Amid a years-long population boom in the Denver metro area, the first transit-oriented development in Centennial is moving ahead in what may be a project that lasts two more decades. “People want …
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Amid a years-long population boom in the Denver metro area, the first transit-oriented development in Centennial is moving ahead in what may be a project that lasts two more decades.
“People want destinations,” said Neil Marciniak, economic development manager for Centennial.
In the city's sprawling landscape, the Streets at Southglenn outdoor mall is one of its biggest attractions for activities such as eating and shopping. The Centennial market can't support new projects of that scale, Marciniak said, but other, smaller mixed-use developments — those that combine uses like residential, retail, restaurants and office space — have potential to open in other city areas.
The Jones District is one of them, a 42-acre swath of land along a heavily business-oriented corridor near Interstate 25, on East Mineral Avenue just north of IKEA.
Its first effort, The Glenn apartments, started leasing at the end of February and had its first resident move in March 15. The rest of the project — a gargantuan amount of square footage of space intended for office, hotel and ground-floor retail use — could unfold over a period of up to 20 more years.
Here's a look at the details and how it plays into the broader, changing Centennial landscape and economy.
Out of a legacy
The Jones District sits in the area of the since-closed Jones International University, which is considered to be the first regionally accredited university to exist fully online. It was founded in 1993, gained accreditation in 1999 and announced its closure in 2015.
In the years before the online-education innovator closed, it faced steep competition — the number of institutions offering online learning, including public schools, had been climbing since the early 2000s.
But Glenn Jones, a cable-industry pioneer who founded the school and died in 2015 at age 85, also had a vision for a mixed-use type of development in the area.
Plans were submitted to the city in March 2013 for the project, which could cost more than $200 million to build out and will include buildings up to 15 stories tall.
The right mix
The project aims to blend the indoors and outdoors “to truly maximize the Colorado lifestyle experience,” its website says.
What sets it apart is its location, just a few minutes' walk away from the RTD Dry Creek light-rail station. It's Centennial's first transit-oriented development — a type of area designed with proximity to transit and walkability in mind — and with what Marciniak called “experiential retail” in the cards, it's the kind of area that could have a positive impact on Centennial's sales-tax revenues.
Restaurants, which The Jones District expects to add, are part of that kind of retail, which includes things “that you can't do online,” Marciniak said, where people can “get out and do something.”
The Glenn apartment complex — still undergoing work and expecting to have all its space prepared for moving in by June — is the only use so far that's nearly complete. That arm of the work broke ground in 2016 and will culminate in 306 units of housing. Retail is expected on the bottom level — most likely a coffee shop, bakery or café.
Other uses haven't broken ground yet because they're dependent on the market — it's up to businesses wanting to commit there, Marciniak said. Progress could be a few months out, or a few years.
But as work continues, the area expects to see a harmony of uses complete with a central green public space, wide sidewalks and a pedestrian-friendly street grid.
Former Mayor Cathy Noon has described the project as "a well thought-out, cohesive development with magnificent potential."
"We're looking to create a lively nighttime community, one that doesn't go dark at 5 o'clock," said Mary Bliss, a vice president of real estate and facilities for Jones International Ltd., to city council in 2013.
In the middle of a rising business corridor, The Jones District could pull more people to the Centennial area.
The business-park areas surrounding The Jones District have shown strong growth, said Matt Sturgeon, Centennial city manager.
That includes “Panorama Corporate Center, Southgate Business Park and INOVA Dry Creek,” Sturgeon said. “These business parks have seen an influx of thousands of jobs from company expansions including Comcast and Fast Enterprises as well as Arrow Electronics' corporate headquarters.”
Access to public transit is “a differentiator” for businesses, Peter Coakley has said. Coakley is the senior vice president and general manager of Opus Development Company, developer for the project.
Transit-oriented developments — or TODs for short — are a significant element in the nation's infrastructure, said Doug Tisdale, executive vice president of economic development at the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce. Tisdale chairs the board of directors for RTD, or Regional Transportation District.
“TODs that work well are always mixed-use and almost invariably include a housing component, responsive to the needs and desires of a younger commuting public for something that is walkable and convenient,” Tisdale said. Mixed uses “create an energy” that spurs value for the developer, the transit agency and the local government, he added.
In Centennial, the city expects more business and population growth, and that means added density. In urban areas, mixed-use developments are seen as desirable, Marciniak said.
“That's been replicated out in the suburbs, like Centennial,” Marciniak said. Residents could see redevelopment of less dense areas into more dense, mixed-use developments.
Those are being contemplated for areas along Centennial's major roadways, such as East Arapahoe Road or South University Boulevard, Marciniak said, where commercial uses are already in place. Many of Centennial's shopping centers are candidates for such redevelopment, with dramatic changes in the retail industry impacting them, Marciniak said.
The city isn't “dropping” more dense uses in the middle of a neighborhood, though, Marciniak said.
As the project has unfolded, Coakley has expressed enthusiasm for Jones' namesake and carrying out his vision.
“He set the bar very high, and we are excited to bring that to bear,” Coakley said.
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