AERO-POPULOUS: Build it in northeast Aurora, and developers say, they will come

Mar 7, 2018

AURORA | With a bustling airport nearby and a couple busy highways, northeast Aurora seems ripe for large-scale development.

And projects have flocked to the area in recent months, mainly massive distribution centers aiming to take advantage of Interstate 70, the state’s main east-to-west artery and one that gives trucks easy access to metro Denver and beyond.

But beyond the obvious major highways, there isn’t much connecting this corner of Aurora with the rest of the region, and there are even fewer major roads that could connect one new development to the next. That’s a problem that has bedeviled city leaders and developers looking to take advantage of this vast swath of prairie close to Denver International Airport, the E-470 Toll Road and I-70.

“The barrier to that has always been the transportation connection,” said Matt Hopper, managing partner at Summit Strategies, a government consulting company in Denver.

Last week, leaders from Adams County and the city of Aurora, along with developers behind a massive mixed-use development planned near I-70 and E-470, announced a new metro district that will pump $180 million — split between the city, county and developer — into infrastructure projects in the region. Work on new roads and other infrastructure in the area is expected to start as soon as this spring.

The aim, officials say, is to make the long talked about Aerotropolis project a reality.

Hopper, who will serve as president of the Aerotropolis Metro District, said the agency is a crucial part of developing the massive 21,000-acre chunk of land.

“It really does open up an entire region for development,” he said.

According to a statement announcing the plan, studies show the region could bring 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. That would add more than 170,000 jobs to the region, the statement said.

“By approving the RTA, Adams County is demonstrating that we are ready to take the next step in making the Aerotropolis vision more than just a dream,” Adams County Commissioner Chaz Tedesco said in the statement. “This agreement will provide the foundation for jobs, businesses and homes, as well as building reliable infrastructure for the future.”

One of the first beneficiaries of the new RTA will be The Aurora Highlands, a 5,000-acre mixed-use, master-planned community north of I70 and near E470

“The commitment by the City of Aurora and Adams County to the creation of the RTA shows their dedication to the development and long-term success of the entire Aerotropolis region,” Aurora Highlands, LLC Developer, Carlo Ferreira said in the statement. “It also shows their commitment to providing incredible economic opportunities for both current and future residents. The RTA will help both Aurora and Adams County safeguard access to more than 170,000 new jobs, create new communities to call home, and continue to offer all of the amenities that make up the Colorado lifestyle we treasure.”

The first phase of Aurora Highlands is expected to cover 2,900 acres but developers hope the project one day grows to 5,000-acres and home to more than 23,000 families as well as retail spaces, restaurants, parks, office space, and medical campuses.

Ferreria’s team is leading the first infrastructure projects at the site, which will include new interchanges on E-470 and I-70 as well as the extension of several other arterials through the development, according to the statement. The work will also include water, electric, sewer and storm drains.

Questions about how close oil and gas development could be to homes in Aurora Highlands remain a potential stumbling block to the project. Hopper said there are “ongoing discussions with the drillers” and officials hope to reach an agreement that allows for some energy development in the area that doesn’t encroach on home development.

Hopper said that while 200 years ago most development happened near ports and rivers, and 100 years ago it happened near railroads, the future will look to take advantage of airports the way Aerotropolis is.

“There is a big push nationwide and globally as well for aerotropolis-type developments built around airports,” he said.

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