Man with a plan: Fitzsimons redevelopment guru bringing DTC drive to Aurora’s Anschutz


AURORA | For the Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority, the last couple years have been marked by steady growth.

In 2012, they added a 40,000-foot wing to their headquarters, the BioScience Park Center. And in April, they broke ground on the new 112,000 square foot Bioscience 2 building north of the Anschutz Medical Campus.

But a few years from now, observers might look back on those two projects as mere blips in a massive redevelopment project that saw 150 acres in the Fitzsimons Life Science District turned into a bustling bioscience community north of Anschutz. 

To tackle that monumental project, the FRA last week announced the hiring of longtime Denver real estate developer John Shaw to oversee its real estate projects in the district.

Shaw, who oversaw the Denver Tech Center in the 1980s and worked on the redevelopment that saw the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center morph into Anschutz, said he looks forward to what the future holds for the area. 

“It is absolutely staggering the amount of activity that has occurred at Fitzsimons,” he said. “But the wonderful part is that we have 150 acres now to complete that park. And we have the opportunity to really think through how it should be developed.”

The FRA’s land includes much of the land north of East Montview Boulevard, including the old Fitzsimons golf course. The group’s development plans have called for turning that land into a thriving business park where bioscience and other high-tech companies mingle with researchers and other academics from the medical campus across Montview.

Shaw said he wants to look closely at how that land should be developed and whether the plans need to include further student housing options or possibly hotels and other businesses. 

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, who sits on the FRA’s board of directors, said Shaw is a great fit for the FRA because he has the experience with massive developments, big companies and the public sector. 

“I think that helps in terms of deciding and recommending on what the FRA maybe should and shouldn’t do,” he said. One of the biggest questions will be how to use all the space available, Hogan said. 

“What we have learned south of Montview is that you don’t need 160 acres to develop a first-class bioscience campus. You may need only 50 or 60 acres, so what do you do with the rest of it?” he said. 

FRA executive director Steve VanNurden said he wants the land north of Montview to be as busy as the Anschutz campus to the south. To do that, the organization needs someone who knows the ins and outs of real estate development, he said. 

“We needed that real estate expertise to continue to develop that north side of the campus like we have the south side,” he said. 

Shaw’s experience at Fitzsimons, which includes work on Children’s Hospital Colorado and the University Physicians Inc. properties, as well as his time on the FRA board, means he knows the area well, VanNurden said. 

Another important issue facing the campus will be transportation, he said. 

Today, about 20,000 people visit the campus every weekday. VanNurden said that once the FRA’s build out is complete, the square mile between Colfax and Fitzsimons Parkway to the north and Peoria Street east to Potomac Street will see as many as 40,000 people a day. The sheer number of people visiting that patch of land will mean making sure there are plenty of transportation options, he said. 

Shaw agreed and said the planned light rail stops on the campus and improvements on nearby Peoria Street and Interstate 225 are crucial, but so will be developing a system to move people around the campus once they are already there. 

“It’s absolutely vital to the success of the overall park that we get the transportation system to work effectively,” he said.