Imagine Highlands Ranch being home to Elitch Gardens. For those who are new to the area, that idea might be far-fetched, but those who have been …
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Imagine Highlands Ranch being home to Elitch Gardens.
For those who are new to the area, that idea might be far-fetched, but those who have been around a while probably know there was a time when that was a real possibility.
Not many have been in the Ranch longer than Shea Properties Vice President John Kilrow, who talked about the citizen backlash to Elitch’s and much more on March 13 during a special presentation on the past, present and future of the community’s development at the Highlands Ranch Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon.
“It almost turned into a fisticuffs,” Kilrow said of the battle surrounding the possible placement of Elitch Gardens on the west side of the community in the mid-1990s. “In the end, the folks in charge (of development) at the time, Mission Viejo, said ‘If you really don’t want it we’re not going to bring it,’ and the deal ended that way.”
Elitch Gardens wound up downtown, and Mission Viejo was acquired by Shea Properties a few years later in 1997. Since then, Shea has engineered the final stages of development as Highlands Ranch, now 32 years old, nears its build-out.
Residential build-out is not that far off, Kilrow said, and as for commercial real estate, the community has reached the end of the line, save a few restaurants and small business operations that may still be coming in.
“We actually have quite a few landholdings, but our last remaining commercial property to be developed is within the Highlands Ranch Business Park,” Kilrow said. “We’re at the end of our commercial development. We’d have to go into the open space to do any more, and I don’t think that would go over very well.”
Kilrow said that the fact that 65 percent of Highlands Ranch’s 22,000 acres is dedicated to open space and non-urban usage is a real point of pride for Shea and for the community. It also has helped bring businesses in.
“The open space makes a big difference,” he said. “In the Visa transaction (this January), it was a major selling point. … We still have a little work to do in attracting more tenants, but we are almost there. In the beginning we were building buildings in the hope that people would come, and they did.”
Talking about “driving on an old dirt road” to get to the Highlands Ranch Mansion sometime around 1980, Kilrow pointed to how quickly the community has grown.
“We were in the middle of nowhere for a long time,” he said.
Now that Highlands Ranch is a bustling community with more than 93,000 residents and 1.6 million square feet of commercial real estate, the only job left is to fill the last of the commercial property. Kilrow estimates that will take about five to 10 years.
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