Wheat Ridge “base camp” near rail stop

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By John Aguilar

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.”

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