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ARCHIVED  September 23, 1999

I-25 dresses for millennium

Hear that rumbling?

It’s the Next Interlocken, simmering, shaking and ready to erupt.

In a world of catch-phrases, the “Next Interlocken” is the one being bandied about more and more by people with an eye on development of the Interstate 25 corridor from Fort Collins to the northern Denver suburbs.

The original Interlocken is a wildly successful technology business park on the Denver-Boulder Turnpike that houses Sun Microsystems Inc. and a host of other high-tech neighbors. If it replicates anywhere in Northern Colorado, those in the know say it will be within sight of I-25.

A Northern Colorado Business Report survey of commercial, industrial and residential development prospects along the I-25 ribbon not only points to some obvious candidates for the Next Interlocken title, but shows that the rest of the corridor will not be left behind while high-tech businesses converge on a specific site.

In other words, it might be best to pluralize the word Interlocken.

“They can all go ‘bang’ real fast,´ said Weld County Commissioner Glenn Vaad, who represents the county’s southwestern strip, including most of Weld’s I-25 frontage. “It can happen in lots of places.”

Thirty years ago, the landscape that fronted the northern stretch of Colorado’s main north-south arterial was as straightforward as the road itself: The dog track. Johnson’s Corner. The Stuckey’s at Del Camino. Northglenn. In between, corn, alfalfa and sugar beets for miles and miles. On farm field fences, a few farmers hung lures — plywood signs advertising “commercial property available.”

Today the highway has become — ready for another catch-phrase? — “Main Street,” the commercial and employment backbone of a region that’s being thought of more and more as one large community.

“Fort Collins, Loveland and Greeley are truly becoming the regional triad that people had talked about for decades,´ said Tom Livingston, a real estate lawyer with the Everitt Companies Real Estate Services in Fort Collins. “That’s a reality now.”

North and south of the Golden Triangle, as the three cities are known in regional parlance, the I-25 frontage is filling as well. Builders and developers are especially prolific along the 14-mile stretch between I-25’s junctions with Colorado highways 66 and 7, from Longmont to newly annexed portions of Broomfield.

Slower to develop, but showing signs of activity, are the flanks of I-25 north of Fort Collins.

Two futures

What will the I-25 corridor look like when the builders have finished? Real estate and development experts say that possible versions of the future are available for sampling today.

One scenario is unfolding east and southeast of Longmont, where more than a dozen business park developments — some new, some full — share property lines in rows on both sides of the highway.

One of Fort Collins’ most prominent real estate experts, who is also a frequent flyer on I-25, said he worries that developments like those that house sheet metal, tilt-up buildings will proliferate.

“I think if left to its own devices, what you see down around Erie and Frederick and Dacono is what will creep north, unfortunately,´ said Larry Kendall, chairman of The Group Inc. Real Estate.

“What we need is for a consortium, a think tank, if you will, to sit down and design something together that respects property rights, the ability of cities to zone, and the aesthetic values that need to be preserved.”

Examples of what Kendall calls “high-use, high-value” development are becoming as prevalent as the small sheet-steel warehouses and shops that clog some business parks. They offer the other vision of I-25’s future, and that is where the “I” word, as in Interlocken, comes into play.

Two major I-25 junctions, one at U.S. Highway 34 and the other at Colorado Highway 7, vie for the right to claim Northern Colorado’s first master-planned, high-tech business, retail and residential complex.

“What will happen here in the future is going to be exponential compared to what has occurred so far,´ said Nick Christensen, vice president for real estate at McWhinney Enterprises, which is poised to turn almost 3,000 acres at I-25 and U.S. 34 into the next Interlocken.

What has occurred so far is the building of the Prime Outlets of Loveland shopping center, the nearby Rocky Mountain Village retail complex, the launching of the first phase of the Global Technology Center, completion of a flock of hotels and restaurants and starts on multifamily housing projects.

On the eastern horizon, on approximately 1,000 acres the McWhinney’s own on the northeast corner of the junction, are plans for a major hotel and conference center, an 18-hole golf course, and accommodations for major high-tech businesses.

The words “Sun Microsystems,” the company that brought 4,000 jobs to Broomfield’s Interlocken, are on everyone’s lips.

“That’s an example of the sort of company that we’re looking for,” Christensen said. “We’re hopeful that a major, high-tech employer like a Sun Microsystems or a Hewlett Packard will locate here.”

Betting on the south

Twenty-eight miles to the south, the city of Broomfield would like to add to its list of Interlockens. Multiple property owners are covered under a 6,000-acre plan that the Boulder architectural firm Downing, Thorpe and James is under contract to provide.

The firm has some expertise in high-end projects: For the past 11 years, Downing Thorpe and James has helped steer development of the original Interlocken.

Fort Collins commercial real estate maven Bill Neal, who has an option on a 141-acre piece of the vast tract that Broomfield is planning, said his bet is on the southern end of I-25.

“I think the southerly-most parcel is going to develop soonest,” Neal said. “The E-470 link is going to make a huge difference there.”

E-470, the multilane toll road that will connect Denver International Airport with I-25 just two miles south of the Colo. 7 junction, will provide immediate incentive to companies whose wish lists include speedy access to a major airport.

But the completion of E-470, scheduled for 2003, will help other emerging business centers, as well. “Everyone will benefit from that,´ said McWhinney’s Christensen.

As the number of cars and trucks that stream by on I-25 continues to rise, and as two more lanes are laid to accommodate all that traffic, the land use questions will persist into the new millennium.

The Group’s Kendall recalls a recent conversation that illustrates how the old I-25 and the one that is emerging collide.

“I talked to a farmer who has 300 acres, and said somebody wanted to buy it, and was pretty excited about the price,” Kendall said. “I said, ‘Well, somebody wants the corner 20 acres. They’re not interested in the whole property.’ If somebody puts an RV lot in that 20 acres on the corner, well, that’s not putting the land to its highest use.”

At the McWhinneys’ property at U.S. 34 and I-25, 47,000 cars per day whiz by on the interstate. Further south, in northeast Broomfield, the count is up to more than 65,000. Kendall said that kind of pressure, and the growth of communities that the arterial serves, requires that each inch of I-25’s frontage be treated as the prize real estate that it has become.

“What we need to do is identify interchanges where the highest use and the highest value is, and try to get them to develop with the highest use possible in mind,” Kendall said. “You can’t legislate the use, but you can get people to agree on architectural and aesthetic standards.”

Hear that rumbling?

It’s the Next Interlocken, simmering, shaking and ready to erupt.

In a world of catch-phrases, the “Next Interlocken” is the one being bandied about more and more by people with an eye on development of the Interstate 25 corridor from Fort Collins to the northern Denver suburbs.

The original Interlocken is a wildly successful technology business park on the Denver-Boulder Turnpike that houses Sun Microsystems Inc. and a host of other high-tech neighbors. If it replicates anywhere in Northern Colorado, those in the know say it will be within sight of I-25.

A Northern Colorado Business Report survey of commercial, industrial…

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