Development Watch

Jones District aims for 'urban open spaces'

42-acre mixed-use vision differs from surrounding office parks

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Imagine if the sprawling sea of office parks on the west side of Interstate 25 was a destination and not just a collection of nondescript buildings and parking lots.

That's the vision for The Jones District, a 42-acre — mostly vacant — swath of land on East Mineral Avenue in Centennial just north of IKEA.

Office users want “an active, vibrant community around their office,” said Chad Brue, a developer with the project, which sits in a dense business corridor between South Yosemite Street and the highway.

It started as Centennial's first transit-oriented development — designed with proximity to transit and walkability in mind — and it aims to break the mold of the surrounding properties with what developers call a “network of urban open spaces,” according to an open-house presentation March 28 by the developers and City of Centennial staff.

Here's a look at what could be built as the plans, which require approval by the city, move forward.

A historic site

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 television 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 initially submitted to the city in March 2013 for the project, which could cost about $1.8 billion to build out, according to Dan Metzger, chief operating officer at owner Brue Baukol Capital Partners.

Who the players are

The Opus Group was the developer for the project previously, completing a six-story apartment complex called The Glenn on the land.

But in 2018, Brue Baukol purchased the site, and it looks to develop the remaining land — about 36 acres. Due to the nature of the project, the city must approve Brue Baukol's plans.

What could be built

The Jones District promises a “network of urban open spaces,” in large part based on its plan to have a long, expansive park run through three blocks of the site, along with a “Jones Plaza” area.

“In other developments, you have to get in your car,” said Brue, the CEO of the development company, at the March 28 presentation in Centennial.

He pointed to the “central promenade,” a pathway envisioned to give easy bike access up South Dayton Street to the RTD light rail station. That stop along I-25 is a central draw for the project — it's marketed as “The Jones District at Dry Creek Station.”

That path also would lead south on Dayton Street toward the existing Centennial Promenade shopping development and Park Meadows mall.

The Jones project will largely consist of office buildings, which could be 13 to 14 stories high along the highway, but hotel, residential and retail uses also are part of the vision. Retail could sit on the first floor of office or hotel space right outside the light rail station to entice pedestrians, Brue said.

“What is successful around not only Denver, but across the country,” are mixed-use projects, Brue said.

Aside from the 306 units at The Glenn apartments, developers look to add 1,500 more residential units, according to the presentation.

Mitigating impacts

By the time the project is finished, the end goal is for parking to entirely be “subterranean, with no surface parking,” Brue said.

A concern raised at the presentation was that the site would be an “eyesore” seen from Willow Creek, a large nearby neighborhood to the west. Brue argued that because the tall office buildings would sit along the highway, they'd be far enough away not to obstruct the view too direly.

The presentation also pointed to programs in the open spaces, like concerts, “movie nights,” and holiday decorations, that could add to the atmosphere at the site.

Timeline

Developers haven't yet reached the formal application stage with the city, said Neil Marciniak, Centennial's economic development manager. The project isn't a “done deal,” he added. What's more, the whole project may take about two more decades to build.

Brue Baukol presented its vision to city council in a December study session meeting, and a focus group met in February and will meet again at an undetermined date to give input. That group is made up of representatives from homeowners associations within one mile of the site.

The city's Planning and Zoning Commission — citizens who make development recommendations to council — will decides whether the plans meet the city's code. If approved, the plan moves to city council, which makes the final decision on whether the plans meet code. That would likely not happen until summer, according to city staff.

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