AT THE TIME OF ITS groundbreaking in 1998, Highlands Garden Village in Denver was hailed by the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) as a next-generation example of high-density, transit-linked, mixed-income, mixed-use, and environmentally-sustainable community development.
The 27-acre site was once home to Elitch Gardens, a turn-of-the-century amusement park that boasted the Big Band Trocadero Ballroom and world-famous wooden roller coasters. When Elitch Gardens relocated to downtown Denver in 1994, the property was largely abandoned—and a target for arson—until developers Chuck Perry and Jonathan Rose of Denver-based firm Perry Rose acquired the site in 1998 and began designing Highlands Garden Village with fellow CNU co-founder Peter Calthorpe. Today, the project offers 306 units, including market-rate and affordable apartments, senior housing, live/work lofts, townhouses, and single-family homes, in addition to 75,000 square feet of commercial space.
A decade later, the development still stands as a milestone achievement in urban infill and sustainability. All of the buildings exceed Colorado's rigorous Built Green standards: A 25,000-square-foot anchor grocery store is the first LEED Gold-certifi ed core and shell, and, in 2005, the EPA presented the development with a national award for smart growth achievement.
But will such large-scale projects be feasible in the current economy? Perry thinks yes, and says mixed-use and mixedincome projects could arguably be more easily funded than other types of development. “The diversity in product type in and of itself provides the opportunity to divide the project into pieces that can be financed,” Perry says. “Highlands Garden Village's development costs were about $102 million, divided into a set of pieces that are financed with different partnerships and joint ventures that mitigate the risk.”
Low-income housing tax credits were used to finance both the 63-unit Cottage Hill senior apartments and the 74-unit Trocadero apartments, respectively $7 million and $11 million chunks of the site. Both projects were 4 percent tax credit deals done with private activity bond allocation and housing bonds from the city of Denver. Cottage Hill has 40 percent of its units designated for residents earning 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) and Trocadero is leasing to people who make less than 50 percent of the AMI.
Perry admits the development debuted to a drastically different market, but adds that the tenets of New Urbanism displayed can continue to be an effective model for future projects. “Mixed-use presents some opportunities in the sense that there may be a better opportunity to finance the whole package,” he says. “The diversity can create opportunities if the lenders can sense momentum.”