ULI Colorado Blog

DEN Real Estate: Taxiing for Takeoff

What’s Next for Real Estate at Denver International Airport (DEN)?

Blog by ULI member Jenni Lantz

On Thursday, December 10, some 400 ULI Colorado members and guests gathered in one of the ballrooms of the new Westin Hotel at the Denver International Airport (DIA) for two panels about the future of the airport and surrounding development.

Kim Day, DIA’s CEO, started the evening with an update on the Airport, which marked its 20th anniversary in 2015. DIA owns 34,000 acres and will eventually develop half of that land with growth of the airport and additional development, but half will be saved for noise mitigation. Day highlighted plans including an expansion to 12 runways – doubling its current count.

John Rebchook, Editor of the Colorado Real Estate Journal, took the stage next, and, as moderator of the first panel, introduced the panelists: Stuart Williams, Project Manager of the Hotel & Transit Center Project; Brent Mather, Design Director at Gensler; Tom Curley, General Manager of Westin DIA; Greg Straight, Project Manager of the Eagle P3 Project for the Regional Transportation District (RTD); and Bhavesh Patel, Chief Revenue Officer, and EVP of DIA (DEN).

Stuart Williams started off the first panel with a video, introducing the group to the airport, the new hotel and the transit center. The hotel and transit center, part of the original plan for the airport, have finally become a reality thanks to the more than 350 companies who participated in the project, with over 90 percent local or having a strong local presence. The new development, a 519-room hotel, transit center and conference center is key to taking the airport into the future.

Brent Mather of Gensler discussed the design for the 700,000 square foot project. Consisting of the public plaza, hotel, conference center and transit center, this new development was designed to integrate the old terminal and the new train station. The hotel’s shape is an abstract reference to flight. The curve in the middle helps the building meet the height limit, but also allows views of the old terminal, a part of the design requirements. Denver has a strong commitment to public art and this has been included in many parts of the new development. Mather noted that the public plaza is expected to become the next great Denver space for concerts and other public events.

Tom Curley, General Manager of the hotel, began with a story of how the hotel opened on a day so snowy that Pena, the main highway into DIA, was closed. Instead of easing into opening, they had a huge hotel and restaurant day. Mr. Curley went on to discuss the Westin core values of wellness and renewal, and highlighted the 10 days of employee orientation where everyone learns that “it will always be about the people.”

RTD’s Greg Straight started his career working on the “new Denver airport” and now, 20 years later, is connecting that airport to Downtown. The A Line will begin taking travelers on April 22, 2016. This new line will connect Union Station to DIA with 8 stops for a 37-minute one way ride. Differing from the light rail of Denver, this line will be commuter rail which has a higher top speed and passenger capacity than light rail.

Bhavesh Patel, who manages DIA’s finances, discussed the next big project, the overhaul of the Great Hall. What started as the airport’s living room was given over to high-security TSA facilities after September 11, 2001. The Airport wants to reclaim the Great Hall by relocating TSA, modernizing the ticket counters and adding innovative retail.
The first panel wrapped up with a Q&A session led by John Rebchook.

The second half of the ULI Colorado holiday event focused on the new development around Denver International Airport (DIA). Mayor Michael B. Hancock kicked off the second half of the evening with his dreams for a regional aerotropolis, almost a new city devoted to airport-related development. Mayor Hancock, a big supporter of ULI, gave a call to action to compete with the rest of the nation as a region not just as a city.

Bruce O’Donnell, President of Starboard Realty was the moderator for the second panel which focused on DIA real estate and the East Line/North Corridor to Denver Union Station. He introduced the panel which included Dan Poremba, Senior Vice President and Managing Director of DEN Real Estate; Ferdinand Belz III, Principal at LC Fulenwider; Danny Abelson, Vice President of Connectivity at Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Company; and Jocelyn Hittle, Director of Program Development at Colorado State University.

Poremba gave insight into the projected three phases of development on DEN-owned land, on and off of the airport. The first phase, including the hotel and transit center, is almost complete with the A Line routes beginning in April 2016. The second phase is a group of three transit-oriented developments (TODs) along the A Line, including Pena Station Next, which was discussed later in the panel. The final phase will actually be on the airport land and will include mixed use and commercial developments.

Belz of LC Fulenwider elaborated on Pena Station Next, one of the A Line TODs. The project, comprised of almost 400 acres, is a partnership between DIA, Fullenwider, Panasonic and the City of Denver. Its vision is based on sustainability and being a walkable, mixed-use community and will include Panasonic’s headquarters, a hotel, and residential and commercial developments. To learn more about Pena Station Next, check out ULI Colorado’s blog: “Peering into TOD’s Technology Future.”

Danny Abelson from Panasonic offered further insight into their new headquarters and its relationship to Pena Station Next. Panasonic has changed over the years and is no longer primarily a consumer company. Today they are a tech development company that works with other businesses. Looking for a new North American headquarters, Panasonic decided on Denver for many reasons including our entrepreneurial spirit, local leadership, and convenience on a national and international level. All of these reasons are integrated into the new Denver Panasonic office. The 112,996 square foot building includes both office and warehouse space and will accommodate 152 employees.

Colorado State University’s Jocelyn Hittle was the final speaker of the evening. She took a broader view of development in our area and wrapped things up by connecting to the DIA land. Colorado State University (CSU) is working on the redesign of the National Western Center. Working with the City of Denver, the History Colorado Center and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, CSU plans to change the National Western Center from its current occasional use, primarily for the National Western Stock Show, to year-round use. The new vision for the center includes educational features and a stronger connection to the riverfront. Next CSU plans to engage with the DIA to use some of their land for research and potentially certificate training in agricultural fields.

The evening wrapped up with self-guided tours of the hotel, train station, trains, and the ULI holiday party.

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