity in that area,” said Montero, whose district includes the corridor. “I don’t think it’s as affordable as it can be, and I don’t think it’s as mixed-income as it can be. It’s really important to have that on Brighton Boulevard.”

Interstate 70

The city hired urban design consultant Ron Straka to tweak the I-70 plan CDOT revealed in April. The plan calls for demolition of the 60-year-old bridge between Brighton and Colorado boulevards to rebuild about a mile of the highway below grade on the existing alignment. I-70 would be capped with a greenway between Columbine and Clayton streets, unifying the Swansea and Elyria neighborhoods, which were divided when the highway was built in the 1960s.

“The work we’ve been doing with CDOT has been focused on finding the balance of reconnecting the neighborhoods,” the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative’s Kelly Leid said.

Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for The Denver Post covering residential and commercial real estate. She can be reached at myjackson7@gmail.com.

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