Cherokee and Lionstone

By Carol Carder | September 28, 2010

It's been a long time coming, but developers now are converting the former Gates Rubber Factory site in Denver from an eyesore to eye candy.

For more than 85 years the Gates Rubber Factory produced belts, hoses and tires for the automotive industry. Established in 1911, the company employed more than 6,000 workers in its heyday and was the sixth largest rubber company in the nation. In the 1980s the Gates Corp. began downsizing as it moved operations overseas, then closed its Denver location permanently in 1995.

The company's 80-acre site straddling South Broadway languished as a scar on the business landscape until Cherokee Investment Partners LLC bought 50 acres of the property in December 2001, knowing it was contaminated but with a full commitment to clean it up. A prime real estate location, the site lies just three miles south of downtown and seven miles from the Denver Tech Center and high-end southeast suburban residential areas. The adjacent Interstate 25 and three light rail lines will serve residents, office and shopper transportation needs.

"While others saw an abandoned industrial site, we saw an opportunity to remediate and develop the property, creating a world-class urban village as we integrate existing neighborhoods and capture the benefits of light rail transit," said Ferd Belz, Cherokee Denver LLC managing partner.

In 2005 the Lionstone Group purchased the remaining 30 acres of the original Gates holdings on the east side of Broadway directly from Gates. Prior to Lionstone's acquisition, Gates worked with the city of Denver to rezone the property to allow for a variety of transit-oriented office, retail and residential uses. Lionstone's Broadway Station project encompasses TMU-30, RMU-30, RMU-20 as well as R-2 zoning designations.

"Our investment strategy for Broadway Station has focused on redeveloping the former Gates East Campus into a vibrant office, retail and residential location, and we are well on our way to achieving that goal," says Doug McKinnon, principal of the Lionstone Group.

Redevelopment Plans

Cherokee reached out to the local business and residential community leaders to involve them in the redevelopment plans. As a result of this work, the Denver City Council unanimously approved a new zoning appropriate to this transportation hub. The new TMU-30 (Transit Mixed Use) zoning increases the density and allows a mix of retail, commercial, entertainment, and residential.

As part of their redevelopment work, Lionstone created a General Development Plan and Design Standards and Guidelines for the East Campus in close coordination with the city and local neighborhood organizations.

Currently four developers are actively working on various sections of the 80-acre total site area:

  • Cherokee Denver LLC has begun work on its parcel west of Broadway stretching across the railroad tracks to Santa Fe Drive.
  • Lionstone has converted two buildings on its site at 900 and 990 South Broadway to Class A multi-tenant office use by replacing the electrical and mechanical, refurbishing elevators and completing new tenant finishes. The buildings are currently more than 85 percent leased. Provident Construction of Centennial acted as general contractor for Lionstone and also is under contract to build a four-story parking and retail structure to service the office buildings.
  • In 2005, Lionstone sold 11.64 acres on east side of Broadway and south of Mississippi to McStain Enterprises of Lafayette for residential construction. McStain has completed approximately 90 percent of its housing development program at this time and welcomed the first new residents in 2007.
  • In 2007, Trammel Crow Residential purchased a remediated and cleared 5-acre parcel from Cherokee on the west side of Broadway south of Mississippi Avenue. The company has started foundations for the Alexan Broadway Station, a 419-unit building.

Negotiations are still under way for further residential development of the Lionstone property east of Broadway and for a vertical developer on the Cherokee parcel between the rail line and Santa Fe Drive.

Environmental Remediation

Prior to purchasing the site, Cherokee conducted monitoring that detected trichloroethylene in groundwater. When the Colorado Department of Transportation built drainage for the TREX project through the area, the contractor found additional TCE contamination. As of April 2004 Cherokee had installed 88 monitoring wells to determine the horizontal and vertical extent of the TCE plumes.

An experienced Brownfield developer, Cherokee implemented asbestos abatement through Gates' former contractor, Misers Asbestos Removal Inc. of Englewood, in 2002 and began an offsite plan with Envirocon Inc. of Golden to address groundwater in 2004.

"We are still doing some soil aeration on the 25-acre Santa Fe site, and may or may not do some additional soil removal depending on results shown by our monitoring," Rick Wells, Cherokee Denver project manager, explained.

To finance the environmental remediation, demolition and public infrastructure, Cherokee received approval from the Denver City Council forming the Broadway Station Metropolitan District. The district is administering $126 million in tax increment financing. Kiewit Building Group is managing all horizontal infrastructure construction, including utilities being built with these public funds.

On the Lionstone parcel, Gates Corp. assumed responsibility for the abatement of asbestos in the historic building foundations and for remediation of lead from battery manufacturing and TCE in soils and groundwater with in situ technologies.

"Gates' contractors have successfully completed the remediation; the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has approved, and Denver has given us a go-ahead to complete utility installation and infrastructure including the streets," said Debbie Patterson, Lionstone Group senior associate.


Twelve buildings that had not been used in more than a decade needed to come down to make room for the new development. Alpine started taking down the 650,000 square feet of buildings on the old 9-acre Gates site on the east side of Broadway now being developed by Lionstone on June 14, 2005, and finished the job Feb. 10, 2006. Throughout the project, Alpine worked hand-in-hand with Misers Inc. of Englewood, which has been working with Gates on asbestos abatement for some years.

After the asbestos was abated, Alpine realized an 80-percent recycling rate, reclaiming 16,000 tons of concrete and 280 tons of steel. Today the cleared site shows no sign of the five to seven excavators and a jaw crusher that worked the site during eight months of demolition. Alpine achieved a 90-percent recycling rate in the demolition of the 400,000-square-foot Gates Building 20 south of Mississippi on the west side of Broadway for Cherokee. The building represented an unusual challenge, a steel and concrete forklift bridge crossing over Mississippi to the former Gates Rubber factory building to the north.

Fiore and Sons began demolishing Gates buildings at the 700 and 900 blocks of Santa Fe Drive and the 700 block of Cherokee street in August 2007 and concluded by the end of 2007. The firm is still marketing recycled concrete, asphalt and steel from its stockpiles. The factory building is still standing at Mississippi on west side of Broadway and may be demolished once a vertical developer is found.

Doug Goodman, Kiewit Building Group project manager, said he is pleased with the recycling effort on the Cherokee site.

"Because Cherokee focuses on environmental responsibility, Rick Wells challenged us to set the bar high," he said, "so we set it at 75-percent recycling." To date, Fiore and Sons has achieved 94 percent and is still selling its stockpiles of recycled materials.

Site Preparations

Nolte Associates Inc. of Centennial is providing civil engineering for the Cherokee redevelopment of the former Gates Rubber plant, as did Martin/Martin Inc. of Lakewood for the Lionstone site.

Much of the infrastructure for the Cherokee site is pending selection of a vertical developer for improvements outside of the public right-of-way. However, plans are going forward to build a bridge over the South Platte River at Kentucky Avenue, a distance equivalent to two city blocks north of the existing bridge at Mississippi Avenue.

To keep the bottom of the bridge out of the floodway, it will be necessary to raise the adjacent existing Santa Fe Drive eight feet at the proposed bridge location, said Derek Johnson, P.E., Nolte Associates project manager. During construction, approximately 2,000 linear feet of Santa Fe Drive will be detoured onto the Cherokee site; utilities within the roadway will be raised, and 20,000 cubic yards of fill moved at the site to raise Santa Fe Drive at the proposed bridge. The plan extends Bannock Street continuously through the site north to south, and Kentucky will access the site east to west and pass over the new bridge over the South Platte. Other roadway and infrastructure improvements connected with the site development are widening South Platte River Drive on the east side and building two pedestrian bridges, one over the railroad tracks to connect the west side of the project with the RTD light rail station and another bridge also over the tracks at the south end of the project.

In other site prep activities, Xcel Energy has removed most of its overhead electric distribution facilities, and Bruce Burr, P.E. at Xcel, is designing two electric feeders into the development, one to be routed across the bridge. His plan includes removal of the former Gates Rubber Co. overhead high-voltage lines that cross the river and the site. A challenging aspect of his scheme is finding an alternative route to serve railroad facilities, presently fed by the existing lines that lie between the north-south tracks that split the property.

A stormwater quality and detention pond alongside Santa Fe Drive will serve the entire Cherokee redevelopment project. The existing sanitary sewer at Santa Fe Drive will be relocated to the future extension of Bannock Street, which will connect from the existing bridge at Mississippi to the existing Bannock Street underneath I-25.

For the east side of Broadway, Martin/Martin has designed a roadway grid matching up with current city streets. Sherman will be extended to the north from Mississippi Avenue and will connect into Tennessee Avenue. Tennessee will be extended from Sherman back to Broadway. Lincoln is going to be extended between Mississippi and Tennessee avenues.

To date the most complex part of the Lionstone project was designing the sanitary sewer system. According to Scott Paling, P.E., Martin/Martin project manager, the only location low enough to connect into the existing sanitary sewer system was at the on-ramp to southbound I-25 from Broadway. Due to the flat site topography, the design enlarged the pipe diameter to provide adequate flow. Total Site Utilities of Denver had to close the ramp over a weekend to make the connection. Everything went smoothly as planned, said Walt Boylan, Total Site Utilities president.

Another challenge of building on older urban sites is locating undisclosed utilities such as gas and electric lines underground. Total Site Utilities always has a spotter watching the work of each excavator. This spring one of the excavator operators detected the presence of something that was not the typical on-site soil and uncovered a high-voltage electric line.

"Even today we are still discovering new, unmarked items underground," said Chuck Love, TSU project manager.

Also, older urban sites may contain unstable fill placed in an era when building standards differed, according to Wayne Harris, P.E., Martin/Martin principal. The boring samples taken by the geotechnical engineer revealed unsuitable fill at the site for the four-story parking garage. Lightning Ventures over-excavated a 250-foot-by-250-foot area to a depth of 12 feet, moving 55,000 cubic yards of soil in and out. A borrow pit was dug on the not-yet-developed south side of the property to supply the suitable soil for compaction at the parking garage site. Lightning Ventures also will be moving about 1,500 cubic yards of cut and fill for the new roadways once utility installation is completed.

A Long Way to Go

Planning the development started when Cherokee researched the project in 2000, prior to its 2001 purchase. Entities such as the civil engineering firms and the general contractor, Provident Construction, spent a couple of years in research and site planning before ground was broken.

Planning continues with the architects designing the vertical development. The anticipated development plan at buildout of the Cherokee Denver project in 10 to 15 years includes more than 1,000 residential units and 1 million square feet of office, retail and entertainment space.

The Lionstone Broadway Station project can accommodate more than 500,000 square feet of office and retail space and is expected to include more than 1,000 residential units within a total developed area of more than 1.5 million square feet.