Park Hill Golf Course Development Needs Counter-Proposal

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Denver residents should consider the developers’ latest proposal 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 the 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 often called an onshore tax haven – known as the Opportunity Zone. All profits made over the next 10 years on the promoter’s investment will be exempt from the 21% corporate tax rate.

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

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

Denver has very few opportunities to create a public park of this size, and the city was at one point in the process of purchasing Park Hill Golf Course for the sole purpose of creating a regional park.

Getting 100 acres for free — the city originally tried to buy the entire property for around $25 million — would be a windfall for taxpayers. And developers have said they are committed to building at least 25% of homes as affordable family-friendly homes, both for rent and for sale.

So what would a counter offer look like if Denver residents, especially those in North East Park Hill next to the golf course, wanted to play hardball?

Well, residents could request land, in addition to the 100 acres of open space, for a recreation center that includes an indoor and outdoor pool and request that part of the new facility be paid for using some of the federal tax breaks that the developer will receive from the Opportunity Zone designated by Governor John Hickenlooper for the purpose of attracting development to low-income or distressed areas.

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

Or if the area is going to get denser and denser, maybe the real need is another bookcase.

The fact is that it is a negotiation. Westside Investment Partners and the Holleran Group have made an impressive first offer. But Denver’s great people shouldn’t sell themselves short. They have the upper hand in this negotiation.

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

Denver, and especially the communities adjacent to Park Hill Golf Club, cannot sell themselves in this unique opportunity to lead the future of 155 acres of land.

Megan Schrader is the Denver Post’s opinion pages editor.

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