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Posted: September 16, 2014

Real estate: Seven-year checkup

Anschutz Medical Campus takes shape as a veritable city of health sciences

Margaret Jackson

Seven years after the former Fitzsimons Army post was redeveloped as a hub for health care, education and research, the campus is doing exactly what it was created to do: breeding companies based on research developed at the hospitals and school on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Located on one square mile at Colfax Avenue and Peoria Street in Aurora, the campus is a critical engine to Colorado’s economy with an economic impact of $2.6 billion annually.

Nearly 50 companies are located on the campus’ north end in the Colorado Science + Technology Park at Fitzsimons, a 150-acre portion of the Fitzsimons Life Science District set aside for new development.

The Science + Technology Park serves companies at every stage of growth. An incubator with fully outfitted office suites and labs, it provides young companies with an array of advisory and administrative services. Construction has started on the 112,000-square-foot Bioscience 2 building, which will combine research, business and education under one roof. University of Colorado programs will occupy half of the building when it’s finished in August 2015.

The Charles C. Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine, which focuses on stem cell research to treat cancer and other diseases, is building a 12,000-square-foot good manufacturing practice (GMP) facility in one of the park’s existing buildings. GMP laboratories also will be available to local commercial companies.

“Last year we added nine companies,” said Steve VanNurden, president and chief executive of the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority (FRA), which oversees the Science + Technology Park. “A lot of the companies come from the university. It’s great to see new intellectual property is coming right across the street.”

In 2012, the FRA recruited VanNurden from Mayo Clinic Ventures, the invention arm for the Minnesota-based medical group, a testament to increased attention the medical research community is paying to the Anschutz campus.

The former Army base has become a city of 18,000 people who work and study on campus. Researchers receive about $400 million in grants each year, and since 2002 1,150 patent applications have been filed. There are more than 1.5 million clinical visits to the campus each year.

The FRA is re-evaluating the decade-old master plan that envisioned recruiting major bioscience companies that would build their own facilities. Now it’s focused on aligning itself with research institutions such as the University of Colorado.

“The need for the Pfizers of the world to build facilities has diminished as they’ve put more focus on research institutions,” said John Shaw, an independent consultant the FRA hired to oversee its real estate projects in the district. “There are 150 acres of property to be developed. That allows us to look at a number of other uses to support the hospitals and research centers. We’re looking at what we can place in the property that will enhance what is currently there.”

Those uses could include student housing and a hotel, in addition to laboratory and office space for emerging companies.

AURORA’S GAME CHANGER

The city of Aurora is leading a separate study on how best to develop the area surrounding the light-rail station planned on Fitzsimons Parkway. Originally planned for Montview Boulevard, the station was relocated to alleviate concerns that the vibration would disrupt sensitive laboratory equipment. It also creates an opportunity for the FRA to closely align the property with the campus. The original plan called for a five- to six-lane boulevard that would have included rail setbacks and created a swath of land that could not be redeveloped.

“Montview became a dividing line,” Shaw said. “As we’ve spent more time looking at it, we really don’t want there to be a hard line between the two campuses. This lets us create activities that can cross back and forth over Montview. That’s a fundamental change in the master plan.”

Today, the Anschutz campus includes six University of Colorado schools and colleges, the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado. It’s divided into three zones that promote collaboration and innovation: an education zone with facilities for training future physicians and other health-care professionals; a research zone; and a clinical-care zone with the University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Construction is under way on the $800 million, 1.2 million-square-foot VA Medical Center, which will include inpatient tertiary care and ambulatory care, a 30-bed spinal cord injury/disorder center, a 30-bed nursing home, a research building and parking structures.

In 2012, Children’s Hospital Colorado opened its $230 million, 10-story, 355,000- square-foot East Tower to meet growing demand. The expansion added 500 new jobs to the hospital’s work force, making it Aurora’s largest private employer with 5,090 employees.

“Having such a huge economic engine is a game changer for the city of Aurora,” said Wendy Mitchell, president and chief executive of the Aurora Economic Development Council. “And now the private bioscience side, as well as development around the campus, is really starting to take off.”

Last year, the University of Colorado Hospital completed a $400 million expansion that added 144 beds to its existing 407 beds. It included space to add up to 144 in the future, which it already is building out.

“When the first hospital tower opened in 2007, a lot of people were worried that our patients wouldn’t follow us to this new campus,” said Lilly Marks, vice president for health affairs for the University of Colorado and executive vice chancellor in charge at the Anschutz Medical Campus. “Just the opposite has happened.”

The university is working more closely with the FRA than it has in the past to ensure it leverages the expertise of its people to attract more relationships with the bioscience industry and foundations dedicated to finding cures for diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

It recently recruited Liz Concordia from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to be president and chief executive of University of Colorado Health and is in the process of searching for the next dean of the School of Medicine. The pool of candidates is deep, an affirmation that “we’re not just drinking our own Kool-Aid,” Marks said.

NATIONAL ACCLAIM

“There is growing national recognition of the amazing position of this place as being one of the up-and-coming movers in American medicine,” Marks said. “The magic is that we’re not just an outstanding clinical program and service. We are also sitting in the center of all this research and discovery. Our ability to connect the research with our clinical programs is what’s keeping the hospital full. We have outcomes that others can’t match.”

The University of Colorado Hospital has been ranked a Top 10 academic hospital in the U.S. for the last three years by the University HealthSystem Consortium. It’s also on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals list, as well as the publication’s list of best medical and nursing programs.

“It’s not an accident they’re at the top of the clinical list,” Marks said. “They’re also at the top of the research list. Our ability to wed those two components is what makes this campus special.”

But even after seven years, things are just getting started. At full development, the site is expected to consist of 18.5 million square feet, employ nearly 44,600 people and contribute $4.3 billion in personal annual income and $11.5 billion in total economic output annually, according to a study by Sammons/Dutton LLC, an economic research and analysis firm.

“We expect that the Anschutz campus within the next five to six years will be the second-largest economic generator in the region behind DIA,” said Tom Clark, chief executive of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. “It was part of a long-term strategy we had as a state starting back in the ’80s when we had a very nascent medical device and pharmaceutical employment cluster.”

The campus also is attracting private developers to an area that was a shambles of no-tell motels and trailer parks. At Fitzsimons Village, Corporex Colorado is building a $25 million conference center and parking garage, in addition to a 245-room hotel.

A joint venture between Denver-based BMC Investments and Kentro Group plans to develop a 4-acre site at 12100 E. Colfax Ave. across from the campus. The partnership intends to build up to 1 million square feet of medical office buildings.

BMC and Kentro are in discussions with multiple tenants looking to move into the area near the campus, including a large office/health care user that needs to be near the hospitals in the area.

“From an investment opportunity, what that campus has going for it is probably one of the most exciting opportunities from here to the West Coast,” said Matt Joblon, BMC’s chief executive. “Ten years from now, you won’t even recognize the place. The potential it has is second to none of any location in Denver from a private development standpoint.”

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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