Deciphering Denver, I.
Exploring Real Estate Market Indicators, 2018
LAND USE & GROWTH INITIATIVES
Abstract. Denver is in a tremendous time in its history. Traditionally a boom and bust oil town, Denver is out growing its roots and working with a vengeance to shake off its image as simply a cow town. With over 10,000 people moving here each year and a population expected to pass 700,000, Denver is in a unique position to be able to influence the way the city is built-out to accept and distribute the new arrivals. Since the early 1980’s Denver has been identifying areas that are ripe for growth while respecting the in place populace and embracing each areas unique qualities. With the surge of tax revenue and abundant capital, the boom Denver has seen is just the beginning and is in fact an actualization of a plan, not at random. What we see as Denver’s growth today is the low hanging fruit the city has wanted to pick for decades. This paper will address where Denver has been, how it has done, and where it is saying it’s headed. The goal is to put you, the investor, in the path that Denver is telling us it’s going down. The wave is on the horizon, let’s get you on it.
DECIPHERING DENVER, I.
1.0. Introduction. Denver is a city that is comprised of over 155 square miles, 78 neighborhoods, over 700,000 residents, and has grown increasingly more diverse in terms of jobs and populous since it was founded in 1858.
Historically, investing in real estate has been seen as one of the safest and most consistent investment vehicles in the market; this is still the case, especially in Denver. The $1 million dollar questions is: Where should you buy?
Figure 1. City and County of Denver Neighborhoods (2018)
2.0. Denver Over The Past 20 Years. Since 2002, Denver has grown by 150,000 residents and many neighborhoods have returned to densities not seen since the 1950’s. Denver has seen periods of significant growth over its history, and in releasing Comprehensive Plan 2000 and Blueprint Denver, Denver laid the rails to identify issues and address them one by one. Let’s see how they did.
2.1.0. Land Use: City Focus & Past Growth Initiatives. In 2000, Denver released its first comprehensive plan. This plan was made up of various parts to address issues that negatively affected Denver and its populace. A major portion of the plan dealt around land use, four main areas that were identified as needing overhaul were: Central Platte Valley, Lowry, Stapleton, Denver International Airport/Gateway. In these four areas, the city identified that there were massive disparities in zoning with industrial being adjacent to residential, pretty much a free for all for who wanted to build what where and not a cohesive identity that is so common in Denver today.
Figure 2. 1. Central Platte Valley; 2. Lowry; 3. Stapleton; 4. DIA/Gateway (Blueprint Denver 2002)
2.1.1. Central Platte Valley Redevelopment. The Central Platte Valley is what has been publicized today and what most people imagine as ‘Denver’. The thriving boutique shops, plethora of breweries that suite all tastes, and eateries that showcase cuisine from all corners or the world, you name it, Denver has it. Prior to this, the Central Platte Valley was Denver’s former railyard area and looking through the lens of circa 2000 Denver,
…is undergoing substantial public and private development. The area is now home to some of the City’s major sports and entertainment venues: Coors Field, Mile High Stadium, the Pepsi Center and Six Flags Elitch Gardens. Commons Park is under construction and the Platte River Greenway continues to be improved. Exciting development projects, including the REI Flagship Store in the old Forney/Powerhouse Building, Colorado’s Ocean Journey and the Flour Mill Lofts, set the stage for new development that complements Downtown, Lower Downtown and the adjacent Highlands neighborhood. (Blueprint Denver 2002 p. 68)
There was a massive effort to establish metropolitan defining venues such as stadiums, an aquarium, and retailer friendly outlets. This efforts combined with a stead fast effort to maintain and enhance the historic appeal and aesthetic of old time-y Denver, you get a major shift in what people perceive in a city. The influx of people that wanted to be apart of a cohesive and compelling vision such as this, all while on the front slope of the Rocky Mountains, is a case study in doing it the right way.
Neighborhoods Affected: Union Station, Potter Highland, Ballpark, Jefferson Park, Lower Highland (LoHi), Lower Downtown (LoDo), River North (RiNo), Sunnyside, Globeville
2.1.2. Lowry Air Force Base Redevelopment. Lowry Air Force Base, located in both Denver and Aurora, closed in 1993, creating an economic void in surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the opportunity to create a well-planned, mixed-use neighborhood on Denver’s eastern flank.
At Lowry, 1,800 acres are under redevelopment, including more than 4,000 housing units, a 185-acre high-technology campus and training center operated by the Colorado Community College and Occupational Education System, and 800 acres of open space. Lowry was planned and development begun under a cooperative arrangement between Denver and Aurora. (Blueprint Denver 2002, p. 69)
The master planned community brought in high end residential infill that positively influenced surrounding neighborhoods in an area that at one time had a stark divide of affluence.
Neighborhoods Affected: Lowry, Windsor, Crestmoore, Montclair, East Colfax
2.1.3. Stapleton Airport Redevelopment. At the time of this writing, Denver International Airport is about a 45 minute drive outside of the city. You might ask yourself: Why? Stapleton Airport is the reason. Denver’s primary airport was once right in the middle of Denver and Aurora and they were running out of space. The relocation of the airport to DIA left 4,700 acres, an area one-third the size of Manhattan, for redevelopment at the former Stapleton Airport site.
Stapleton’s comprehensive master plan includes 1,700 acres of open space, a 273-acre business center that will eventually offer 30,000 to 35,000 jobs, and housing for 25,000 residents from a wide range of income levels. Build-out is expected to take 30 years. The Stapleton Redevelopment Plan, which is part of the Denver Comprehensive Plan, shares the sustainable city guidelines of mixed-use development, and substantial open space and environmentally oriented facilities. (Blueprint Denver 2002, p. 79)
The area is a vibrant and homogenous, track home-esk for sure, but this style addressed a need Denver so badly needed. A massive part of this development was the commercial spaces that created a town center on Denver’s East side that did not exist before.
Neighborhoods Affected: Stapleton, Park Hill North, Park Hill South, Crestmoore, Montclair, East Colfax
2.1.4. Denver International Airport/Gateway. Denver’s primary airport, Stapleton airport, was once in the middle of the city. Knowing they were headed toward all of the issues that occur when residential and heavy commercial/industrial mix, the city decided to move the airport far and away from the city center. With grand visions of creating the countries central air hub, Denver International Airport was born.
Denver’s land area grew by 40 percent with the annexation of former Adams County land for Denver International Airport (DIA). The 4,500 acres of privately owned land within the Gateway provide opportunities for significant new housing and commercial development. The adopted plan for the area was the first to focus on the benefits of mixed-use development. (Blueprint Denver 2002, p. 71)
This area is comprised of mostly master planned new build communities. Large town centers service the surrounding neighborhoods and are filled with big box or national brands.
Neighborhoods Affected: Gateway, Green Valley Ranch, Montbello
Figure 3. Median sales price by growth initiative areas. (REColorado)
3.0. Denver In The Next 20 Years. In the summer of 2018, Denver released an updated comprehensive plan. This plan adopts several key points that are important for us to keep in mind as we assess where it might positively affect real estate value. 1) Adoption of transit oriented developments, 2) Fostering diverse zoning to create areas appealing to primary employers, and 3) Embracing, not hiding, the Platte River waterfront. The city going through a unique boom, and has attracted an extremely high concentration of skilled labor. The places where these primary employers would want to set up shop and house their employees are being deemed regional and community centers. This is where the smart investments are.
3.1.0. City Refocus & Proposed Growth Initiatives.
Figure 4. 1. Mile High Stadium District 2. Federal Boulevard Corridor; 3. National Western Stock Show Complex District; 4. Colfax Avenue Corridor (DENVERIGHT, Comprehensive Plan 2040)
3.1.1. Mile High Stadium District. Nestled between West Colfax, Jefferson Park, Sun Valley, and Interstate 25, Mile High Stadium houses one of the most successful football clubs in the nation: the Denver Bronco’s. Driving by during the off season, you would be shocked to see how under utilized the surrounding area is and the considerable drop off in activity for surround businesses. Since 2013, this area has been preparing to undergo a massive transformation. As of this writing, community meetings are actively being held to finalize a master stadium plan.
Current Plans: Decatur-Federal Station Area Plan (2013)
Neighborhoods Affected: West Colfax, Sun Valley, Villa Park, Sloan Lake, Jefferson Park, Lincoln Park, Villa Park
3.1.2. Federal Boulevard Corridor. Federal Boulevard is a tremendously under utilized asset on Denver’s West side. The street is a major North/South corridor that runs through some of the areas most prominent and affluent neighborhoods, as well as some of the least. As of this writing, the street’s major intersections include vacant, poorly kept, or ill suited establishments for the immediate populace. The city has proposed several key initiative to create a thriving boulevard that will take advantage of the new life breathed into Denver’s West side.
Current Plans: Federal Boulevard Corridor Plan (1995), Federal Boulevard Corridor Plan — Opportunities and Implementation Report (2017), Decatur-Federal Station Area Plan (2013)
Neighborhoods Affected: Chaffee Park, Sunnyside, Berkeley, Potter Highland, West Highland, Sloan Lake, Jefferson Park, West Colfax, Sun Valley, Villa Park, ,Valverde, Barnum, Athmar Park, Westwood, Mar Lee, Ruby Hill
3.1.3. National Western Stock Show District. The National Western Stock Show Complex is a major area in North Denver. As of this writing, the area is severely under utilized and is current zoning leads to heavy industrial/commercial being adjacent to residential. This area has been identified for growth initiative as early as 1991. With one major event each year, the National Western Stock Show, the venue and surround area is under utilized for the remainder of the year. The area is to be completely master planned in conjunction with the surrounding neighborhoods: Elyria, Swansea, Globeville, Cole, and Clayton. There are currently two light rail stations that service the edges of these communities but a light rail station is being opened in the middle of the stock show complex with transit oriented development being encouraged all around it.
Current Plans: Elyria & Swansea Neighborhood Plan (2015), Central 70 Cover Plan (2017), Globeville Neighborhood Plan (2014), National Western Center Master Plan (2015), South Platte River Corridor Study (2013), River North Plan (2003)
Neighborhoods Affected: Elyria Swansea, Globeville, Cole, Clayton, Five Points, RiNo, Chaffee Park, Sunnyside
3.1.4. Colfax Avenue Corridor. Colfax Avenue is Denver’s most historic and major West/East thoroughfare through the city. Touching 16 of Denver’s 78 neighborhoods, there is a quite a bit of change along the 26 miles it stretches, even block by block. From large theaters to small retailers, even the state capital building, Colfax has it all. The street has a storied past and has underwent quite a resurgence. Crime has been quelled significantly and business has come rushing back to the avenue. Being a state highway, the areas immediately surround it are able to pull resources from not just local, but state groups.
Neighborhoods Affected: Sloan Lake, Jefferson Park, West Colfax, Sun Valley, Villa Park, Edgewater, Lincoln Park, Hale, Montclair, South Park Hill, East Colfax
4.0. Creating An Actionable Conclusion. By measuring Denver’s track record, we can better assess their follow through on future proposals. From the four main areas of improvement in Denver’s 2000 comprehensive plan, the results clearly show a positive correlation between median sales price and municipal involvement using the comprehensive plan.
Looking through this lens, acquiring property in the boundaries where Denver has proposed it’s headed would be a smart investment. Due to the nature of the market, these opportunities are not endless. Although acquiring property later rather than sooner would see a fall off in the up side of appreciation, it should never be seen as having ‘missed the boat’. This is the next wave in the set - let’s get you in the right position.
 Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, “Comprehensive Plan 2000” https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/646/documents/planning/comprehensiveplan2000/CompPlan2000.pdf, 2000.
 Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, “Blueprint Denver” https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/646/documents/planning/blueprintdenver/BlueprintDenver.pdf, 2002.
 Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, “NWC-Master-Plan-2015” https://nationalwesterncenter.com/nwc-wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/NWC-Master-Plan-2015.pdf, 2015.
 Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, “DENVERIGHT, Comprehensive Plan 2040” https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/Denveright/documents/comp-plan/Comprehensive_Plan_2040_Public_Review_Draft.pdf, 2018.
 Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, “Denveright, Blueprint Denver” https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/Denveright/documents/Blueprint/Blueprint_Public_Review_Draft.pdf, 2018.