Forward-Thinking Business Park Sets Stage for Success at Colorado Springs Airport

Forward-Thinking Business Park Sets Stage for Success at Colorado Springs Airport
Sean O’Keefe
Published in: 

Years of preliminary groundwork at Colorado Springs Airport (COS) are coming to fruition as Peak Innovation Park gains altitude. The commercial and industrial development is attracting a well-rounded cross-section of tenants, including Amazon, the U.S. Forest Service and companies supporting the aerospace and defense industries. Project executives expect the new business park to generate $3.5 million of annual revenue in 2022 alone, with subsequent increases as more development occurs.

At the helm of the project is COS Director of Aviation Greg Phillips. Since assuming his post in January 2017, Phillips and his team have focused on fostering the airport’s economic stability and growth. “The variety of challenges faced in aviation is never-ending,” he reflects. “From airside to landside, airports are complex systems that require problem-solving of many sorts and the ability to interact with every segment of the surrounding community seamlessly.”

This particular project leverages the airport’s ample footprint and long parallel runways (13,501 and 11,022 feet). 

“By land area, COS is immense,” says Phillips. “The airport property encompasses a total of 7,200 acres and boasts the fifth-longest public service commercial runway in the country. There is a lot of untapped capacity we are working hard to take advantage of, and Peak Innovation Park is a big part of the process.”


Project: Business Park

Location: Colorado Springs Airport

Name: Peak Innovation Park

Total Size: 900 acres

Outside Development Manager: Urban Frontier

Infrastructure Development Costs:
$30 million (to date)

Anticipated Annual Revenue: $3.5 million

Current Investors/Tenants: Amazon;
Flywheel Capital; Hotel Equities; U.S. Forest
Service; Aerospace Corp.

Key Benefits: New revenue stream for airport; economic development throughout the region

The first step toward tapping that potential was to secure an FAA release of 900 acres on the southwest edge of the airfield for non-aeronautical use. This process began more than a decade before Phillips’ arrival at COS.

From the outset, Peak Innovation Park was intended to provide economic opportunity and revenue resilience; but it initially languished due to challenges drumming up business during the Great Recession. As the economy recovered, however, Colorado started to outpace other states on the growth trajectory. That’s when airport officials decided they needed a bonafide development partner to broker deals and cultivate broader synergy than COS could accomplish on its own. 

After issuing a request for proposals in 2016 and conducting a national search, the airport selected Urban Frontier, a Colorado-based land developer. Phillips considers partnering with the firm a pivotal decision that has made all the difference. “Readying 900 acres to welcome world-class businesses and a variety of national interests requires constant coordination of many moving parts, and that’s where Urban Frontier shines,” he explains.

Have at It

Garrett Baum, managing partner of Urban Frontier, enjoys the never-a-dull-moment aspect of land development.

“Evaluating land, working through zoning and entitlements, developing infrastructure, coordinating with a myriad of below-grade and surface utilities, and attracting business investments to create a dynamic new community of interests is thrilling the whole way through,” says Baum.

Beyond the horizontal infrastructure development, Urban Frontier has supported the addition of about 5 million square feet of vertical development across a wide range of assets and industries. Moreover, Baum anticipates adding another 1 million square feet including hotels and industrial, office and retail buildings in the next 12 to 18 months.

“When we partnered with COS, the Colorado Springs real estate community was fixated on the northern edge of the city and didn’t feel that the area around the airport was much of an opportunity,” Baum explains. “Our role was to ready the land to receive vertical development. That meant bringing in roads, water, sewer, electric, gas and telecommunications—and, just as importantly, finding ways to finance that infrastructure and stimulating investment interest in the business park.”

Just five years later, in 2021, ranked the airport’s 80916 zip code as the Hottest Zip Code in America; and the benefits spiral out from Peak Innovation Park into the everyday lives of its neighbors. While the increase in land values is significant, the development is also attracting a veritable who’s who of companies. 

As an anchor tenant, Amazon is much more than a massive footprint. It’s an employment sector unto itself. “Amazon has established a three-building complex that includes a sorting facility, a distribution facility and an amazing five-story, 3.7 million-square-foot fulfillment center—the largest building in the state of Colorado,” reports Phillips. The online retail giant is expected to bring 5,000 jobs to the airport park, causing positive economic ripples throughout Colorado Springs and 50 to 60 miles in every direction.

Aerospace Corporation, a science and engineering research/development company, is expanding its presence at the airport with COS-2, a high-tech facility on track to open this spring. The new building’s digital engineering environment will enable high-fidelity analysis and physics-based modeling and simulation to support U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base.

Flywheel Capital broke ground for the first building of its Peak Technology Campus last March. When complete, the four-building Class A office development will include 210,000 square feet of secure space specifically designed for personnel serving the defense and aerospace industries. The new single-story buildings will be the closest available leased offices for companies engaged at Peterson and Schriever Space Force Bases.

The U.S. Forest Service is building a base for its aerial firefighting tankers that will be the most advanced facility of its kind in the country. The airport’s 13,501-foot runway was a special draw, because it is long enough to accommodate the full range of aircraft in the federal agency’s fleet. The new base will include a 4,700-square-foot operations building, a 4,000-square-foot building for storing fire retardant, and a plant to support five 25,000-gallon mixing tanks.

Coming Attractions

Future plans for Peak Innovation Park include hospitality, retail, dining and lifestyle amenities such as hotels and entertainment complexes. “Hotel Equities and Olive Real Estate Group are breaking ground on a new Residence Inn by Marriott and plan to add an adjoining Courtyard by Marriott soon after,” Baum reports. “We are working on a variety of other deals as well.”

He considers versatility and flexibility essential ingredients in attracting commercial investments, big and small.

“The structure of the agreement between COS and the FAA allows COS to sell some of the parcels, while we lease others,” Baum explains. “It’s important to understand that every potential tenant will see their deal in a different light, and this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation.”

According to Phillips, the organizational structure of Peak Innovation Park has just as much to do with its mounting successes as long-term commitments from the right tenants.

“The decision to create a metro district was critical from a financing standpoint,” he explains. “This project necessitated more than $30 million in infrastructure to ready the land to receive tenants. A lot of hard work and strategic thinking went into structuring that part of the process. As a result, we expect the business park to generate $3.5 million in annual revenue starting this year and increasing with each year to come and as new development comes online. Ultimately, the park will fund improvements to the airport in the coming years and reduce or eliminate the need to take on debt or affect the rates and charges for the airlines.”

Establishing an autonomous governmental entity to finance, build and maintain the required infrastructure wasn’t the only transactional lubricant. Phillips also credits the city of Colorado Springs’ Rapid Response Team, which provides primary qualifying employers expedited review and response for land use applications and building permits. By integrating every regulatory agency required in the planning and review process, the Rapid Response Team often cuts approval times in half. 

“The city’s Rapid Response Team brings all parties into focus and allows us to operate at the speed of business, which is critical to facilitating the positives for these high-impact businesses,” says Phillips.

Business and regulatory interests aren’t the only ones to recognize the growing potential of COS’ burgeoning business park. Peak Innovation Park was selected for the 2022 Rocky Mountain Real Estate Challenge, a scholarship competition that pairs graduate students from the University of Colorado and the University of Denver with industry leaders to evaluate development opportunities throughout the first four months of the year. 

And there’s still more ahead.

“We still have room to grow,” advises Phillips. “Our objective is to establish Peak Innovation Park as a local, regional and national destination. We envision a dynamic mix of uses, including lively retail, parks, walking trails and community gathering spots of all sorts. We aim to make [it] an asset all of Colorado Springs can be proud of; a place where both businesses and people want to be.”  

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