A massive “aerotropolis” is planned for a patch of the plains near DIA that could end up bigger than the Denver Tech Center
An 80 million-square-foot site for future retail, housing and industry near DIA now has a plan to pay for roads and could break ground in weeks
An Aurora development that in size could rival the Denver Tech Center and downtown Denver’s central business district — with up to 80 million square feet of commercial, office and retail space — is expected to break ground as soon as this spring on a quiet stretch of prairie just south of Denver International Airport.
The bulk of the 21,000-acre site, which includes the planned 23,000-home Aurora Highlands project and developer estimates of tens of thousands of jobs, sits at the northeast corner of Interstate 70 and E-470. While completion is decades away, the enormousness of the project is sure to gradually tilt the metro area’s economic might eastward, said Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan.
“This is the start of some things we’ve had planned for some time,” Hogan said. “It’s a pretty … big project.”
The initiative is the largest step forward yet for an airport-anchored community, or “aerotropolis,” in the Denver area that for years was on the drawing board.
A possible breakdown for the project: 10 million square feet of retail, 30 million square feet of Class A office space and 40 million square feet of industrial and commercial space on land that stretches from DIA to just south of I-70 and from E-470 to Monaghan Road.
That’s more in total than the roughly 71 million square feet in the Denver metro area’s north-central sector that includes downtown and the 65 million square feet in the metro area’s southeast submarket, which encompasses the Denver Tech Center, all according to global real estate services and investment firm CBRE.
“Now we have the challenge of actually making it work rather than the exhaustive challenge of trying to make it work,” Hogan said, referring to the years of planning that has gone into figuring out how to best harness the potential of plentiful land adjacent to one of the nation’s busiest airports.
The turning point occurred late last month, when Aurora, Adams County and the Aerotropolis Area Coordinating Metropolitan District finalized a deal that forms a regional transportation authority, an entity critical to raising the money necessary to pay for the project’s roads and infrastructure.
Matt Hopper, president of the Aerotropolis Metro District, said without the authority, which has the power to levy taxes that can be used to finance the project’s infrastructure backbone, no single city, county or developer was willing to risk putting in the $200 million necessary to outt the site with roads and utilities.
“With this intergovernmental agreement, we took the huge step forward to making the connections necessary to bring in the jobs and the housing,” Hopper said “It puts the connections there so there’s something to develop off of.”
Those new connections will include a bulked-up Powhaton Road, which will connect I-70 to DIA and provide some relief to trafc volumes on Peña Boulevard. There are also plans to add an interchange on E-470, at the yet-to-be-built 38th Avenue, as well as two new connections on I-70 — one at Powhaton Road and one at Piccadilly Road.
Hopper said the development, a piece of the aerotropolis idea first articulated more than ve years ago by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to build airport-anchored communities, is designed to operate in harmony with DIA.
“DIA is a great asset to the entire region,” he said. “This really puts us on an even footing with other airports around the world.”
Work will begin in the southwest corner of the site, where plans for the 2,900-acre Aurora Highlands are already in full swing. The master-planned community of homes, parks, ofces and shopping districts could eventually grow to 5,000 acres — and 60,000 residents — filling in the land between E-470 and Powhaton Road and 26th Avenue to 56th Avenue.
The aerotropolis project’s commercial and industrial facilities would be located further to the east, in an area that lies under the flight paths of hundreds of planes landing daily at DIA. Planners are trying to make sure they don’t subject residents to noise from the airport by building homes there.
Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said the aerotropolis development will make the county and Aurora “growth centers” around DIA, which will have ripple effects on outlying communities.
“I’m more than excited about this,” he said. “I think this is going to spark more of the same in the area.”
Not that there hasn’t already been activity spurred by DIA’s continued growth: Last year was the airport’s busiest year ever, with more than 60 million travelers starting and ending trips or connecting to other flights at DIA.
Colorado’s largest hotel, the 1,501-room Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center, is set to open later this year just a few miles south of DIA. Earlier this month, Pure Cycle Corp. announced that it had broken ground on Sky Ranch, a 506-home development just east of Powhaton Road and south of I-70.
And one train station down from the airport stop on the University of Colorado A-Line, Denver’s futuristic smart city known as Peña Station Next continues to roll out innovations, like an autonomous shuttle, high-density Wi-Fi and LED street lamps.
“It makes a difference far beyond the boundaries of Aurora,” Hogan said of the aerotropolis project.
Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, said the impact of development around DIA can go far beyond the metro area to a national and even international reach.
“What it really does for us as a state is ensure we have the ability to offer that asset,” she said. “There’s no question we understand the asset that is DIA — it’s our port to the world.”