Building potential on Arkansas Avenue

Project will add residential, retail space and a new park

Kailyn Lamb
klamb@coloradocommunitymedia.com
Posted 1/8/20

The former 13-acre campus for the Colorado Department of Transportation is the latest parcel in south Denver slated for redevelopment after city council approved a tax package and voted to blight the …

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Building potential on Arkansas Avenue

Project will add residential, retail space and a new park

Posted

The former 13-acre campus for the Colorado Department of Transportation is the latest parcel in south Denver slated for redevelopment after city council approved a tax package and voted to blight the property last month.

CDOT left the campus for its new location in west Denver in 2018. The city bought the property in the hopes of flipping it for a developer, said Paul Kashmann, councilmember representing District 6, which includes Virginia Village. Since then, the city has been working with Dever-based Kentro Group to create a new development plan.

Blighting a property means the city can put an urban renewal plan in place. The plan can help them bring in tax dollars to incentivize developers to build there.

Kashmann and the council have been working with Kentro on the development for over a year. Last December, city council voted to rezone the property to allow for up to eight stories.

At the time, Kashmann was opposed to the zoning of the project, worrying it would bring density and traffic that the surrounding streets couldn’t handle. Since the property had a campus zoning, Kentro at the time could have built up to 12 stories, but requested to down zone. Kashmann said it put council in a hard place: it was either approve the down zoning, or allow Kentro to build up to 12 stories with no public process in a use-by-right development project.

“We need to take as much care as possible to do it the right way,” he said. Council should look at “building something that enhances the community but does not overwhelm it with traffic.”

Now, after working out some of those details, the newest development plan for the CDOT campus, located at 4201 E. Arkansas Ave., will include 840 apartments and condos – including 150 affordable housing units, retail space, through streets to connect the project to the surrounding neighborhood, a 1-acre park and a new location for the Denver Police Department.

In return, the city is offering tax increment financing, or a TIF package, of around $24 million to Kentro to help build the project.

Chris Viscardi, the director of development with Kentro, said in an email that since the TIF package is in place, Kentro can begin working on design and continue working with the City of Denver through its development process. He estimated that construction on the whole project could begin within 18 to 24 months.

Viscardi is also hopeful to get approval from the Colorado Housing Finance Authority to start on the affordable units. If that process goes well, that portion of the project could be under construction in 12 to 15 months.

Getting the word out

The affordable units were a firm requirement from the city in the negotiating process, Kashmann said. Viscardi said open space was frequently mentioned by community members as a top desire for the property.

He added that all the meeting information from Kentro, as well as community feedback can be found on the project website. Viscardi said the company will continue to do outreach with neighbors throughout the final design and building process as well.

“We are all Denverites and know the importance of fully engaging with a passionate and proud neighborhood, such as Virginia Village, to help shape the development,” he said. “Neighbors provided critical input to dictate how the project plans look today.”

But for Florence Sebern, a Virginia Village resident and member of its Registered Neighborhood Organization, she wanted more out of Kentro. Because Kentro held their own meetings rather than organizing a time to speak to the RNO, Sebern said it put them in control. The process hasn’t felt like an open conversation, she said.

Through her research into this project, Sebern said she was also surprised to learn how much of development projects were subsidized through other funding avenues rather than the developers themselves.

Tim Carl, the president of the Virginia Village RNO, said he has also been frustrated by the process, but wants to continue to be a voice at the table for neighborhood residents. When a property is blighted by the city, for example, that can have repercussions on adjacent property values. It’s the role of the RNO to help other residents understand that.

“From a neighborhood standpoint, that’s significant,” he said. “Whether we all agree or disagree with what’s going to transpire, we want to at least be able to message that to the surrounding community.”

Now that some of the details on the project have been worked out, Kashmann said he is interested in the potential of the new project. As a former government property, it wasn’t bringing in tax dollars. Now, the 13-acre site will can contribute not only in tax money, but as a functioning neighborhood where people can shop and eat where they live, he said.

Kashmann himself lives a half-block off of Louisiana Avenue, close to the project. “I’ll live with this the rest of my life,” he said.

“I have an investment in my role as a councilman, and then I also have a selfish investment as a resident,” he said. “I’m going to do everything possible to see that this gets done right.”

Although Kentro has not done any residential projects in the past, this project presents a lot of new opportunities. Viscardi said that Kentro means center in Greek, referring to a community gathering place.

“The sheer size of the former CDOT property creates an opportunity to design a mixed-use community from the ground up,” he said. “There is a major shift with how people live, travel and shop, and the project is an opportunity to grab onto those trends and build something forward-thinking and synergetic.”

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