Bill Gates-backed development part of Berthoud’s looming I-25 boom

BERTHOUD — The tiny town of Berthoud is preparing to lay out the welcome mat for billionaire Bill Gates, using a new wastewater treatment plant to break the ice on a major residential and commercial development along Interstate 25.

The plant, near I-25 and Colorado Highway 56, will allow development to move forward on that project and several others that have been waiting in the wings at the interchange for decades.

The largest project is the 1,600-acre Wilson Ranch, the property quietly acquired by Gates-backed Front Range Holdings LLC in 2007. The land was annexed by Berthoud in 2004.

Love’s Travel Stops have multiple fuel-pumping stages that accommodate 18-wheelers. Courtesy Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores

The development, approved when the land was owned by Loveland-based McWhinney Enterprises, includes plans for 4,000 homes, 5.3 million square feet of commercial and retail space, a town center and ribbons of open space. McWhinney signed development rights over to Front Range Holdings in 2014, according to Berthoud town records.

According to Colorado Secretary of State records, Front Range Investment Holdings was formed in 2007 by Michael Larsen, who manages Gates’ investment empire through Cascade Investment LLC in Kirkland, Wash., according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Larsen, renowned for keeping a low profile, did not respond to requests for comment.

When asked whether they were aware that Bill Gates was one of the entities backing the project, Berthoud Town Administrator Michael Hart said, “I don’t know anything about that. You’re on your own on that one.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve worked with three consultants that have represented the group as we try to work through this project,” Hart said.

The current consultant, who spoke to BizWest on the condition of anonymity, said the group is waiting for infrastructure to be built to accommodate the project before it breaks ground.

Egg or the chicken?

Hart said the town wanted to make sure developers were serious about starting a project and were willing to share in the cost of building the infrastructure, primarily the wastewater plant, before investing local tax dollars in it.

That happened in December when Oklahoma-based Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores approached the town about building a truck stop at the southwest corner of the interchange. The $7.5 million project will include a country store, tire-care center, a fuel station for big rigs, showers, a pair of fast-food restaurants and a hotel.

Hart said the town will use a combination of grants, contributions from the private sector and “impact fees” that have been collected from the development community specifically for this purpose.

“It has become financially feasible for Berthoud to plan for the construction of this new wastewater treatment plant,” Hart said. The first phase of the plant will cost $2.5 million and will require laying pipe under I-25. Additional segments will be built as demand increases.

Later this year, the Colorado Department of Transportation will begin adding a third lane to southbound 1-25 beginning at the Highway 56 interchange, Hart said. The two-mile lane will aid traffic entering and exiting Love’s.

Kealey Dorian, a spokeswoman for Love’s, said the type of restaurants that usually partner with Love’s are McDonald’s, Subway and Chester’s Fried Chicken, but which ones will be used at the Berthoud stop have yet to be determined. She said hotels at Love’s truck stops usually are 60 to 80 rooms and run by either Best Western Plus, Sleep Inn or Microtel & Suites by Wyndham Hotels.

Dorian said the project will take about nine months to build once construction begins. She said construction will begin shortly after Love’s closes on the 20-acre property fronting the interstate it is purchasing from M&C Real Estate LLC, based in Alsip, Ill.

Don Waterlander with M&C Real Estate said the company has 110 more acres fronting Highway 56 at the southwest corner of the interchange that are zoned commercial and available for development.

He declined to discuss if M&C has received any interest from developers on the remaining property.

Waiting in the wings

In July 2007, Greeley-based Aims Community College purchased 30 acres of land on the northeast corner of the interchange from McWhinney for $5.2 million for a possible campus in Berthoud.

Aims president Marilynn “Marsi” Liddell said the college still owns the property but has no immediate plans to build a new campus.

“We know this is prime real estate. Right now, there are no plans to begin construction in our strategic plan, which covers the next three years,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t.”

Doug Storum can be reached at 303-630-1959, 970-416-7369 or dstorum@bizwestmedia.com.

BERTHOUD — The tiny town of Berthoud is preparing to lay out the welcome mat for billionaire Bill Gates, using a new wastewater treatment plant to break the ice on a major residential and commercial development along Interstate 25.

The plant, near I-25 and Colorado Highway 56, will allow development to move forward on that project and several others that have been waiting in the wings at the interchange for decades.

The largest project is the 1,600-acre Wilson Ranch, the property quietly acquired by Gates-backed Front Range Holdings LLC in 2007. The land was annexed by Berthoud in 2004.

Love’s Travel Stops have multiple fuel-pumping stages that accommodate 18-wheelers. Courtesy Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores

The development, approved when the land was owned by Loveland-based McWhinney Enterprises, includes plans for 4,000 homes, 5.3 million square feet of commercial and retail space, a town center and ribbons of open space. McWhinney signed development rights over to Front Range Holdings in 2014, according to Berthoud town records.

According to Colorado Secretary of State records, Front Range Investment Holdings was formed in 2007 by Michael Larsen, who manages Gates’ investment empire through Cascade Investment LLC in Kirkland, Wash., according to a recent Wall Street Journal article. Larsen, renowned for keeping a low profile, did not respond to requests for comment.

When asked whether they were aware that…