Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority in Aurora eyes housing, hotels in place of bioscience, golf course

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AURORA | In its 100 years, the Fitzsimons Golf Course has played host to a U.S. President and thousands of everyday golfers who flocked to the 18 holes in north Aurora.

But with the booming Anschutz Medical Campus to the south, the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority has long planned to shutter the course and redevelop the land.

Now though, the plans to redevelop the 184 acres north of the campus, including the golf course, have shifted as FRA and city officials say they don’t need quite as much space for bioscience companies as they once thought they did.

The biggest change in the plan, which passed the city’s planning committee last month and got initial approval from city council this week, calls for as many as 2,400 residential units by 2024.

Housing wasn’t part of the initial plans, which called for turning the area into the “Colorado Science and Technology Park,” a hub for the medical and bioscience industry.

Steve VanNurden, executive director of the FRA, said the new plan is more flexible than the original one, which he noted was crafted close to a decade ago.

This plan is “market opportunistic,” VanNurden said. Where previous plans called for specific buildings to go in specific spots, this one is more focused on zones, he said, which can let developers tweak their plans based on market conditions.

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said that when the initial plan was developed, bioscience companies required a much larger footprint. Today, thanks to advances in technology, those companies need much less space, which frees up some of the FRA’s acreage for housing.

Hogan said leaders have always envisioned the site having more people who live and work at the campus.

One of the main motivators for the changes was RTD’s decision in 2013 to move the light rail line from Montview Boulevard north to Fitzsimons Parkway.

In a memo to council detailing the plan, staff from the city’s planning department said with the station sitting north of the campus and no longer between the FRA land and the Anschutz campus, the station itself could be a centerpiece of the development.

“The relocation of the station significantly changed future planning and development opportunities within the FRA lands and promoted the opportunity for transit-oriented development,” the memo said.

Now, in addition to added housing, the plan calls for as many as two hotels with 150 rooms by 2024.

While the plan has been met with support at the planning committee and city council, it has some scratching their heads.

Councilwoman Barb Cleland said she is leery of adding housing to the area.

Residential units there won’t provide the tax base that the city needs to provide services to the people who live there, she said.

A better option would be a larger focus on retail businesses, which would provide a tax base.

“There has got to be ancillary business to supply three hospitals,” she said.

For the golfers who frequent Fitzsimons, the plan to raze the course has always been an unpopular one. But now, with redevelopment plans calling for residential housing, hotels and parking garages instead of projects more-closely tied to the hospitals at Anschutz, the idea is even less popular.

Rick Porter, who golfs at Fitzsimons about once a week, said that if the course was going to be redeveloped and turned into hospitals or other medical facilities, he wouldn’t have much of a problem with it. But apartments and hotels? That’s tougher to swallow.

And, Porter said, the city has done a lousy job of keeping the course regulars informed about their plans. He said he only saw a notice a few weeks ago when his shot on hole No. 14 went long and he had to find his ball. On a far corner of the course — hardly a spot golfers frequent, like the clubhouse or driving range — he saw a notice about the planning meeting.

“I’m not stupid, I recognize this is probably one of the most-valuable pieces of property in Aurora,” he said before he drove a few balls at the course’s driving range this week. “But there’s no need to be underhanded about it.”

Paul and Julie Bell, who regularly golf with Porter at Fitzsimons, said they too would be sad to see the course go. Paul Bell said he hopes to pressure leaders to save the course and hopefully turn it into a course dedicated to veterans like he, Porter and others who call Fitzsimons their home course.

“Sometimes we have to slow the wheels of progress down,” he said.

Hogan said that while redeveloping the golf course has been the plan for 20 years, he would be open to saving at least part of it if it’s compatible with the other needs in the area.

“I don’t know whether that’s possible or not,” he said. “But to me it would be great.”