BROOMFIELD — If you’ve driven along Interstate 25 from Northern Colorado to Denver recently, you’ve probably seen it: a huge red sign on the west side of the roadway near the exit for Colorado Highway 7 that looks an awful lot like the virtual pin you’d drop to mark a spot on Google Maps inlaid with a large “B.”
“What’s this sign for?” you may have asked yourself.
There’s not much around — mostly vacant, dusty land. But all that’s about to change.
McWhinney Real Estate Services Inc. recently broke ground on some of the first elements of Baseline, a massive mixed-use development that could transform this patch of Broomfield dirt and grass into a modern mini-city home to tens of thousands of new residents and jobs.
Location, location, location
Baseline is a 1,100-acre property in northeastern Broomfield located generally south of Baseline Road, west of I-25 and east of Sheridan Parkway.
If traffic isn’t too bad, you can drive to Boulder or Denver in about a half-hour. This proximity to two of Colorado’s leading employment centers is key, McWhinney leaders say.
“Both Denver and Boulder have been great job-creating regions for the state and, quite frankly, the country,” McWhinney’s vice president of community development and general manager of Baseline Kyle Harris said. “So as Denver pushes to the north and Boulder pushes to the east, we’re right there at the convergence of two demographic and economic phenomena.”
Noting the development’s location adjacent to I-25 as travelers enter the Denver metro area from the north, Broomfield deputy city and county manager Kevin Standbridge said, “Baseline will provide a focal point not just for Broomfield but for much of the north suburban Denver.”
McWhinney bought the property in 2007 from Pulte Homes Inc., developer of nearby master-planned community Anthem.
“Everyone was looking into the abyss [of the Great Recession] and there was an opportunity to purchase this land at what we thought at the time was a good price,” Harris said.
The plan was always long term for McWhinney, which had no desire to perform minor improvements and quickly flip the property. The developer planned to hold onto the land until the economy improved before starting to develop it. That holding pattern ended up being a bit longer than thought due to the slow recovery out of the recession.
Baseline was originally branded Northpark, but the moniker “seemed fairly generic,” Harris said. “North of what? What park? Any good name for a community should locate you — not just geographically, but intellectually.”
The property is located along Baseline Road, “which helps strengthen the connection to Boulder,” Harris said.
As for the intellectual aspect: “We think about a baseline as ‘that from which other things are measured,’” he said. “It works on a number of levels.”
Few existing communities in the Boulder Valley or the northern Denver metro area match Baseline in sheer scope and diversity of development types.
At full build-out, which could take decades, the community could boast more than 17 million square feet of commercial space and more than 9,200 homes.
“Baseline is anticipated to be a small … ” Harris pauses to consider his words carefully before continuing, “ … city might be overstating it, but not by much.”
When all is said and done, Harris estimates the community could be home to upward of 23,000 people
“It’s transformational,” he said. “The same way you could view the Denver Tech Center as an entrée to Denver from the South, we view Baseline as being a gateway to Denver from the north.”
Baseline is divided into a series of phases, the westernmost of which is West Village.
This area, west of Sheridan Parkway, is nearly all residential. It’s home to the development’s first phase, Park 40, a 313-unit apartment complex that broke ground this year.
“Because this is a complete community, we need to have more than one type of residential offering,” Harris said. Plans for West Village include apartments, single-family homes, townhomes, duplexes and condos.
“There will be a variety of price points so we can attract a much broader audience,” he said.
Moving west to east away from Anthem, density will increase.
Across Sheridan Parkway from West Village is East Village, a denser community with taller apartment buildings, rental townhomes and affordable housing units.
This part of Baseline emphasizes walkability with sections of the neighborhood connected via car-less pathways.
East Village Includes a feature called Park Lane, which is a woonerf. This Dutch concept describes a low-speed street where pedestrians and vehicles share the roadway with cafe patios and picnic tables.
Center Street District
The Center Street District is envisioned as Baseline’s urban commercial core that could include offices, hotels, apartments, senior living, entertainment options and restaurants.
McWhinney is still determining the feasibility of aspects of Center Street, a process made more challenging after the COVID-19 outbreak changed the way people work and play.
“Personally, I think a vaccine will come and we will be able to congregate again,” Harris said. “I feel reasonably good about things like a theater, drafthouse and restaurants.”
For Harris, the biggest question mark is the office space. Will employees eventually return to the office after months or years spent working from home? He thinks they will.
“We still think there’s a place for [office space in Baseline], it just may look a little different.”
Baseline is poised to become the new home of the Butterfly Pavilion, which will relocate from its current space in Westminster.
“This relationship should be bigger than just bringing [the Butterfly Pavilion] over [to Baseline],” Harris said. “So we thought, ‘How can we incorporate science and research from the pavilion into a rapidly urbanizing area?’”
The answer: design that area to be a “pollinator district.” This means that elements of the community will be specifically designed using specialized irrigation techniques and mixes of plant types to maximize the overall number of pollinators as well as the diversity of pollinator species.
“Our smallest species are so fundamental to our food supply, so when their numbers drop it’s a concern,” Harris said.
McWhinney will map its carbon footprint with the ultimate goal of achieving a net-zero emission community, even if that means purchasing carbon credits
“I don’t know if we can get there, but we’re putting forth the effort to significantly reduce our carbon footprint,” Harris said. “With how technology is progressing, I’m psyched to see how far we can go with this.”
City leaders agree.
“The McWhinney group has really demonstrated an awareness and an intent to make the neighborhood as environmentally sustainable as it can with the pollinator district, the potential for green-power purchases, the walkability and the coordination of the small neighborhood parks with greenways,” Standbridge said. “The environmental ethic has been appreciated and applauded by the community.”
Adjacent to the Butterfly Pavilion is a planned kindergarten through 12th grade STEM school.
Adams 12 Five Star Schools is “a very progressive district as far as STEM is concerned,” Harris said.
The Baseline school, which would incorporate elements of the Butterfly Pavilion, a public library and collaboration spaces for students to work alongside local science and technology companies, would represent a new model “that accentuates the district’s STEM program and takes it to a new level,” Harris said.
It could provide a “direct answer to the problem we keep hearing from educational circles and industry about not producing kids with the skill sets they need,” he said.
Of course, with thousands of new residents and jobs, the existing roadways and transportation networks simply won’t cut it.
“When we have land use cases that come in front of the city council, oftentimes there will be some comments submitted by residents expressing their concerns about transportation and additional congestion,” Standbridge said “They want to know that there are improvements planned to the transportation system that will ultimately address new traffic coming from that neighborhood.”
McWhinney is attempting to get ahead of those concerns.
“We have begun in earnest to do a lot of significant expenditures” on infrastructure, Harris said. That includes roughly $10 million already pumped into the expansion of Sheridan Parkway.
Long-term plans for Baseline envision a multi-modal public transportation hub to circulate people throughout the community and to nearby cities like Boulder, Denver and Fort Collins.