Developer announces competing Aurora conference center near medical district


By SARA CASTELLANOS and BRANDON JOHANSSON, Staff

AURORA | Developers announced today plans to build a six-story hotel and conference center as part of a $160 million mixed-use urban development project called Block 21 across from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Construction is scheduled to start later this year.

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The six-story hotel and conference center will include 200 guest rooms and suites, a restaurant and bar, swimming pool, fitness center, and 30,000 square-feet of meeting and exhibition space, according to a release.

The Block 21 project, named after an Army hospital once located at the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, will also include a four-story apartment complex with 100 apartment homes. Plans also call for 8,000 square-feet of restaurant space and 10,000 square-feet of retail.

The project will be built along East Colfax Avenue, from Potomac Street to Xanadu Street.

Rick Hayes, CEO of Waveland Ventures, the developer behind the project, said the area is ideal for a hotel and apartment complex.

“That site I think is going to be key, it acts as a gateway for the rest of Colfax and I think it’s critical that site gets developed,” he said.

The hotel is aimed not at patients at the nearby hospitals, but at business people coming to the campus, Hayes said.

Plans for the project come as city officials are negotiating another hotel and conference center project. That project, adjacent to Block 21, is being developed by Corporex and includes the already-built Springhill Suites by Marriott.

According to a Corporex website, the developer plans to build another full-service hotel and conference center at Xanadu and Colfax, just west of the Springhill Suites and across the street from the Block 21 project.

The city is currently in negotiations with Corporex but Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan declined to elaborate.

“It is encouraging to have two businesses show an active interest in this part of Aurora,” he said.

Hayes said the area can certainly support more hotels, but he was less confident about the need for two conference centers across the street from eachother.

“That’s probably more debatable,” he said.

A Corporex official did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

Since University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital Colorado moved their operations to the site of old Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, local officials have hoped the booming medical campus would spark development along a dilapidated stretch of Colfax.

But development in the neighborhood has moved slowly.

In 2010, Corporex announced plans for Fitzsimons Village, a 32-acre development on the southside of Colfax between Xanadu Street and Ursula Street. The development is now home to the Springhill hotel, as well as offices for Children’s Hospital Colorado and retail space, and is expected to add more.

Still, projects like Corporex’s, which bring new construction to the area around Anschutz, have been rare.

The land at the southwest corner of Colfax and Potomac has long been viewed as ripe for a hotel project, but has sat vacant for most of the past decade.

The corner was once home to the Heaven on Earth Hotel and a new Hilton Garden Inn was planned for the site several years ago. The property’s former owner, Lighthouse Properties, a Salina, Kan.-based developer, had initial plans calling for more than 100 rooms at the hotel. An artist’s rendering posted at the site for years depicted the building as a sprawling six-story hotel complete with a waterfall.

The project, dubbed “Lighthouse Plaza,” cleared the city’s planning commission in September 2007 but stalled quickly thereafter, with the old Heaven On Earth sitting empty and gutted for more than a year.

In August 2009, the city learned the property owner no longer planned to develop the property and in November 2009, the city’s urban renewal board voted to loan the company up to $300,000 to pay for the rest of the demolition of the hotel.

The plan, city officials said, was for another developer to buy the vacant land and hopefully build something on it.

Hayes said Waveland got involved with the property about eight months ago. Construction should start in late 2013 or early 2014, Hayes said, and the project should take about two years to complete.

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