A development that could change the skyline in the south Denver metro area may take as long as 20 more years to reach completion, but the groundwork to move it past its current status as a mostly vacant field is taking shape.
“The location of the streets, alleys and types of streets is generally determined though there could be minor changes as individual (projects) develop,” said Neil Marciniak, Centennial's economic development director.
The Jones District started as Centennial's first transit-oriented development — designed with proximity to transit and walkability in mind — and it aims for what developers have called a “network of urban open spaces.”
The 42-acre swath of land on East Mineral Avenue just north of IKEA is expected to largely consist of office buildings, which could be up to 15 stories high along Interstate 25. But hotel, residential and retail spaces also are part of the vision.
Here's an update on the development, which has already been in the planning process for several years.
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 Brue Baukol Capital Partners.
The Opus Group was the developer for the project previously, completing a six-story apartment complex called The Glenn on the land, a short drive south of East Dry Creek Road.
But after a 2018 purchase, Brue Baukol owns a 36-acre section of land — essentially the rest of The Jones District — and plans to oversee its development.
A development plan for The Jones District was initially approved by council in 2013, and an update to the plan — which tweaked the requirements to try to meet current trends in the market — occurred in 2015.
“We saw (development) with The Glenn, and then it stopped,” Marciniak said at a November 2019 Centennial City Council meeting. “Nothing else moved forward — that was not true momentum.”
City council at that meeting approved another update to the plan for the project in hopes of jump-starting some movement.
The changes included an increase in the total square footage and residential space. The Jones District can now include a maximum of 4 million square feet, 50% of which can be residential, up from the previous limit of roughly 2 million square feet and a 20% residential cap.
The second change: a new pedestrian plaza and more “public space,” which includes green space, and a new “central promenade” — a large, pedestrian-friendly area to provide a “sense of place,” said David Tryba, of Tryba Architects, said at the council meeting.
The plan also aims to concentrate restaurants and other retail services around that area and the RTD Dry Creek light rail station, a short walk to the north.
Another change creates north-south pedestrian and bicycle connections, promoting ways to the promenade and Dry Creek Station.
Closer to the highway, buildings are allowed to range from five to 15 stories, and farther west, they could vary from three to eight stories.
“We do not have any immediate development plans” for the land along I-25, Metzger said.
Centennial city officials in recent years have pondered ways to economically adapt amid aging shopping centers and strip-retail areas.
“Centennial has one shot at creating an identity along I-25,” said Jenny Houlne, a principal planner for the city, at an August 2019 city council meeting. She told council there has been little to no development in areas with “urban center” zoning since that category was created. A city's zoning sets rules for what can be built where.
The urban center zoning includes just two areas: the businesses that sit roughly along South Yosemite Street between East Arapahoe Road and Briarwood Boulevard, and The Jones District.
Centennial at that August 2019 meeting updated its rules for the urban center zoning, a change that paved the way for the increase in the allowable amount of housing at The Jones District.
To address fears of the area ending up apartments and empty land with little to no commercial uses, the council agreed to require that developers include plans that “phase” in residential uses “to coincide with non-residential uses,” Bob Widner, the city attorney, said at the time.
Brue Baukol has submitted for permitting to create The Jones District's street network and was still going through that process as of Oct. 21, Metzger said.
The company expects to see construction on the public, internal street network soon and is still looking to break ground on that infrastructure work in 2020, according to Metzger.
The Brue Baukol arm that owns the developable land intends to sell parcels, or pieces of land, to developers “and/or possibly develop the land ourselves over time,” Metzger added.
The city's zoning for the development allows for up to 1,806 residential units including The Glenn apartments' 306 units, but it's unclear whether the development will reach that maximum, Metzger said.
“To build the full amount of residential allowed under the (city's rules for The Jones District), the project is required to include a portion of for-sale residential as well as other types of residential that are not market-rate, for-rent apartments,” said Michael Gradis, a head city planner for Centennial. “These could be senior housing, affordable, live-work units” or similar types of housing.
Brue Baukol does not have “any immediate development plans for for-sale residential,” Metzger said.
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