DIA picks Fulenwider for FasTracks station

Monday, August 20, 2012

Denver International Airport has chosen a proposal by L.C. Fulenwider Inc. to be the first “aviation station” along FasTracks’ East rail line, airport officials said late Monday.

DIA had been looking at two proposals for a rail station. One was from Denver developer Fulenwider for a rail station near 61th Avenue and Peña Boulevard, at DIA’s Denver International Business Center.

The other was an option called High Point proposed by LNR Property LLC near 72nd Avenue and Dunkirk Street. That station would have been at the site of a major hotel-convention center project proposed by Gaylord Entertainment Co., but that project is now uncertain.

A selection panel meet last week and recommended the Fulenwider proposal to Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, said John Ackerman DIA’s chief commercial officer. Hancock accepted that recommendation, he said.

“We looked at a number of different criteria,” Ackerman said. “That site is accessible, it has access from three different locations. It has great visibility from Peña Boulevard. We think it has great opportunity for commercial-mixed use development and it has wonderful connections to existing and planned neighborhoods around there.”

He said the Fulenwider development team “has a great rack record for this kind of mixed-use development.”

Ackerman said the Fulenwider site is part of the airport’s “gateway plan” for DIA’s entrance.

Fulenwider’s business center proposal includes plans for a hotel park and conference center in the north area of the site. The area is already home to Frontier Airlines' headquarters, six hotels and four restaurants, according to the developer’s website.

The center also has space for retail and residential development, according to the website.

“The buildout of either one of them [the proposals] will take 20 years or more, depending on the economy and markets,” Ackerman said.

The two developers have spent years lobbying the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and DIA to have rail stations that would help their own developments prosper.

Currently, FasTracks’ plans for the East rail line, from downtown to the airport, call for the last station before DIA to be RTD’s existing park-and-ride lot at Airport Boulevard and 40th Avenue.

Cal Fulenwider, president of L.C. Fulenwider, couldn’t be reached for comment.

“We spent a lot of time and effort to try and show them why we thought the High Point plan was the more beneficial site for the aviation station,” said Ed Zebrowski, senior vice president for LNR Property LLC, in an interview with the DBJ. “Obviously we’re disappointed in the results, as we felt the High Point site was the most beneficial for all the parties involved.”

LNR was not provided any explanation as to why the Fulenwider site was chosen over the High Point site, he said. Miami Beach, Fla.-based. LNR owns the 1,600 acre High Point project, which includes residential homes and a charter school and was the site planned for Gaylord’s hotel and convention center.

Fulenwider’s selection means that, at a minimum, the developer won’t be responsible for paying “tens of millions of dollars over the life of a development” to buy and maintain additional trains to serve the station, Ackerman said. “It probably makes this development more feasible,” Ackerman said.

A bare-bones station along the East rail line and infrastructure required to operate it is expected to cost between $7.5 million and $15 million, he said.

DIA owns the land the station would be built on, as well as developable land adjacent to Fulenwider’s proposed development, Ackerman said.

DIA might do a joint venture with Fulenwider, combining land owned by the airport with land owned by Fulenwider for the larger development.

The airport might also take an equity position in the development, and could use some of the airport’s borrowing capacity to help the venture move forward, Ackerman said.

But he cautioned that financing for large developments typically come from several sources.

Ackerman said he expects that the LNR proposed station ultimately will be built at some point.

“The region will eventually have two development, two station, and the airport is still willing to work with LNR,” Ackerman said. “We’re eager to get started. We think this is a great thing for regional development.”