How ACED helped transform a contaminated site into the thriving Crossroads Commerce Park.
What does it take to transform a heavily contaminated 78-acre former smelting plant that crosses two counties into an award-winning industrial development?
Years of navigating complex political and environmental terrain, unfaltering focus, and keeping everyone’s eyes on the prize. That’s how brownfields developer EnviroFinance Group (EFG) and vertical developer Trammell Crow, both Adams County Economic Development (ACED) members, describe the vital role the organization played in bringing the Crossroads Commerce Park development to life.
Crossing the boundaries of both Adams County and the City and County of Denver, the Asarco metal smelting plant operated for 120 years from 1886 to 2006, a contaminated eyesore that left behind a host of hazardous environmental waste, rendering the entire area uninhabitable.
In 2003, ACED was approached by brownfields partners to clean up the site. Heavily polluted and contaminated, including the dirt and groundwater, it was identified as potential superfund site.
In order to transform this toxic no man’s land into something vibrant and beneficial to the community, it would take years of hard work and collaboration between ACED, both counties, and countless organizations, in an effort that would cross politics, legislation, funding, site-bankruptcy, and a myriad of complex environmental issues to eventually launch the site remediation and redevelopment.
In addition to the environmental cleanup, there were plenty of challenges along the way, most urgently the need to establish cooperation and coordination between the two counties.
The biggest challenge was getting everyone to see the end goal. “Here you have this massive development that had so much contamination it contaminated the groundwater,” explained Tricia Allen, interim president/CEO of ACED. “How are you going to clean that up, how are you going to finance it, what technology are you going to use to clean it up to make sure it’s safe for future use? At the same time we’re working with two separate counties, two sets of rules, two separate procedures, two separate zoning codes. So how do you get those two entities to partner for a sustained period of time? Every time someone new came on board, we knew who they were, how to get in front of them, and how to sell the vision of the project.”
To solidify and sustain this key partnership, ACED worked with EFG and other key partners to establish a Memorandum of Understanding between Adams County and the City and County of Denver that would enable those conversations about how the counties would work together through the planning, rezoning and cleanup itself.
In 2008 when the recession hit, the developer on site dropped out, and ACED was faced with a big financial challenge. The site was never listed as a superfund site, and was no longer eligible for EPA funding, so the organization had to come up with new way to finance the cleanup.
“Our organization basically changed state law, to allow property in an unincorporated portion of the County to benefit from urban renewal authority, providing that property was adjacent to a community that had urban renewal authority,” shared Allen. “That property was adjacent to the City and County of Denver, so we had to work with Denver Urban Authority to convince them to allow the Asarco site to benefit from Urban Renewal.”
In 2011, EFG began overseeing site cleanup that included the remediation of groundwater and over a half a million cubic yards of contaminated soil. While the remediation was underway, EFG partnered with ACED, Adams County and Denver County to find funding to make off-site and on-site civil improvements that would support the development to come.
“As you move from an idea, to implementation, to remediation to a civil to a vertical, you are constantly encountering new people. You have to remind them that we’re all in this together, and ACED was able to be that because there were there right from the beginning,” explained Cameron Bertron, Senior Vice President of EFG.
By 2014, the property was moving forward with clean up and Trammell Crow came on board as the vertical developer, breaking ground on the first building in 2014. The collaboration between ACED and Trammell Crow resulted in significant public infrastructure that went in and enhanced the quality of the area.
“That includes regional detention, drainage issues long plaguing the area were handled by a number of investments in regional detention and drainage. Sidewalks where there had never been sidewalks, new traffic signals, new landscaping, lighting, safety measures, all of those things that enhance quality and livability and business environment, for a neighborhood that has not had virtually any investment in decades,” shared Ann Sperling, senior director at Trammell Crow. Sperling detailed the collaboration between Trammel Crow and ACED.
Historic Crossroads Site
Crossroads Commerce Park
“ACED was very responsive, very accessible. Trammell Crow had no barriers to entry in terms of working with them,” said Sperling. “They work more at the street level than at the conceptual level, they work with owners of companies and are constantly looking for opportunities to add value.”
Over a period of eleven years, ACED helped guide the process from conception to clean up and finally development, in what has today been recognized in the industry as a true example of success, winning a host of prestigious awards from the EPA, American Planning Association, National Association of Industrial Office Properties and Urban Land Institute, which in 2017 awarded the project the award for Industrial Park of the Year.
“It’s very unusual to get this level of recognition,” said Sperling. “It really represented an example of success for cooperation, collaboration, public private interface, solving problems, focus on the community, as well as commercial success.”
Today the Crossroads Commerce Park has 674,000 square feet of lease property that is 100 percent booked. The companies that now inhabit that space range from established family-owned businesses like Empire Staples, to the largest e-commerce business in the world, along with national companies like Lennox HVAC, local companies, mom and pop shops and everything in between.
Reflecting on all the economic opportunity the project has brought to the area, Allen discussed the success of the project. “It was an eyesore. Not only that, it brought health challenges to folks who lived in that area. Anytime you can get rid of that, clean it up, and help develop something productive that provides job opportunities for the residents in the area, any time you can do that it’s a success. We are here to champion projects, no matter how difficult.”