A counter proposal for Park Hill Golf Course development



Denverites should view the latest proposal from developers for apartments, condos, and a grocery store on 155 acres of land protected by a conservation easement as the opening offer in a lengthy negotiation process.

Not only is Park Hill Golf Course protected from development by a conservation easement, but the land is in a federal income tax-free zone — what I have frequently called an on-shore tax haven — known as an opportunity zone. Any profits made over the next 10 years on the developer’s investment will be exempt from the corporate 21% income tax rate.

In other words, the residents of this city can and should ask for a lot if they are to lift the easement and allow development.

Westside Investment Partners and the Holleran Group are offering to donate 100 acres of land to the city for a regional park. That’s a good start. Those on the front of the development project are making a good faith effort to respond to the needs of the community, and they purchased the land knowing it would be an uphill battle to get any development on the land approved.

Denver has precious few opportunities left to create a public park of that size, and the city at one point was in the process of buying Park Hill Golf Course for just the purpose of creating a regional park.

Getting 100 acres for free — the city originally attempted to buy the entire property for around $25 million — would be a boon for taxpayers. And the developers have said they are committed to building at least 25% of the housing units as affordable housing sized for families both for rent and for sale.

So what would a counter-offer look like if Denver residents, particularly those in North East Park Hill adjacent to the golf course, want to play hardball?

Well, residents could ask for land, in addition to the 100 acres of open space, for a recreation center including an indoor and outdoor pool and ask that a portion of the new facility be paid for using some of the federal tax breaks the developer will receive from the opportunity zone that was designated by Gov. John Hickenlooper in an effort to attract development to low-income or otherwise struggling areas.

Perhaps residents, who already have the nearby Martin Luther King Jr. and the Hiawatha Jr. recreation centers, would prefer a skate park, mountain bike or BMX bike course, or some other unique recreation attraction that could serve the community both near and far.

Or if the area is going to become increasingly dense, maybe the real need is another library.

The point is that this is a negotiation. Westside Investment Partners and the Holleran Group have made an impressive first offer. But the great people of Denver should not sell themselves short. They have the upper hand in this negotiation.

It’s impossible to know what the bottom line financials look like for the developers, but the only way to find out is to push for more — more affordable housing, more open space, and more amenities for the public good.

Denver, and specifically the communities adjacent to the Park Hill Golf Club, cannot sell themselves shot in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to direct the future of 155 acres of land.

Megan Schrader is the editor of The Denver Post opinion pages.

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