Wheat Ridge “base camp” near rail stop
wheat ridge» What happens when you combine two of Colorado’s hottest trends: the outdoor recreation industry and co-working office space?
You get an unfolding blueprint for how to best use the real estate surrounding Ward Station, the last stop on the future G-Line and Wheat Ridge’s only station on the 122-mile FasTracks system.
The plan is known formally as the Ward Station Vision, but lately by the more user-friendly “Base Camp” — a tip off to outdoorsy entrepreneurs who might want to set up shop a few miles from the foothills west of Denver yet still easily connect to the rest of the metro area and Denver International Airport via train.
“Wheat Ridge has always been the base camp of the Rocky Mountains,” said councilman Zach Urban, who came up with the nickname during a City Council meeting this fall. “Wheat Ridge is where people stop from all over the Front Range to stock up before going up the hill.”
The plan calls for a complex in the mold of Galvanize or Shift in Denver, that “imagines an outdoor oriented, co-working development as a primary organizing element,” according to a vision document drafted by consultancy Parsons Brinckerhoff and presented last month at the Urban Land Institute’s TOD Marketplace conference in Denver.
It could play home to established outdoor recreation companies, like Patagonia or The North Face, although Urban thinks the concept works better as an incubator for companies just getting their feet wet.
“We could accommodate a few larger employers. But for the area immediately surrounding the Gold Line (or G-Line), I would suggest that we would do well to focus our energy on startups, smaller companies and manufacturers,” he said.
Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, agreed that smaller could be bigger at Ward Station.
“It’s not about having a 400-person company,” Benitez said. “It’s about having the next 25-person company. They need a place to collaborate and a place to share and create.”
The notion of a base camp for outdoor recreation companies in Wheat Ridge comes just as the Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act, which will for the first time include the economic impact of the outdoor industry in the federal government’s annual tally of the gross domestic product, awaits President Obama’s signature.
The co-working space is slated for 15acres on the east side of Ward Road where the Jolly Rancher candy factory once stood.
It would be the centerpiece in what is envisioned as a “unique recreational node” that takes advantage of access to the mountains via Interstate 70 and downtown Denver via rail. Plans also envision a mountain bike park at the site and opportunities to plug into a possible paddleboarding and kayaking operation at the two ponds at the corner of I-70 and Ward Road.
Ironically, Down River Equipment for years had its headquarters on West 52nd Avenue, just north of the train station. The river-raft manufacturer just moved to a larger building about a mile away from Ward Station.
Wheat Ridge has to differentiate its transit station from the dozens of others that are popping up all over Denver and the suburbs, city manager Patrick Goff said.
“We’re trying to be unique,” Goff said. “There are going to be 75 stations when FasTracks is built out, and we don’t want to be the same thing as everyone else.”
Not that the city is eschewing all the traditional elements — notably high-density housing — of transit-oriented development. This past summer, the city approved a zoning change for a vacant 7.5-acre parcel at the southwest corner of West 52nd Avenue and Tabor Street that could one day feature a development with 230 apartments and 80 townhomes. But Goff said the city intends to make Ward Station more than just another clustered development.
To that end, Wheat Ridge voters passed a sales tax increase Nov. 8 that will direct $12 million to the Ward Station area to fund infrastructure improvements that will make the site more attractive to developers. Now it’s just a matter of getting the Regional Transportation District to open the G-Line, which has been delayed because of crossing gate technology that needs to be certified by federal railroad regulators.
RTD has acknowledged that the debut of the 11-mile line to Denver Union Station will slip into 2017.
“The sooner the train gets here, the sooner there will be interest in the site,” Goff said.
Councilwoman Genevieve Wooden said it’s time for Wheat Ridge to develop an innovative work center in the city, which has fought the perception of being an aging bedroom community among more ambitious suburban peers.
The Jefferson County Economic Development Corporation has identified outdoor recreational equipment companies as a target industry, Wooden said, and Ward Station could help toward that goal.
“It may take awhile to get the concept going,” she said. “However, from the other locations that are working in the regional area, this idea generates a lot of industry interest. Best of all, Wheat Ridge could be on the cutting edge of a new and innovative work space and industry partnership.”