The final frontier: Inside the last days of the Stapleton development

Real Estate Report: The master-planned urban development has only one neighborhood left to complete

One of the nation’s most ambitious – and successful – master-planned urban developments is nearly done. There’s just one residential neighborhood left to complete in Stapleton, which is built on the site of the old Stapleton Airport: North End, located north of 56th Avenue and east of Dallas Street at the northern edge of the 4,700-acre community.

Brookfield Asset Management’s $11.4 billion acquisition of Stapleton developer Forest City Enterprises in December 2018 gave its subsidiary, Brookfield Residential, its first opportunity to build homes in the award-winning neighborhood. About 600 unimproved lots remain, half of which Brookfield Residential will build on and the rest distributed among builders that have been working in Stapleton for years, says Tasha Jones, Brookfield’s senior director of marketing and community relations for Stapleton.

“One of the things Brookfield does so astutely is analyze and assess thoroughly,” says Jones, who previously was with Forest City and had been working on the Stapleton project for 14 years before the acquisition. “This is a 4,700-acre development with lots of opportunities. This was a sound decision to continue to work with long-standing builder partners.”

To date, more than 8,900 homes have been completed and more than 29,000 residents have moved in. Commercial space that’s either complete or under construction includes about 2.6 million square feet of retail and 400,000 square feet of office, along with 3.7 million square feet of other types of commercial space. There also are 20 schools, seven swimming pools and more than 1,200 acres of open space completed.

Home builders currently working in the first phase of Stapleton’s North End neighborhood include Infinity Home Collection, Thrive Home Builders, David Weekley Homes, Wonderland Homes, Parkwood Homes and KB Home.

The second phase of the North End neighborhood is in final design, and construction is projected to start by the end of 2019. The company is in the process of determining who will get which lots, a decision that was expected to be made in September.

The months-long delay between Brookfield’s acquisition of Forest City and the doling out of lots has meant that Stapleton builders in North End are nearly out of homes to sell and have not been able to release new ones. Brookstone also is considering requiring builders to pay up-front for the lots, which could potentially push out smaller builders that might not be able to come up with so much cash.

Still, Boulder Creek Neighborhoods founder and President David Sinkey, who has been building homes in Stapleton for nearly a decade, says he hopes to be able to acquire some lots in North End for the company’s Wee Cottages models but is uncertain what the outcome will be.

“We’re excited about the community and would love to have the opportunity to participate in that,” Sinkey says. “Brookfield had a lot of things they needed to get their arms around.”

Sinkey has completed projects in the Bluff Lake neighborhood on the Aurora side and is just finishing up with patio homes in the Beeler Park neighborhood. He’s built homes in a number of other locations, as well.

“There’s a lot of diversity of housing types, so it becomes home to a wide diversity of people,” Sinkey says. “There’s an incredible interweaving of green space and appropriate retail that functions really well.”

When Forest City began negotiating with the city for the development of Stapleton, it committed to building 10 percent of affordable for-sale housing and 20 percent residential rental projects at complete buildout.

At full buildout, it is estimated there will be 8,995 market-rate and 999 income-restricted for-sale homes at Stapleton. Land has been set aside for 922 income-qualified for-sale homes, 636 of which have been built or are under construction. Brookfield is in the process of identifying the lots where the remaining 77 homes will be built.

As of June 30, the number of rental units built or under construction was 1,900, and the number of income-qualified units built or under construction was 542.

“We’re estimating there will be 3,700 multifamily market-rate rental units, but that all depends on the market,” says Brian Fennelly, chief financial officer of the Brookfield Stapleton Development.

Jones says Brookfield will continue to honor the commitment to affordable housing and will work with Thrive Home Builders and Northeast Denver Housing to build income-qualified housing at Stapleton.

On the commercial side, Brookfield has sold property to third-party developers. In recent months, Evergreen Devco and City Street Investors have been developing The Shops at Beeler Park at the northwest corner of 56th Avenue and Central Park Boulevard. The 6.8-acre site will have two multi-tenant retail buildings and five single-tenant retail buildings totaling 15,500 square feet. Completion is slated for November.

There are still 153 acres of land designated for mixed-use development remaining, with the majority of it adjacent to the University of Colorado A-Line connecting Denver Union Station downtown with Denver International Airport.

Forest City was selected as the master planner and developer in fall 1998. In May 2001, the company closed on $145 million of public financing and started construction. The first residents moved into the community in June 2002.

“The biggest reason we moved there is that the park system is doubling the parks within the city of Denver,” says Susan Stanton, who has lived in Stapleton since 2003. “The ability to be living in the city and have access to this massive parks and open space structure really can’t be found anywhere else in the city.”

The neighborhoods surrounding the old airport had a stake in creating the Stapleton Development plan, also known as the Green Book, which was a critical document when it came time to select a developer.

“We had to find a developer that would honor the efforts of surrounding neighborhoods in creating the Green Book,” says Stanton, who now runs her own land-use consulting firm. “Forest City had the perfect mix of ability to adapt to a vision created by a community and the horsepower to execute it.”

In the nearly two decades since homes first started being built at Stapleton, the community has been a significant supplier of the region’s new homes. As full build-out of the community nears completion, there will be ramifications both for home builders and fast-growing metro Denver.  Sinkey says there aren’t many developers who do large, master-planned communities on the scale of Stapleton that are well-executed.

“I don’t know what the impacts will be, but there will be an impact,” Sinkey says. “We’ll find places to build homes, but we’ll see who can step up to be a really good master-plan developer where you get all of the amenities.” 

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