The promise of the Mason Corridor project

FORT COLLINS – There’s a bit of grousing, to be sure, about the coming construction interruptions. But there’s also a good measure of excitement and anticipation in the storefronts, office parks and other places of commerce that will be served by the MAX Bus Rapid Transit system along the Mason Corridor.

The new bus line is expected to reshape commuter patterns across the city. In doing so, it is already playing a role in the plans of apartment complex developers, schools, bowling alley owners and theater managers alike.

Construction on the $87 million, five-mile project kicks off in June. MAX will provide service every 10 minutes for travelers along Mason Street, which is just one block west of College Avenue, one of Fort Collins’ busiest streets. The line will begin at the Downtown Transit Center at the intersection of Laporte and Maple Streets and go as far south as a South Transit Center south of Harmony Road, which will be constructed later on in the project.

Disruptions are definitely going to be part of life before MAX service begins in 2014. For instance, Burlington Northern Santa Fe in July will replace rail in certain areas, shutting down train traffic in Fort Collins altogether for a full week. This work will also block all traffic on Mason Street between Laurel and Cherry streets. Later this year and through 2013, more construction will take place, including building underpasses, a guideway for the buses and transit centers at certain intersections.

In all, 12 stops or stations are planned along the corridor. Planners say they expect retailers and others in areas that surround each station or stop to see a boost in traffic, if not actual business.

Prospect and Mason is the closest of the major intersections around Colorado State University, and therefore is most likely to pick up students looking to head north to Old Town for a cup of coffee or a night out, or south for shopping and dining along College Avenue.

More obviously, the construction of The Commons, a student housing project at the intersection of Prospect and College, will mean a higher concentration of students in this area.

The large number of students will mean more riders for the MAX system, said Walker May, senior development manager of Capstone Development Partners, the Alabama-based developer of The Commons, and MAX will mean more visibility for the 665-bed project, scheduled for completion in August 2013.

In fact, May said, the plan for the Mason Corridor project was one of the big reasons Capstone decided to locate the project in Fort Collins.

Once Capstone decided to locate the project in Fort Collins, it ended up changing the plans for the building so that it would be able to better capitalize on the increased traffic resulting from the Mason Corridor.

Initially, May said, the site designs called for “pocket parks,” small green spaces, to face away from the Mason Corridor.

The developers decided to rotate the entire structure 180 degrees so that the three pocket parks, meant to be a major amenity that will draw new residents to The Commons, face the tracks and so that those who travel by bus can see what the housing project has to offer.

“I think that with our project and the city’s project, one begets the other,” May said. “The corridor will attract residents and the residents will increase ridership. The cycle will make the project worthwhile.”

A bit south, near the intersection of Drake Road and Mason sits Drake Professional Park, home to more than 100 businesses, according to park manager Jodi Riffe.

Among the businesses within the park are Fidelity National Title, Country Insurance and software firm New Century, Riffe said, all of which will benefit from the presence of a bus line.

Tenants at the park are especially looking forward to an easier trip to get to and from downtown, she said. MAX will allow them to avoid traffic congestion or having to find a spot to park.

Also near the Drake and Mason intersection is the CSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which employs some of the foremost veterinarians in the country.

Like other employees of CSU, which has deemed itself the “green university,” many of the employees at the Vet Teaching Hospital are eco-conscious, and for this reason, look forward to being able to take alternate transportation to and from work.

Further south, the intersection of Horsetooth Road and Mason features a broad array of businesses, from grocery stores and restaurants to a bowling alley and movie theater, all of which have the potential to harness the buying power of MAX riders.

Both Olive Garden and Barnes and Noble have entrances facing Mason Street, which should help them attract travelers getting off the bus at the Horsetooth or Troutman Parkway stations.

Local businesses, like Chipper’s Lanes, which sits next to the existing BNSF line, also stand to gain from increased traffic and exposure.

The Midtown Arts Center, located at 3750 S. Mason St., also stands to gain from the project, according to Kurt Terrio, owner of the arts center.

The line, he said, can help him draw patrons who would typically head downtown for arts events.

Like the team at Capstone Development, Terrio said that the Mason Corridor project was one of the reasons why he decided to locate his theater where he did.

Once it’s complete, the system will help alleviate parking issues and get patrons and other riders around town safely, Terrio said.

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