The Colorado Economic Development Commission extended $7.5 million to the Colorado Department of Transportation on Thursday morning to help it purchase the Burnham Yard in central Denver, a 59-acre tract critical to the expansion of Interstate 25, as well as a proposed rail line along the Front Range that Amtrak wants to see built.
“It is one of those one-time generational projects,” Jeff Kraft, director of business, funding and incentives at the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, told members of the commission, comparing it to the effort to preserve Denver’s Union Station as a transit hub.
The money will come from the state’s Strategic Fund, which is normally used to provide cash incentives for corporate relocations and support a variety of economic development efforts across the state. OEDIT had set aside $9.5 million in that fund to land big corporate relocations, but the commission approved diverting $7.5 million to put the large parcel just south of Colfax Avenue and east of I-25 in state hands.
“Our understanding is if the state had not moved forward, there was a high likelihood it would slip out of our control and go into private hands,” Shoshana Lew, CDOT’s executive director, told commissioners.
Union Pacific deactivated the railyard, primarily used for repairs, in 2016. CDOT was close to purchasing the land in February 2020 when the pandemic struck and departmental budgets sealed tight. CDOT will pony up another $7.5 million to cover the downpayment, with its High Performance Transportation Enterprise arm borrowing $40 million.
About 16 acres are needed for transportation purposes, and the expectation is that the remaining parcels will be sold for private commercial and residential development, Lew said. If CDOT doesn’t pay OEDIT back from infrastructure grants the Biden administration has proposed, Kraft said the proceeds from parcel sales would go to repay the Strategic Fund.
Those land sales could take up to five years, and a longer payback does create some risk for OEDIT, in that it will have fewer funds set aside to land a “big fish” corporate relocation. But those opportunities don’t come along often and the Strategic Fund expects to receive a one-time shot of $15 million, triple the usual annual allocation of $5 million the legislature provides, from federal funds designed to speed up economic recovery efforts.
Although extending the funds could be perceived as favoring Denver over other areas of the state, Kraft said the location offers a good nexus for a proposed Amtrak passenger line connecting Pueblo to Fort Collins and into Wyoming. That would benefit residents up and down the Front Range. The location would also provide a good connecting point for any future rail lines heading east or west into the mountains.
The commission also approved five incentive awards on Thursday. They included $844,130 for an aerospace startup looking to build a headquarters, R&D facility and small satellite manufacturing plant. The company expects to create 105 full-time jobs at an average annual wage of $90,476.
A Denver-area company that helps health care providers with efficiency improvements is looking to create 250 new jobs in the state at an average annual wage of $131,572. It was approved for $7.46 million in Job Growth Incentive Tax Credits.
An Indian technology company that provides virtual reality systems to train manufacturing employees is considering Fort Collins for its U.S. headquarters. The commission awarded it $494,747 in Job Growth Incentive Tax Credits if it creates 54 jobs at an average annual wage of $71,676.
A New Zealand software-as-a-service provider is also considering metro Denver for its U.S. headquarters, creating 144 jobs paying an average annual wage of $102,049. It was approved for $1.69 million in job growth incentives.
A mobile home manufacturer operating in Vernal, Utah, is considering Craig for a new manufacturing plant that would create 28 jobs. The EDC approved $182,000 in Strategic Fund Job Creation Cash Incentives for the company, part of a larger push by the state to help displaced coal industry workers.
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