Loveland scores ACE
LOVELAND - Loveland and Northern Colorado can finally celebrate - and breathe a sigh of relief: The city has officially landed the Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation Park following a six-month-long selection process.
The planned research-and-development center to be located at the former Agilent Technologies site on 14th Street in Loveland is expected to house 70-plus companies and eventually create an estimated 10,000 jobs.
The concept of the ACE park originated from a December 2010 agreement between the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, a statewide manufacturing assistance center, and NASA, the federal space agency. ACE is the centerpiece of an initiative to boost the state's already considerable clean-energy and aerospace industries.
Calls for site proposals attracted about 40 bids from communities up and down the Front Range, but Loveland seemed to gain an edge in wooing CAMT and economic-development officials, not only with the purchase of the former Agilent property but also an avalanche of letters of support from residents and schoolchildren. One endearing Valentine, from a boy named Zachary, seemed to capture the spirit and desire for both Loveland officials and CAMT staff: "Maybe we can get together, and you can interview me so I can support my mom that is in really bad shape please...I'd love for you to join our Loveland community," Zachary wrote.
The love letters made their impression: At a June 9 special meeting of the Loveland city council, CAMT staff announced that the group has selected United Properties, a Minnesota-based developer with offices in Denver, to develop the ACE park on the 167-acre former Agilent parcel, officially confirming the city's selection.
Loveland Mayor Cecil Gutierrez and city officials, state representatives and U.S. Congressional staff in attendance were emphatic with their gratitude, but also had plenty of questions about how - and when - the next phases of development will occur.
Elaine Thorndike, CAMT CEO, said half a dozen companies have already written letters of interest and another 20 potential clients have also been identified. The development team, consisting of CAMT and United Properties staff, is recruiting tenants who have product prototypes or who are looking to accelerate commercialization. By targeting this class of enterprises, the ACE park should fill a gap in the region between incubator organizations and established tech businesses.
The development team will meet twice a week over the next 60 days to develop a draft business plan, Thorndike said, and bring interested companies on tours of the site, which includes 811,000 square feet of space in four buildings. Initial plans for the project include renovating two 50,000-square-foot buildings to serve as labs for a number of ACE companies.
"The primary draw will be the shared services that we can put in the buildings," Thorndike said, adding that CAMT hopes to receive donated equipment from other federal labs.
Cynthia Christie, CAMT's representative with an office on Colorado State University campus, has helped identify tenants among local companies looking to expand. Christie said she has worked closely with the Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. and Upstate Colorado Economic Development to connect with businesses in Larimer and Weld counties.
Land prep first step
In addition to lining up tenants, the development team may also need to address or mitigate several environmental issues, including potential groundwater contamination, existing waste piles and asbestos, before opening up the property.
Officials from United Properties said the family-owned company, which was founded in 1916 to manage real estate holdings of Hamms Brewing Co., has plenty of experience preparing and managing sites with pollution or contamination factors.
"It's not unusual. It's the norm rather than the exception," United president Frank Dutke said during the city council meeting.
Loveland city officials have already spent roughly $250,000 completing due diligence studies for the site and did not find any "earth-shattering" problems, according to Betsey Hale, city business development manager. The development team will review the studies as part of the plans for the next two months.
Kevin Kelley, a Denver-based United vice president who will head the company's efforts on the ACE park, said he also expected few major roadblocks that could delay development.
"Those buildings were well-built and well-maintained," Kelley said, "It would be my preference to repopulate them (first), and then we could have new buildings."
United has also frequently invested in community arts and education programs, through its related Pohland Foundation, and Hale and others said Loveland is hopeful the company will similarly support the city.
"The fit with our (artistic) creatives in Loveland is a great one," Hale said. "They're also really big in community giving, with lots of scholarship programs."
The big question: When?
Pending review of the studies, the city, which has agreed to purchase the 300-plus acre site from Agilent for $5.8 million, will sell the park parcel to the development team while retaining an additional 127 acres as city open space.
Agilent, which will still have roughly 350 employees in one building on campus, has agreed to work with the city to prepare the site for transfer to the developer, added Loveland city manager Bill Cahill.
While waiting for the acquisition papers to be signed and due diligence to be completed, CAMT and United officials aren't ready to set a timeline for opening the site, although a CAMT press release said the ACE initiative should be adding 10,000 new jobs in Loveland and elsewhere in the state within five years. Members of the development team declined to say when businesses might move into the ACE park, or when new job opportunities would be available, after being asked by Mayor Gutierrez.
Among the signs of the high anticipation for the site, Larimer County Commissioner Tom Donnelly said the county Workforce Center has already received 2,000 applications from people looking for work at the ACE park.
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