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By Jan Wondra
When the law office that has become known as Dagner, Schluter, Mitzner and Werber LLC relocated offices from downtown Denver to Greenwood Village, it was a homecoming of sorts. That’s because one of its principals, Leslie Schulter, lives there and happens to be a Greenwood Village City Council member.
“We consider it an asset to have our office located in Greenwood Village, right off I-25 in the Tech Center,” said Schluter, who first opened an office in 2008. “The other three partners joined my Greenwood Village-based office, which became operational effective Jan. 1, 2015, and since then we’ve worked on expanding office space and staff.”
It was Schluter’s move that predicated the current configuration, which combined the practices of the firm’s four founding attorneys: Deana Dagner, Leslie Schulter, Dawn Mitzner and David Werber. The firm, located at 5105 DTC Parkway in Greenwood Village, is adding staff, who include Katrina Brannan and Jeremy Earle, who recently joined the law firm as associate attorneys. Brannan and Earle each relocated to Colorado after graduating from law school elsewhere in the country. Brannan graduated from the Vermont Law School and Earle from the University of Houston.
Originally from Florida, Brannan completed a J.D. and a Law Master’s program at the Vermont Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2013. She spent the past two years as a judicial law clerk for Jefferson County judges, Judge Jack Berryhill (now retired) and Judge Todd Vriesman, before joining the firm.
“Brannan’s legal work reflects experience, maturity, and the eagle eye of an experienced editor,” said Schluter. “She is sharp, highly disciplined and insightful.”
Earle finished an undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in religious studies from the University of Houston in 2011, then finished his law degree in December 2013.
“He has this exterior calm, but then works with laser-like focus, insight and efficiency,” said Partner Deana Dagner, noting that in Earle’s spare time he’s a sports car enthusiast, motorcyclist and golden retriever owner.
The firm specializes in civil rights, construction, employment, insurance and medical law, as well as municipal, professional and liability law and has developed a track record of trial and appellate court jury cases.
Controversial Ensor property under contract to Texas developer
The 120-acre Ensor property on the southwest corner of South Santa Fe Drive and Mineral Avenue is under contract to a Texas-based commercial real estate developer. Some Littleton residents fear a Walmart or other big-box retailer may be on the horizon.Photo by Peter Jones
By Peter Jones
Amid controversy over the future of a large vacant swath of land in southwest Littleton, city officials and a Texas-based commercial real estate developer have acknowledged that the so-called Ensor property is under contract for purchase, prompting City Council to make sure it is careful about doling out financial support until it sees the developer’s plans.
Last week, The Villager confirmed with Austin’s Endeavor Real Estate Group that the firm is in legal negotiations to buy the expansive 120-acre parcel located on the southwest corner of South Santa Fe Drive and West Mineral Avenue. Endeavor specializes in “family-friendly shopping” and “lifestyle centers,” according to its website.
“We’re still going through the due-diligence process,” Endeavor Principal Daniel Campbell said of the property long owned by the local Ensor family. “We’re still trying to figure out what the land plan will look like.”
That is what a lot of people in Littleton have been trying to do, ever since last October when City Councilwoman Debbie Brinkman told The Villager that city management had learned of a then-unnamed out-of-state developer who was poised to buy the property and potentially include a combined Walmart-Sam’s Club within the expansive mixed-use plan.
Campbell had no comment on whether a big-box store would be part of the Ensor development. Endeavor brought a Walmart to Colorado Springs in 2013.
In months since Brinkman’s interview, irate residents and City Councilman Doug Clark have accused the councilwoman and her stated source, City Manager Michael Penny, of covertly attracting Walmart, even though a decade ago, Brinkman adamantly led the fight against the retailer at a nearby site along Santa Fe. Critics have not explained why Brinkman would now work to secretly entice Walmart and then blow the whistle to the press about it.
“I can’t explain anything Debbie Brinkman does,” Clark said last November in defense of a controversial election mailer that accused Brinkman of complicity and riled much of council.
No evidence has ever surfaced that either Penny or Brinkman, who had publicly lamented the potential return of Walmart, played any role in trying to attract the sometimes-controversial retailer, though that has not stopped confusion on the matter or broadly worded attempts to dismiss the entire story. The City of Littleton’s Web-based “Rumor Guard” said The Villager had promulgated “misinformation,” though such was provided by Littleton’s own city officials.
Last month, after a period of some protest, Penny told City Council about the contract with Endeavor, citing his source as Jim Rees, executive director of Littleton Invests for Tomorrow, the city’s urban-renewal authority.
Last week, Rees confirmed for The Villager that he learned of the impending deal late in 2015 and that Endeavor intends to explore use of the city’s urban-renewal benefits. Penny’s office has said there had been no communication between the developer and city officials during the last two years, though LIFT is a semiautonomous city-sanctioned organization.
Much of the rancor over the issue has been due to zoning. The Ensor property could be “used by right” due to council-approved 1980s-era zoning instituted when some of the property was annexed to lengthen Mineral. That means the city would have no legal authority to prevent an an out-of-state developer’s plans, including a big-box store, as long as they conformed to the broad zoning stipulations that specifically allow 1 million square feet of retail.
This leaves the city with little ammunition but its pocketbook. Last month after Penny’s announcement, the council passed a resolution—proposed by Brinkman, with Clark as the sole dissenter—to effectively forego any and all financial incentives to Endeavor or any other potential buyer, unless the developer voluntarily submits to a public process.
“We are only going to support development that is in service to our community and to what Littleton is and wants to be,” Brinkman said, noting that the city would not be empowered to alter the zoning without the request of the property owner and a long and expensive process.
The withheld incentives would include the tax-increment financing benefits that could otherwise come to the developer by virtue of being in an urban-renewal area.
Brinkman says she is not as concerned about a big-box store as she is about the zoning, which she characterizes as horribly out of date, especially for the last large open space in the city.
“This zoning was done before light rail was put in, before C-470, before [neighboring] Aspen Grove, so the zoning takes no consideration at all of what has gone on around the community,” the councilwoman said. “It’s 120 acres, so there is room to be very creative—not something that looks like it should be somewhere else from an out-of-state developer and we’re stuck with something we want to de-annex.”
Rees confirmed that the city is not obliged to offer urban-renewal benefits just because a property sits in an urban-renewal area.
“If the city decides the land use isn’t appropriate, then they don’t have to provide it,” the LIFT executive said.
As Littleton awaits Endeavor’s next move, the city also anticipates a decision this month in a lawsuit brought by Arapahoe County that disputes the Ensor property’s placement in an urban-renewal area due to the land’s rural nature. Tax-increment financing, which supports infrastructure improvements, reduces taxes collected by a county.
By Mike Fitzgerald, President and CEO, Denver South EDP
Last year was an epic year of growth along the Denver south corridor. We continue to create one of the best global business environments to inspire ongoing public / private collaboration for the continuous improvement of the Denver south economic region. Denver south also continues to be a dynamic business corridor with more than 200,000 employees (and growing each day), more than 45 million square feet of office space, and six of the nine Fortune 500 companies that are located in Colorado.
Denver south and Colorado boast one of the nation’s best workforces, second most educated, and a diverse concentration of high knowledge industries, such as aerospace, engineering services, financial services, telecom, cleantech, IT and health care.
Over the last year, we have seen diverse growth in the type of companies that the region is attracting, including eight business announcements and an increase of more than 3,300 anticipated jobs for the region. Our educational resources along the corridor continue to grow with the addition of program offerings at the Liniger Building at CU South Denver and CSU South Metro Denver.
We know 2016 will continue to bring light to the efforts of economic development by continuously improving communities and businesses along the Denver south corridor. The extension of the light rail to DIA and the upcoming southeast light rail extension to RidgeGate puts us in the unique position of having easy access to communities and companies all along the Front Range.
Denver’s growing reputation of being a top U.S. destination and a global city is one of our biggest assets moving into 2016. Denver is now viewed by many as “mid-continent” in the United States, offering equidistant air travel from both coasts and borders, with access to Asia, Europe, Canada and Latin America. DIA is one of the busiest international airports in the world, offering international flights to more than 20 destinations including London, Munich and Tokyo. Centennial airport is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the United States and serves as one of the main attractions of the area for business leaders.
Great businesses thrive by investing in people. Some of the most educated and high-tech pros work and live in Denver south. Companies seeking top talent see our region as one of the talent hot spots in the U.S.A.
Denver south’s employment centralizes around professional and business services, financial activities and wholesale/retail trade industries, a collective representation of more than 56 percent of total employment for the region and 8 percent for metro Denver. For the metro Denver financial and information sectors, more than one-third is in Denver south.
We look forward to a very successful 2016, as TheCorridor.biz continues to showcase the many diverse projects and growth along the south I-25 corridor and the continued high quality development of the Denver south economic region.
Mike Fitzgerald joined the Denver South Economic Development Partnership as president and CEO on July 1, 2010. He has led similar public/private organizations in Montana, Washington, Florida and Hawaii. Throughout his economic development career, Fitzgerald has worked with public and private organizations, created economic development strategies for states, communities and companies. He also directed trade and investment in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, South America, Canada and Mexico. Fitzgerald has helped build teams and coalitions that have created thousands of jobs, and created and recruited hundreds of businesses that have generated billions of dollars of new investment.
By Doug Tisdale, Executive Vice President, South Metro Denver Chamber
It’s a long time to hang in the sky. (Apologies to John Denver.)
Greetings from London, where I’m spending January on international business. Writing about the economic future of the U.S. and Colorado in 2016 seemed daunting … until I had the opportunity to discuss and examine the economies of the United Kingdom and the European Union “up close and personal,” including a consideration of British reaction to the U.S. president’s final State of the Union Address.
Simply put, Britain has a much more somber view of the global economy’s prospects than our president. That said, with their proverbial “stiff upper lip,” they appear sanguine about weathering any turbulence in the marketplace, a sangfroid born of a greater, or at least longer, sense of history than Americans enjoy.
For example, last night, BBC One had a story on the excavation of a Bronze Age site in Cambridgeshire containing the “best preserved Bronze Age dwellings ever found,” with 2,500-year-old homes and uneaten meals preserved in clay pots. That same night, media mourned the sudden death of British rock legend David Bowie, exploring his career from his London birth to his reinvention as Starman to his death-preface album Blackstar. And all this in the shadow of a nationwide one-day strike staged by 38,000 “Junior Doctors” providing health services in the world’s (“take your pick”) most successful/most-distressed socialized medicine system.
Kinda gives you a different sense of perspective.
A number of UK commentators said the SOTU by POTUS was exceptionally optimistic. It was in stark contrast to news stories that the worst start to a week for European stocks since 2011, and the worst beginning to a year in history for the S&P 500, augurs ill for 2016.
“As goes January, so goes the year.”
Commentators made dark references to 2001 and 2008. Experts in the City of London (the financial heart of the country), including the Royal Bank of Scotland, urged investors, as reported in The Guardian, to “sell everything” ahead of a threatened imminent stock market crash. A London investment conference criticized the U.S. Federal Reserve for not realizing that the U.S. economy is, in fact, in far worse shape than has been acknowledged, with massive credit expansion in the U.S. “not for real economic activity; [but] borrowing to finance share buybacks.”
Bearish remarks weren’t confined to the British tabloids. The staid Financial Times published a similar opinion, comparing it to “the disastrous bubbles that burst in 1999 and 2000” and calling the Fed’s tighter monetary policy “an important blunder.”
Then there’s “Brexit” – the threatened exit of Great Britain from the European Union, with Prime Minister David Cameron promising a referendum this summer. Although any Brexit would take years to be fully implemented, that’s years of turmoil and uncertainty, and angst in the run-up to the election, especially now that Brent crude is below $30 a barrel, a 12 year low, most of which occurred in the past 18 months, with serious job cuts at BP and Petrobras.
Somber, indeed, but the British have endured this and more for thousands of years. Somehow they have endured. An old line comes to mind: In Berlin, things are serious but not hopeless; in Vienna, things are hopeless but not serious. Britain is like Vienna.
Are things serious, hopeless, fine, strong? The truth no doubt lies somewhere in the middle of these predictions and projections. And it’s only by being made aware of them all that you will be able to add to your Bottom Line.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, Erik Mitisek, CEO of the Colorado Technology Association, and Edward Fenster, chairman of Sunrun, all spoke at a press conference on clean energy at the Commons on Champa, Jan. 15.Photo by Jan Wondra
By Jan Wondra
Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker traveled to Colorado to address the prospects inherent in clean energy, part of the federal initiative to highlight the opportunities that will grow as the world deals with climate change. For Colorado, a state rich in energy resources, from oil and gas to wind and sun energy, the prospects are brighter than many prefer to admit.
“Cleantech is a huge opportunity for U.S. businesses to address climate change,” said Pritzker. “All these countries have signed the accord, but they don’t have the technology to do it. We have the technology and the innovative spirit to create the products and services which will be needed all over the globe.”
It’s good for any business entity or states for that matter to know what business it is in. Colorado happens to be in the energy business, not just the oil and gas business. According to the newly released Metro Denver Economic Development Corp industry growth cluster report, the region ranks fourth in the U.S. in fossil fuels and fifth for cleantech employment concentration. Both subclusters posted significant, double-digit growth from 2010-2015. Cleantech was the region’s fastest growing industry in 2015.
“Renewables remain competitive,” said Pritzker. “Last year, the U.S. saw $330 billion in renewable energy sources. This is sustainable and growing.”
The arm-chair discussion was sponsored by the Colorado Technology Association, Colorado Cleantech Industries Association and the State of Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade. It was one of dozens of “State of the Union: Cabinet In Your Community” road tour events, where the president’s cabinet spread out across the country to highlight the opportunities that will grow from the new policies and actions as a result of the Paris climate agreement, signed by 190 nations.
“We went to China on a trade mission, and we featured our technology,” said Pritzker. “The energy opportunity in this is not just for new companies. It’s for companies which have been around for 100 years.”
Pritzker spoke of the necessity of long-term commitment to alternative and clean energy, especially renewable energy sources like sun and wind, which abound in our state.
“With this new agreement, it’s no good to have a short term commitment, companies need to think in terms of a decade or longer,” she said.
One advantage of renewable energy is that it supports workforce growth.
“With alternative energy like wind, you’re effectively substituting labor cost for energy cost,” said Edward Fenster, chairman of Sunrun, a California solar energy company that is expanding its operations into Colorado. “The jobs are long term and they are good jobs.”
Official policy can help renewable energy sources grow.
“Two key polices support the growth of solar power,” said Fenster. “The investment tax credit will help the industry scale from local operations to metro and state size. This helps because we’ve got a tariff war going on with China over solar panels. Encouraging state-level net metering, which exists in 44 states, helps recoup startup costs and provides a revenue stream.”
Net metering allows residential and commercial customers who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid.
“There is a cautionary tale in Nevada, which ended its net metering program,” said Fenster. “Without this revenue option for businesses and consumers, there has been job loss.”
Four of the Commerce Department’s bureaus maintain significant operations in Colorado. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and the International Trade Administration protect intellectual property and connect energy manufacturers to foreign buyers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology supports cleantech research, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides world-class climate prediction services to help businesses adapt to the changing environment.
“Almost all the Fortune 500 companies have achieved energy sustainability,” said Pritzker. “The Global Innovation Initiative, a direct result of the Paris accord, will double research and development in renewable energy. We have received private-
sector pledges to match that amount. We’re also adding speed to the patent process and quality review, so that patents have better protection.”
“At 1 percent penetration, solar has room to grow,” said Fenster, who has relocated 100 of his 800 employees to Colorado. “Stability is most important to solar energy business investment. All you have to do is look at Nevada, which made the withdrawal of the net-metering option retroactive. It dried up the solar investment market there.”
The year ahead looks bright for renewable energy development.
“Quite frankly, this is a bet on American innovation and ingenuity,” Pritzker said.
Denver south has the jobs, but where’s the affordable housing?
Some form of affordable or multi-family housing may be coming to the area near the Orchard Avenue light-rail station, though some on the Greenwood Village City Council are adamantly opposed to the idea.Photo by Peter Jones
By Peter Jones
A lack of affordable housing is not just a problem for Aspen anymore.
Earl Wright, chairman of Greenwood Village-based AMG Bank, relocated the business from California in 1978 back in the days when the Denver Tech Center was a new frontier and housing in the south suburbs was as plentiful as it was reasonably priced.
“We left California for the very reason of what’s starting to materialize here,” he said. “In California, the cost of staff was way out of proportion with regards to the mix of people you needed. You want to have housing that meets the full spectrum of wages.”
Flash forward four decades: A seller’s market, an emerging workforce of millennials, a timid construction industry and a dash of municipal politics have forged a challenge for businesses and their lower-level employees, especially along the south I-25 corridor where a range of tech and financial-service companies—but not necessarily their workers—call home.
“It’s a real issue in my mind,” Wright said. “You have the lower-income folks disproportionately spending their money on housing. It’s backwards. I’ve got people who were living in apartments and now they’re living with their parents. These are young professionals.”
Sherri Kroonenberg, general manager and senior vice president of Fidelity Investments, was taken aback at a recent meeting of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corp. when she learned the region had lost its edge in attracting those millennials, an emerging demographic that will comprise 50 percent of the U.S. workforce by 2020.
“It goes back to the basics of economics. We have a supply-demand issue,” she said. “Within the state, we’re still able to attract talent. It’s just that that talent continues to tell us it’s more difficult for them. For the majority, Greenwood Village is not an option.”
Bringing home the bacon … somewhere
Although the city that houses most of the Tech Center has a population hovering around 15,000, its effective daytime count is closer to 50,000, making it effectively impossible—and pointless in a suburban context—for the city to absorb more than a fraction of its workforce. What’s more, the Village has been reluctant to proactively seek “affordable housing,” an ambiguous term that can encompass everything from subsidized apartments to starter condominiums designed for young college-educated couples.
“Affordable is like beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder.” Greenwood Village Mayor Ron Rakowsky said.
As the Village continues an extended review of its comprehensive plan, builders may have a particular interest in a controversial proposal to allow some form of high-density, ostensibly “affordable” housing near the city’s Orchard Avenue Light Rail Station.
Some say such a plan would be vital to attracting a new generation to a city whose mean 2013 housing price was about $860,000. Others say ensuring those home values would be in potential conflict with bringing high-density neighbors into the municipality.
“Greenwood Village is a very small community. It’s only 8.4 square miles, of which much of it is commercial and already built with single-family homes,” Rakowsky said, noting the city has some subsidized housing. “We always have and always will depend on other areas of the metroplex to provide places for a wide range of people who work in Greenwood Village.”
Among those absorbing sources is neighboring Centennial, a much larger and demographically diverse swath of the south metro area. Although Mayor Cathy Noon concedes the prosperous city of 100,000 is not necessarily known as a haven for low incomes, the city leader says Centennial, stretching from Littleton to Aurora, strives to be a place of diversity.
“Our goal is to have multiple types of housing so that everyone can find a place to live here. I think we find that enriches us,” she said.
Noon points to the city’s recent annexation near Jordan and County Line roads, which will soon be the site of close-by houses. A plot near Jordan and Broncos Parkway and another adjacent the Dry Creek Road Light Rail Station also have high-density plans on the horizon
“We are taking steps to increase more multi-family. These were not controversial when they came before the City Council,” the mayor added.
Although Noon stresses the importance of diversity, Centennial’s efforts ultimately come down in large part to economic development. The mayor says she often hears from business leaders who are concerned about employee housing, or lack thereof.
“If people can’t get workers for their jobs, they may not locate here,” she said of a city that boasts everything from Colorado’s IKEA to major aerospace firms.
An onerous system
Some cities have taken up a shared economic call to ensure housing for everyone. Municipal members of the Metro Mayors Caucus have created a fund that incentivizes landlords across the metro area to rent to lower-income residents.
Aurora recently approved a transit-friendly apartment complex near the Iliff Avenue Light Rail Station, despite the objections of nearby homeowners.
Even when cities get on board, there is no guarantee that builders will take the bait. AMG’s Wright says the problem will not be fully solved until Colorado alters its construction-defect law, which critics say has proven to be an overly onerous disincentive to building high-density for-sale units, especially considering the expensive insurance protections from lawsuits.
Some cities have responded to the law with a patchwork of ordinances designed to entice condominium and townhome construction, but Wright says the construction industry needs the assurance that would only come with a more balanced statewide approach to liability.
“It’s causing people to be timid,” the corporate chairman said. “Even if you don’t want to build in Greenwood, even if you have communities that are open to the idea of condo building, you’re not going to have it. There are significant projects that have been stopped because of this issue.”
Wright expects some businesses to leave Colorado if the defect-correction process is not made less punitive. A result, in part, has been a seller’s housing market, meaning not only are homes in the $150,000 to $250,000 range harder to find, first-time buyers must often make offers above asking price in order to successfully buy their “affordable” starter home.
Although Fidelity’s Kroonenberg says her associates have so far been able to find houses, many will be commuting longer and farther until Colorado strikes the right balance.
“I look forward to the state taking a hard look at this and truly being able to come up with a solution based on the growth we’ve seen,” she said. “The highly educated talent we have in the state—we want to keep them here and we want to continue to attract them.”
On the record with leaders
By Jan Wondra
Depending upon the type of business you’re in, the view of the year ahead for you may differ from that of other business leaders. But the perspective on the Denver south area is remarkably consistent—we are heading into what most leaders see as a very good year. While every year comes with challenges and opportunities, a cross-section of leaders has some things to say about the year ahead.
Robert Olislagers, Executive Director, Centennial Airport
“One big challenge I see as a member of the Colorado Aeronautics Board is low oil prices, which reduces the amount of funds we have to distribute to airports. Additionally, as aircraft become more efficient, that too reduces revenue. Both are good for the economy, but also put pressure on the economy. Consumers benefit from low fuel prices, and reduced fuel consumption is good for the environment, but not for revenue going back to airports. We’re doing very well as an airport, even though Centennial Airport depends on the oil business for a good part of its income. I foresee a little bit of decline in activity in that regard, but not too significant. Our challenges for 2016 remain with noise and security concerns.”
Tucker Hart Adams, Economist, Summit Economics
“Our greatest challenge is pessimism. We read constantly that the middle class has disappeared, the recovery is anemic, everyone is getting poorer, etc., etc. If we say it often enough, we may be able to make it happen. People ignore the data, which show very low unemployment, an expanding economy, record auto sales, etc., etc.
“Our biggest opportunity is Colorado’s workforce. Millennials are the largest segment of our population. Many are well educated and technology savvy. Let’s use them to continue to grow the kinds of businesses that keep the state and the country successful. We need to remember that we’re much more likely to be killed on the highway on the way to work than to be blown up by terrorists. We need to keep our perspective and keep moving ahead.”
Tom Tobiassen, Chair, RTD Board
“From a transportation perspective, we are the most exciting city in the nation, right now. The I-25 and I-225 corridor-share is a model. The other model program are our public-private partnership. Colorado was the first in the nation to develop private sector partnerships for transportation.
“2016 will be a big year for RTD. We’re opening five new lines; four rail lines and the fifth is a bus-rapid transit line. The southeast area is so progressive; the R-line is going to allow the people in the southeast area to connect to the airport and an easy commute to downtown. We’re starting the planning phase for the southeast extension into Douglas County and April 22 will open the line from downtown to DIA. Balancing the needs of consumer groups is necessary. We’re not private sector and we can’t charge private sector fees for transportation. Businesses along the corridor have contributed a significant amount of money to make this happen. Without the collaborative partnership with the private sector, it wouldn’t happen. We’re delivering transit mobility options and it’s exciting.
“Besides congestion, which is what we’re trying to alleviate, the ‘last mile connect’ is the challenge, whether it’s sewer or water lines, telephone or transportation. We get people to the drop, but then they have to walk, bicycle or shuttle to work or home. So we work with the local communities for the greater public good. We have to deliver it in a way that is fair to everyone. It’s a numbers game. We have to have rider numbers and we can’t play favorites.”
Sherri Kroonenburg, SVP, Fidelity Investment
“Our challenge and our opportunity is the same. It’s talent. When I look at 2016, in order to deliver growth and maintain the customer experience we have to ensuring that we are able to acquire the talent with the right skills, mindset, passion and skills. The Denver south area is so important to us. We’re adding 300 additional employees and opened our third floor on Jan. 20.
“The other challenge that all businesses are beginning to face here is affordable housing, both for the talent here and those we attract from out-of-state. Keeping a lid on cost of living, housing, transportation, is critical to growth. We’d love for cities to participate and step up and provide multifamily housing options, and accessible, entry-level homes, for employees. We’re hearing from employees that they are being out-bid by investors. We’re seeing people come in, but you do wonder at what point we’re going to hit the tipping point.”
Amy Ford, Communications Director, CDOT
Under the leadership of new Executive Director Shailen Bhlatt, the Colorado Department of Transportation is aggressively addressing Colorado’s transportation issues.
“The opportunity is the variety of choices we’re developing for how people can travel, including technological advancements, and some of those will soon be launched in the south I-25 corridor.
“Our challenges are funding and safety. Road fatalities are up nationwide. DUIs are only a third of that number. With the combination of low gas prices and the economy getting better, people are driving more, increasing mileage. A huge number occur due to distracted driving, texting and talking on phones. Here’s the shocking statistic, the nation has a significant number of unrestrained fatalities; 50 percent die because they are not belted in. We were pleased because our seatbelt rates went from 85 to 87 percent, but this year is the 50th anniversary of the seatbelt, so we’re going to focus on their use.”
Becky Takeda-Tinker, CEO, CSU-Global
“Our biggest opportunities and challenges revolve around our willingness to adapt to the dynamic marketplace environment. Connecting and utilizing the potential of the people in our growing community will play a vital role in our ability to thrive.”
Jim Gunning, Mayor, Lone Tree
“The opportunities we see are so rooted in transportation, the southeast extension and the east line for Douglas County, and it’s been funded, which removes a huge road block. Mobility is a huge topic for Lone Tree, and we’ll be hosting a mobility summit in April.”
Lone Tree is about to release the County Line Study, which lays out improvements to traffic patterns and access in the areas around and along Park Meadows and the Inverness office park.
“We’ll be looking at changes to improve traffic and access, especially around Park Meadows Mall on Park Meadows Center Drive, adding turn lanes and access roads to improve traffic flow. We’re fairly bullish on this year. With the light rail extension, the Arapahoe Road interchange about to start, the County Line work that is going to happen, it’s great for business and great for quality of life. Yes, we’ll have short-term inconvenience while construction goes on, but for long-term benefit, it’s rewarding to see the years of work begin to become reality.”
Lynn Meyers, SVP, Denver South Economic Development Partnership
“We’re No. 1 in collaboration. Besides all the amenities and the new buildings, everybody is pulling the same way and working together. We have a highly educated workforce with great opportunities. As to challenges, we’re doing a lot of things right, we’re in a really good place, we just don’t want any fires or floods or bad headlines. The challenge, and the opportunity, is getting ready for change. We’ll be adjusting to different transportation patterns and more transportation options. I am so optimistic about transportation. With the light rail line opening this year, getting to DIA will be a breeze.”
Challenges and Opportunities ahead
By Jan Wondra
Depending upon where you’re standing, the start of 2016 is shaping up as the best year in a long time for Colorado and the Denver south business area. Or maybe not.
“I think it’s going to be a solid year, somewhat similar to what 2015 was like,” said Tom Clark, CEO of Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation. “Looking ahead to 2017, it looks like it will be a little slower, but nothing to be worried about. We’re getting to a point where I think some businesses could use a breath of fresh air to adjust after some pretty hectic years.”
Some categories are booming, such as engineering, aerospace, technology and health care. Municipal revenues are growing. Buildings are bursting out of the ground. Deals are being made. Startups are being funded. Transportation projects are on pace for construction and completion. People of all ages, especially millennials, are flocking to the state. Spending is up. More people are getting health insurance. At 3 percent, our metro area is considered to have arrived at zero unemployment. If you’re in development and real estate, you’ve been waiting a long time for a market like this.
But if you’re in the oil and gas business, it’s not a cheerful time. Oil has dropped below $30 a barrel and is still looking for the bottom. Fracking producers, which typically pull half the production out of a new well in the first year, are grinding to a halt. Retail struggled this past holiday season, against the onslaught of online buying. The financial markets have been jittery, to put it mildly, as China’s economy slows. If you’re just starting out, the cost of housing here, when you can find it, can give you a nosebleed. Denver metro housing costs have taken the biggest year-over-year leap of any market in the country, outside San Francisco.
Pundits will tell you that election years often usher in periods of instability. If you’re in business, the one truth most agree upon is that we like certainty. Even if the news isn’t good, if it’s reliably consistent, this is considered a good thing. So what do business and government leaders believe lies ahead?
First, it’s healthy to consider where we ended the year. While they don’t always portend what is to come, last year’s stats can be a reliable gauge of where we’re starting the year. One of the looming issues for the entire metro area is housing affordability – a worry across many business sectors.
“We want our administrative assistants to be able to live a decent distance from the office,” said Sherri Kroonenburg, senior vice president of Fidelity Investments. “We want all our employees to be able to put down roots here.”
Congestion and transportation options affect everyone living or working in the I-25 corridor area.
“What is happening here in the Denver metro area is the most exciting transit work in the nation,” said Tom Tobaissen, chair of the RTD Board, “and it’s taken a few decades to get here. We’ll open five lines in 2016, four are light rail and the fifth is a bus-transit line. When the R-line to the southeast corridor opens, it is going to open the entire south end of the city. Ridership which allows people to connect to Denver International Airport and an easy commute to downtown will change how people live and work. And we’re starting the exciting planning phase for the southeast extension into Douglas County.”
The Denver south corridor area is already beginning to address the changing suburban landscape to accommodate the urban feel that millennials seek and businesses need.
“We know the landscape of employment and office business parks is changing,” said Matt Prosser, senior associate for Economic & Planning Systems. The group has completed several urban studies for Denver south municipalities, including Greenwood Village, Centennial and Lone Tree, and is finalizing the first south I-25 Urban Corridor Study. “Our recommendations are focused on how to adapt the existing office park environments to become more mixed use, more walkable.”
While consumers are cheering over falling oil prices, which reduce transportation and home heating costs and make more money available for consumer goods, they bring cloudy skies for the aviation industry.
“Our biggest challenge this year will come from falling aviation fuel prices, which reduces revenue for airport operations,” said Robert Olislagers, executive director of Centennial Airport, appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper to the Colorado State Aeronautics Board. “Revenue comes from the excise tax, which is based on the price of fuel, rather than the number of gallons sold. The revenue shortfall is a double-edged sword; we’re facing falling oil prices, while at the same time planes are becoming more fuel-efficient. Although cheaper prices are good for consumers, the current funding model is not helping airports. That said, we are a much more diversified economy now, compared to the 1980s and 1990s, so long term, we have a bright future.”
This past year, Denver south municipalities saw their best revenue in several years and predict continued growth in 2016. In early December, after weeks of negotiations, Congress approved a five-year, $305 billion Transportation Bill, the first long-term measure funding highways and transportation projects. The comprehensive measure makes cities like Lone Tree bullish on 2016.
“The transportation funding we needed is a line item in this year’s budget, $92 million,” said Mayor Jim Gunning, smiling broadly. “The language for the transportation bill included the southeast extension (of light rail) and the east line. Usually these are doled out a little at a time. That this was all included brings stability to the planning and the construction.”
Perspective, say economic experts, needs to be applied to the financial markets.
“We need to stop overreacting to every bump in the market,” said economist Tucker Hart Adams. “Growth will slow in China for a lot of reasons. It’s easy to grow 10 percent a year when you start from zero, much harder when you’re the world’s second biggest economy.”
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