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"World conference for cities with airports to land in Denver"

Sunday, April 22, 2012

World conference for cities with airports to land in Denver
By Margaret Jackson
The Denver (CO) Post

Denver will garner international attention at the Airport Cities World
Conference this week, but there are plenty of developers that have been
planning for years to capitalize on the economic development opportunities
Denver International Airport has created.

More than 800 people from 30 countries will attend the conference, which for
the first time is being held in Denver.

"We are going to get some feedback from all these professionals in terms of
what they see as our potential, as well as from people who have an interest
in investing on our property," said Kim Day, aviation manager for DIA. "This
is also a great chance to hear from the public. You have to have a public
that is interested and believes in it."

The conference will focus on strategic airport planning and associated
commercial development. Mayor Michael Hancock will formally unveil his plan
for Denver's "airport city" on the 9,419 acres owned by DIA. 

The plan, reported by The Denver Post in February, could include a golf
course, wildlife- viewing area, aerospace campus, hotels and a business

Known as an "airport city," it would be part of the larger "aerotropolis," a
new-urban design around the airport that Hancock says is critical for
attracting new businesses to the region.

"This aerotropolis will grow and grow organically," he said. "It's about
jobs and making sure that any growth that occurs out there is done in the
spirit of economic development. This will be a multi-jurisdictional effort."

And with the property surrounding DIA virtually a blank slate, the land rush
has started.

"(Aerotropolis) hasn't taken off so much in America, but in Europe and
around the world, there are office parks inside of airport properties," said
Bill Wichterman of A & C Properties, an Arizona development company that
purchased property near DIA in 2006. "Amsterdam uses the tag line: Does your
office have its own airport?"

A & C and another Arizona development firm — Cowley Cos. — entered the
Denver market when they were unable to find development sites at reasonable
prices closer to home.

"After scouring the land for a while, our conclusion on the Arizona market
was there wasn't as much for us to buy down here," said Wichterman, who is
developing the 1,287-acre Porteos south of DIA. "We bought this property at
a very inopportune time to buy property in general, and it's still worth
more today than we paid for it."

A & C has been working with Aurora to get the property entitled and zoned
for potential uses including 

a 125-acre industrial park as well as cargo and logistics, manufacturing,
retail and office. It also recently got approval to realign Harvest Road,
which will give it easy access to the airport. 

In addition to traditional development projects, Wichterman is talking with
a company that wants to operate a "club track" to attract driving
instructors or automobile salesmen to show customers how a car performs.
Wichterman declined to name the company.

Cowley, which owns more than 4,000 acres near DIA , isn't as far along in
its plans as A & C, but has been working with Commerce City on how to
structure a public-private partnership to install infrastructure such as
water and sewer lines to the properties, which will be developed with
residences, retail, hotels and industrial space. Cowley is handling
entitlement and zoning work, and then will sell the property to other
companies for vertical development. The acreage is divided among several
noncontiguous development sites, including Northlands, Third Creek, Nob
Hill, Second Creek and Sandy Point.

"We've really placed our bet around the airport and are really
well-positioned long term just to play through that," said Mike Cowley,
president of the company. 

In February, developer Chris Thompson bought 200 acres at the northwest
corner of Peña Boulevard and Tower Road in Commerce City from Cowley.
Thompson plans to develop the site, called the DIA Tech Center, with 40,000
square feet of retail and services space, 400 hotel rooms, a 25-acre surface
parking lot, and about 1.5 million square feet of commercial and industrial
buildings. At full buildout, businesses in the development will employ an
estimated 4,000 people and be valued at $200 million.

Other properties that will become part of the aerotropolis include the
450-acre Denver International Business Center owned by L.C. Fulenwider Inc.,
and High Point, an 1,800-acre site owned by LNR Property LLC, where the
1,500-room Gaylord hotel and conference center is proposed.

Both Cowley and Wichterman say the proposed Gaylord project, which is
seeking tourism incentives from the state, would boost the aerotropolis that
Hancock envisions for the properties surrounding DIA.

"Gaylord is going to be a great starter for the region and for the concept,"
Cowley said.

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