Light rail only glitch in State of City

Lone Tree mayor focuses on extension

Jane Reuter
Lone Tree Mayor Jim Gunning gives his annual State of the City address May 20 at the Lone Tree Arts Center.

Residential, retail and business growth remain robust in Lone Tree, with much more to come. But the way Lone Tree's future unfolds depends largely on the construction of the southeast light rail extension, Mayor Jim Gunning said during his annual State of the City address.

“There isn't a more important piece of infrastructure for the region,” Gunning said, focusing his comments on future Lone Tree development east of Interstate 25. “You're really looking at about a $700 million increase in assessed valuation over there (and) 22,000 jobs.”

The Regional Transportation District estimates 19,000 people will ride the southeast light rail extension the day it opens, Gunning said.

But without light rail, “The development is different,” Gunning said. “I'm not sure we have as much commercial space for as many jobs. It could mean more homes.”

At just over two miles, the extension from Lincoln Avenue to RidgeGate Parkway is short but vital. As the $210 million project has met continuing financing snarls, Gunning has grown increasingly determined to keep it moving forward. City officials have attempted to negotiate public-private partnerships to accelerate the construction.

“We want to get a shovel in the ground by the end of this year,” Gunning said. “RTD is very confident they're going to get a federal grant (of) up to $90 million. That means we have to wait for that grant process to come to fruition. So what we're looking at is 2016 before we can really start breaking ground on this. It's not as soon as I'd hoped, but we feel very encouraged.”

The extension's funding and timeline are unknown in a city otherwise accustomed to certainty and success, and among a scant handful of negatives presented during the mayor's annual address.

About 166 south metro Denver community and business leaders attended the sold-out lunch, held at the Lone Tree Arts Center. The guest list ran the gamut from representatives of public agencies like the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, county commissioners and South Suburban Parks and Recreation to executives from Cabela's, TW Telecom, Kaiser Permanente, Sky Ridge, Park Meadows shopping center and a variety of other businesses.

Speaking after the address, Gunning said the city already owes much of its ongoing construction to light rail. Kaiser chose its Park Meadows Drive site, on which it opened a six-story, multi-specialty complex in late 2013, in large part because of its proximity to light rail. Charles Schwab officials cited light rail as a determining factor in the Fortune 500 company's decision to build a campus in Lone Tree.

With light rail, Lone Tree could see developments of similar quality and status on the 2,000 undeveloped acres east of RidgeGate property.

Gunning highlighted Schwab's project during his address, noting its capacity to house almost double the employees it already has in the metro area.

“This campus will house 4,000 employees,” he said. “So if they have 2,000 (now in Denver), and it'll house 4,000, I think you can do the math. And don't forget, they still have another 20 acres behind (the active construction area) they haven't broken ground on.”

He touched on plans in RidgeGate's west side for a senior living complex near the arts center, and construction of a new library, plus housing projects ranging from condominiums to $2 million single-family homes.

Construction planned on C-470 and I-25 will ease congestion on those throughways, and a circulator shuttle aimed at getting employees from the light rail station to businesses along Park Meadows Drive will ease traffic there.

Discussion also is growing around the idea of a pedestrian bridge spanning Lincoln Avenue from north to south near Heritage Hill Circle.

“When we started with the community about the library moving, we got a lot of pushback that Lincoln's a barrier,” Gunning said. “So we really need to do something here. We think it's a very important piece of infrastructure the community is missing.”

The city hasn't yet identified a funding source for the project.

Gunning highlighted expansions, renovations and new construction projects that include Sky Ridge, the University of Colorado's Lone Tree Health Center, LYFE Kitchen, Seasons 52, the pending Snooze restaurant, Mellow Mushroom, Brother's and Cabela's. He briefed attendants on plans to redesign the Entertainment District along Park Meadows Drive.

The mayor also touched on legislation with potential to impact Lone Tree and its businesses, including the Transportation Enterprise Transparency Act that would change major transit funding options, a proposed tax on online sales, and efforts to remedy legal issues that hinder condominium construction.