H-P’s $23M land listing shuts door on expansion

FORT COLLINS – With hopes for a major expansion of Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Fort Collins campus now a faded memory, the company has listed 106 acres of open land on Harmony Road for sale with a Denver commercial brokerage.

The “for sale” signs on the land just south of the H-P campus, according to other property owners in the vicinity, could touch off another nettlesome zoning controversy on the Harmony Corridor. That’s because the land surrounding Harmony Road is defined by city planners as a future employment center, which translates to office buildings or light-industrial facilities. But most demand for development is likely to come from retail and housing interests.

“The significance here is that Hewlett-Packard is bailing on its Fort Collins land holdings,´ said Les Kaplan, a Fort Collins developer whose Imago Land Co. holdings lie adjacent to the H-P property and share the provisions of an overall development plan.

“What that means is the city is going to have to make some very challenging decisions – again. That piece of land, when it comes to opportunities to attract future major employers, is the crown jewel.”

The same land-use issue bubbled up in January, when the Fort Collins City Council approved a request from a retail developer to authorize big-box stores on a 100-acre piece of Harmony Road land designated for primary employment.

Critics of that decision, one that paved the way for Alabama-based Bayer Properties Inc. to move ahead with a retail center anchored by a Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse store, said the employment designation should remain sacrosanct to keep the city attractive to major industrial and office employers.

But Kaplan and other commercial real estate pros in the region say interest in the H-P land, priced at $23 million, would most likely come from buyers interested in the returns that come from retail and residential development.

City Manager Darrin Atteberry said he had discussed the listing of the property recently with Hewlett-Packard site general manager Steve Stiesmeyer, and that he was aware of the potential for a prospective buyer seeking yet another Harmony change-of-use ruling.

“We still have the Harmony Corridor plan in place,” Atteberry said. “In terms of future use, we’ll deal with that as a request comes in. It’s an important piece of land on the Harmony Corridor, and it’s a piece of property that many will be interested in.”

Denver-based Fuller Real Estate Co., one of the largest commercial brokerages in the West, is listing the land for the price that translates to $5 per square foot – an “ambitious” figure, Kaplan said.

Jim Capecelatro, speaking for the three Fuller brokers who are handling the listing, said client Hewlett-Packard would not authorize them to discuss the listing, and referred calls to a Houston-based spokesman for H-P. He did not return phone calls in time for the Business Report deadline.

Hewlett-Packard officials said in January 2000 the company would accelerate the construction schedule for the Harmony Technology Park, as it then referred to its holdings. Initial plans called for construction of the first two buildings in a planned six-building campus that would total 750,000 square feet. H-P then said the campus would provide space for an additional 3,500 employees in the coming decade.

Fort Collins officials hailed news of the expansion, with then-city manager John Fischbach saying it offered evidence H-P was poised to grow its Fort Collins presence.

At the same time, the company announced the closure of its Greeley plant, a building that still sits empty, and said the new development in Fort Collins would house those employees.

But a period of retrenchment that began in 2001 led the company to shelve the expansion plans. The recent listing with the Fuller brokerage is the first concrete evidence that the company sees no opportunity for Fort Collins expansion.

Kaplan said the offering would find plenty of interest from prospective buyers, but none in the “major employer” category. Any change of use for the property would have to have approval from other property owners within the overall development plan zone, Kaplan included.

“They’ll find someone for this, but it will be someone who wants to change the use,” Kaplan said. “If they want to do that, then we’ll have to sit down and negotiate.”