Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ could have a seismic impact on the University of Denver area

MapThe old Gates Tire and Rubber Company site is only three miles from the University of Denver and a nine-minute drive from University & Evans

The Denver Real Estate Journal published a piece on Amazon’s ‘HQ2’ which is expected to create more than 50,000 jobs for the eventual ‘winner’. And, depending on your point of view, the award is certain to be transformational for the city that wins the Amazon sweepstakes. As we all know, it could be good or bad – depending on your view of urban growth, job growth, economic growth, real estate values, city services and traffic.

A number of cities are vying for the honor but Denver is one of the finalists. Already a major hub for the online retailer, Amazon already has a significant presence in Denver with over 1,500 employees and counting. And while many have speculated that the Amazon selection team will want to add a presence in the eastern time zone, others argue that Amazon’s very own selection criteria place Denver among the leaders.

Image result for Amazon HQ2
Image courtesy The Denver Post

While the actual city sites scouted by the Amazon team have been kept in confidence, there are several Denver area locations that would fit the HQ2 requirements according to the Denver Real Estate Journal. So what are they looking for? According to their own criteria:

  • An urban or downtown campus
  • A similar layout to Amazon’s Seattle campus (Urban)
  • A development-prepped site with both available functional space and shovel-ready development space
  • Mass transit serving the site (train, bus, interstate)
  • Employee housing options in close proximity to the site
  • 30 miles or less from a population center
  • 45 minutes to an international airport
  • Meet Amazon’s corporate and civic culture
  • Local government cooperation to facilitate and contribute assemblages, fund infrastructure, and expedite planning, rezoning or entitlements (i.e. The ‘winner’ pays)

According to the article in the Journal, “Realistically, only downtown and near downtown Denver contain the dense development that effectively serves as a ‘population center’ targeted by Amazon.” This is especially true for millennial software developers who skew male and urban. So, should Denver be selected for HQ2, the article suggests four areas – Elitch Gardens, Northern RINO, Upper Fox and Gates (I-25 & Broadway).

And, the likely favorite, with the least amount of complications may either thrill or disappoint you. At less than three miles from the DU campus and a mere nine-minute drive – you are there.

The former Gates Rubber Company site would be the clear winner with the greatest benefit to Amazon and the least number of encumbrances. This, of course, would have the greatest impact on the University of Denver and the surrounding neighborhoods if the combined Broadway Station/former Gates plant and Denver Design District were to come to fruition as Amazons new HQ2.

The old Gates Rubber Company site could be the location selected for Amazon’s new HQ2 location

The Gates site has mass transit options with rail stops and RTD’s second-busiest station (I-25 and Broadway) stop. While there is a need for improved I-25 connections for motorists, plans are already in the works for next year to improve the exchange. The Broadway Station/former Gates plant recently was upzoned and would offer a master plan suitable for Amazon’s campus headquarters. RTD’s 5-acre station site will need improvements which would be funded by local taxpayers or the State of Colorado. New office buildings are planned north of I-25 which should be able to accommodate short-term space needs that Amazon will need as early as 2019. And if Amazon’s Seattle headquarters is any indication, 15% of their employees work in the same zip code as the home office and 20% walk to work. That would mean that Platte Park, University, and University Park would be at even a greater premium than today.

While all of the Denver proposed Amazon sites would likely impact DU in one way or another, the Gates site would have the greatest direct impact on University Park, Platte Park, Overland as well as retail development along South Broadway and the University of Denver. Amazon employees would be seeking real estate near their work, frequenting local businesses and placing greater demand on local services. DU would also likely be a beneficiary of the rapid growth with employees and families seeking degrees and taking continuing education courses. Further, public-facing offerings from the University such as athletics, the Newman Center and ongoing lecture and educational series would likely enjoy a bump from the influx of new community members. But there may be a steep price to pay for local citizens caught in the middle of intense development and explosive growth.

Amazon’s presence would be transformational, yes. But at what price?