New & Next: Developing Colorado's Innovation Economy

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January 4, 2016
Confluence Denver

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Dana Keller of Koelbel and Company says real estate development is helping drive innovation in Colorado.

Colorado truly enjoys an innovation economy. The area's outdoor- and fitness-focused lifestyle is a magnet for the creative class, and helps promote innovation and entrepreneurship as well as health and wellness.

In all areas of "live, work and play," innovation is changing Colorado for the better and making Denver the city of choice for innovators from all walks of life.

Walter A. "Buz" Koelbel, president of Koelbel and Company, Colorado's oldest family-owned real estate development and homebuilding company, sums up the local economy and culture: "In our entire company history, we've never seen such rapid change in how people live, work and play. It's challenging and exciting to tune into these changes and to develop solutions that match consumers' desires. We're seeing huge shifts in every sector. It's an energizing time to live and work in Colorado."

A spirit of innovation and collaboration, he adds, are catalyzing success in the state.

Live: Residential housing innovations

Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock and other officials recently celebrated the groundbreaking of Ash Street Affordable Housing, Denver's newest affordable housing development. 

"Affordable housing is one of the greatest challenges facing our city," says Hancock. "As we continue to grow, we're proud to support projects like the Ash Street Apartments that give hard-working residents a decent, safe and affordable place to live."

Located at 1126 Ash St. within the redevelopment of the former University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the project will include 112 income-restricted apartments for low- and moderate-income households.

The $24.9 million project is a collaboration of private and public partners: Koelbel and Company, Mile High Development and Longs Peak Advisors. Public finance partners include the Denver Office of Economic Development, the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority and the Colorado Division of Housing.
 
The project represents the latest affordable units to be created under the mayor's "3×5 challenge." Announced in mid-2013, the challenge calls for the development, rehabilitation or preservation of 3,000 affordable housing units over five years. The city and the real estate development community have produced roughly 2,000 units as of late 2016.

The city is also working to expand affordable housing resources through the creation of a new local funding source to provide at least $150 million over the first 10 years, beginning in 2017.

Work: Collaborative offices

The way Coloradans work has evolved, too. One notable innovation in collaborative workspaces (also knowns as incubators) is Catalyst Health Tech Innovation (Catalyst HTI), now under construction.

Catalyst HTI is bringing together private enterprise (startups to Fortune 200 companies), government, academic and non-profit organizations with healthcare providers and payers to accelerate innovation and drive real, lasting change through collaboration. This first-of-its-kind facility is slated to open in early 2018. 

Mike Biselli, the creator of Catalyst in partnership with Koelbel and Company, says the reception for the concept has been overwhelming. "One thing that I'm most pleased about -- and more importantly most humbled by -- is the tearing down of silos. With this project, we are witnessing government, academia and private enterprise coming together as one."

"We want to channel the next wave of talent into Catalyst HTI," he adds, and explains his involvement with institutions of higher learning such as Regis UniversityUniversity of Denver and University of Colorado.

Play: Health and wellness

Colorado is known for its outdoor fitness lifestyle, with Denver being voted (once again) a Top-10 city for health and fitness. A strong focus on health and wellness is a huge part of the city's appeal for millennials and employers alike.     

"We chose Colorado because of its central location, as well as the high quality of life the state offers to our employees," says David Layton, co-head of private equity for Partners Group, a global private markets investment management firm.  

Colorado's focus on wellness is being taken to even "higher" levels.  In July 2016, Colorado unveiled the first Trailside Wellness Program in Winter Park, Denver's closest resort community, just an hour and 20 minutes from the city.

Explaining the benefits of this program, Outdoor Fitness Specialist Tina Vindum says, "Nature is the ultimate multivitamin. With outdoor fitness, you're fine-tuning your sensory awareness. You're tapping into the beauty of the outdoors. Your mind calms. Your kinesthetic and proprioceptive awareness increases. Your entire body chemistry heals. There's nothing like it."

The Trailside Wellness Program at Rendezvous Colorado, a residential development in Winter Park by Koelbel and Company, complements the neighborhood's resort-style life with a series of self-guided, interactive fitness experiences. 

Open to the public, the program invites participants to choose from neighborhood trails suited to personal activity levels. By downloading a podcast or scanning QR codes along a trail with a smartphone, participants can follow along with Tina's training videos to rejuvenate body, mind, and spirit.

Denver: Leading the "New Economy"

Denver and other Colorado locales are at the forefront of live/work/play innovations as the result of collaborations between government, non-profits and business leaders. Business leaders say Colorado is worthy of emulation by other states and cities as a "template" for optimizing native resources to lure businesses, families and innovation to a community. 

However, they also caution that results may vary based on natural assets such as the Rocky Mountains -- or lack thereof.

Dana Keller is vice president of sales and marketing for Koelbel and Company.

Koelbel and Company is an underwriter of Confluence Denver.