RAIL CHANGE AT FITZSIMONS — Light rail station development opens up big opportunities

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AURORA | With the University of Colorado at Denver Anschutz Medical Campus across the street, a new light rail line, and an interstate highway nearby, the southwest corner of East Colfax Avenue and Potomac Street has a lot going for it.

The space has so much to offer, said Randy Bryant, president of Catalina Development Group. Bryant came across the intersection a few years ago. He was surprised no one had developed it yet.

“That corner has everything you’d want in a successful real estate development,” he said.

That was summer 2013, years after the old Heaven on Earth Inn had been demolished, and a few proposed projects at the site fizzled.

Bryant and his team jumped at the chance to develop the site. Last week, they unveiled the new Forum Fitzsimons Apartments at 13650 E. Colfax Ave. The project features 397 units, two resort-style pools, a park, fitness center, gated parking and 28,000 square feet of first-floor retail space.

The units range from studios to two-bedrooms. Bryant said rents will start around $1,300 a month and climb to $2,800 a month for the biggest units. Already, in just a couple months of signing leases, more than 60 units are leased, he said.

Bryant said the complex is already home to an International House of Pancakes restaurant and Firehouse Subs. A sushi restaurant is also in the works and developers are in discussions to fill the rest of the storefronts, he said.

For city officials, the project is an important one, as it marks the first of what they hope will be many similar projects dotting the R-Line that snakes through Aurora. 

Andrea Amonick, the city’s development services/Aurora Urban Renewal Authority manager, said there have been other apartment projects near the light-rail stops, but this is the first one that ties in retail space as well — the live, work, play, mixed-use model — in the way city officials have long hoped for in transit-oriented developments.

“This is what we have envisioned in general for TOD,” she said.

Other projects are in the works along the train line, including near the Iliff Station and near the Nine Mile Station, she said.

The Catalina project is different because the developers behind it started work before the trains started rolling. In other cases, developers wanted to see the train tracks in place before they really jumped in, she said.

“The market wasn’t yet believing that the rents that need to be commanded for this type of project could be achieved in Aurora,” she said.

The project is also markedly different from the three-story walk-up apartment complexes Aurora has long been known for. With residential spaces over retail, elevators and luxury amenities, she said Forum could be a game-changer.

“We expect this to be the first of many,” she said. “It’s very exciting because I think it’s going to change the face of Aurora.”

Officials are also banking on projects like Forum to lure more riders to the R-Line, which has had dismal ridership since it opened in early 2017. Regional Transportation District officials estimated the line would have about 12,000 riders each day, it is generally only about half that.