Crews work on new development along I-25 at the future Amazon fulfillment center, set to open in 2018, on Oct. 5, 2017 in Thornton.
City leaders in Thornton last week signed off on a $3.75 million incentive package for Topgolf to build one of its sprawling dining and golf entertainment venues in the city.
The issue generated no discussion in council chambers and wrapped up in less than five minutes.
Yet Tuesday’s vote was a significant part of a growing trend in Denver’s north suburbs: Its expanding population base is finally attracting regional draws such as Topgolf, Ikea, Cabela’s and a high-end outlet mall — the type of amenities that to date have largely clustered around affluent communities south of Denver.
“Five or 10 years ago, you would have only seen these types of things in the south metro,” said John Cody, Thornton’s economic development director. “The north I-25 corridor has come of age.”
Cody’s counterpart in Broomfield, Bo Martinez, describes the Interstate 25 corridor north of Denver as “the next urban frontier.” That’s especially true, he said, at the nexus of Colorado 7 and I-25, where Broomfield controls three of the interchange’s four corners.
“We see this as the next regional employment center,” Martinez said.
Ikea, the massive Swedish furniture outlet, plans to break ground this spring on a 400,000-square-foot store at the northwest corner of the interchange while, next door, Children’s Hospital Colorado is undergoing a 140,000-square-foot expansion effort.
Directly west of the interchange, the 1,100-acre North Park development in Broomfield is all about available land, “most of it in large lots that provide opportunities for over 30 million square feet of commercial mixed-used development, regional employment, shopping, restaurants and entertainment districts,”Martinez said.
Last year, the Butterfly Pavilion said it would pull up stakes from its longtime Westminster home to move to a twice-as-large facility in North Park, with an opening date in Broomfield set for 2021.
J.J. Ament, CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, said there’s no doubt that more land is available in the north suburbs of Denver than to the south. And that, he said, will have definite repercussions on the areas’ growth prospects over the next few years.
A fourth-quarter 2017 report from commercial real estate brokerage CBRE calculated that while the Denver’s southern suburbs had 246,000 square feet of retail space under construction, the north side had more than 674,000 square feet getting built.
“The north has the space to grow and can make land acquisitions,” Ament said. “We’re starting to see that part of the region have the success that other areas have had.”
Cody said there are 1,400 acres in Thornton along the interstate that are eligible for development. The city, Colorado’s sixth largest by population, saw $350 million worth of commercial projects break ground along I-25 in 2017.
Two of the bigger projects underway for Thornton in the corridor are the Denver Premium Outlets: an 80-store development that is set to open at 136th Avenue and I-25 late in 2018 and bring 800 jobs to the city, and an 855,000-square-foot Amazon fulfillment center at I-25 and 144th Avenue. Amazon’s center, scheduled to open at the end of the year, could employ 1,500 full-time workers.
The population numbers help to tell the story up north, according to state demographer Elizabeth Garner.
The top two metro-area counties, aside from Denver, in terms of projected raw population growth from 2015 to 2025 are north of the city — with Adams County expected to pick up 110,000 people, an increase of 22.5 percent, and Weld County expected to gain the same number of people as Adams during that period, a 39 percent increase.
“There is some pressure from the north, for sure,” Garner said.
Meanwhile, her office projects that Broomfield will grow by 23,143 people from 2015 to 2025.
Not that the south metro area is standing still. Garner’s office projects that Arapahoe County will grow by nearly 100,000 people in that same 10-year period while Douglas County could see 60,000 more residents move in.
Neil Marciniak, economic development manager for Centennial, doesn’t see the situation as north vs. south. He said metro Denver is just going through a boom phase.
“What you’re actually seeing is the metro area as a whole having a strong pull for projects like these,” he said
Marciniak said there’s still plenty of both commercial and residential development along I-25 south of Denver.
In Centennial, home to Colorado’s first Ikea and Topgolf, the 1.8 million-square-foot Jones District is on the rise, with promises of offices, retail outlets and a hotel. Farther south, Lone Tree’s master-planned RidgeGate subdivision could add more than 10,000 housing units — many of them multifamily — around the intersection of I-25, C-470 and E-470 over the next few years.
Matthew DeBartolomeis, a vice president with CBRE Retail Services in Denver, said the south metro simply got an earlier start than the north, partly spurred by the construction of C-470 and E-470 years before the north side got the Northwest Parkway and its section of E-470.
“The south is more mature and (has) had more retail expansion,” DeBartolomeis said.
It’s what gives the southern metro area more square footage of rentable retail space than the north — 28 million square feet vs. 23 million, according to CBRE data — but that gap will probably narrow as the north’s growth prospects outpace those of the south.
Highlands Ranch is almost fully built out, and land is harder to come by and more expensive in the south than in the north. But DeBartolomeis said growth prospects for all sides of the metro area show no signs of abating at this point, so one area’s gain is not necessarily another area’s loss.
“It’s been exciting to watch this all play out,” he said.