Sunday, November 25, 2007

Big Changes to Union Station Design. More Information Required.

The public-private partnership team working on the design of Union Station has recently announced major changes to the transportation component of the project. See the Friends of Union Station web site for a high level written description of the new design.( Additionally, see Figure to the left of this paragraph from The Denver Post for a partial graphical representation of the new plan.(

Some of the important changes include building the commuter rail station at-grade instead of in an uncovered below-grade trench, a plan for integrating a commercial bus terminal at the Union Station site (see my blog from November 4, 2007 which calls for this integration:, changes to the 16th Street Mall Shuttle and the Downtown Circulator routes and stops near Union Station, the opening of 16th Street from Wynkoop to Chestnut Streets to private automobile traffic and other changes.

Putting the commuter rail at grade instead of below grade is one of the biggest changes and this apparently has to do with both safety and cost issues.
Obviously these changes raise a number of questions and concerns. Are they good for the utility and operations of the transit junction? Will the new design facilitate easy transfers among the various transportation modes served by the site? How will the changes impact the building density and other aspects of the mixed use redevelopment planned for the site? Will the new plan provide a world class experience for transportation users both in the short-term and in the long-term? Why are these design changes happening so late in the planning process? Will the public have an adequate opportunity to provide input and feedback on the changes? How will these changes impact place-building, aesthetic considerations and other civic aspects of the project's design? How will these changes impact the neighborhoods surrounding Union Station? And many others.

These changes have also generated a great deal of discussion and criticism from some online forums. See for example the Mountain West Forum on

A View of the Rockies believes that the redevelopment of Union Station will have a critical impact on Metro Denver over coming decades and must be done with great care and foresight. Until we learn more information about the specifics of the new plans, we are holding off on providing an assessment of these design changes.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Infrastructure Investments and Global Competitiveness

The past Thursday evening I was at a Northern New Jersey Urban Land Institute (ULI) meeting where, Bob Dunphy, ULI Senior Resident Fellow for Transportation and Infrastructure, gave a fascinating presentation on infrastructure investment in the United States and around the world. Its incredible how much money China is pouring into new infrastructure projects including high speed rail, airports and local infrastructure. Its also quite astonishing how much deferred maintenance has built up in the U.S. and how large the capital deficits are becoming on our core infrastructure. This has been a challenge in the U.S. since the 1980s and continues to get worse and worse. According to Mr. Dunphy the Federal Highway Trust is going to be bankrupt by 2009 under current policy and funding trends.

Where I live in Northern New Jersey and New York, there are many pressing infrastructure needs such as expanding commercial air capacity, improving freight movement, building commute corridors and strengthening the electrical grid and power supply. This got me thinking how foresighted Metro Denver has been in terms of core infrastructure investment over the last decade or so. Here are a few examples I came up with along with the rough costs of the projects (not in consistent year dollars):

  • Building Denver International Airport (DIA) from scratch in the 1980s and early 1990s. The current plans to expand the terminal, build more gates, add rail transport etc. ($5.2 billion + $1.2 billion) See my July 30, 2007 blog entry (
  • The innovative transportation expansion (T-REX) project which jointly expanded light rail and the I-25 freeway along the same right of way ($1.67 billion);
  • The ambitious FasTracks program, over 12 years, to construct 137 miles of new commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit service throughout the Denver Metro Area.($6.1 billion);
  • The November 2007 infrastructure bond package approved by the voters at the City and County of Denver ($550 Million).

As Metro Areas around the world compete with each other for footloose talent, capital, businesses and jobs, having world-class infrastructure is a key source of competitive advantage. The Metro Denver Area is on a solid path of maintaining and improving its infrastructure and needs to continue moving in this direction in the coming years and decades. This is an issue I hope to follow closely in A View of the Rockies.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Wild Oats Layoffs in Boulder: An Economic Development Opportunity for the Natural Foods Cluster

I am excited to finally write a blog entry about my hometown of Boulder Colorado which has been neglected to date by A View of the Rockies. Boulder, with the University of Colorado, high tech and bio tech employers, numerous scientific facilities, a highly educated population and a tradition of attracting entrepreneurial and innovative activities, is a key part of the Metro Denver Economy.

Note the two images in this blog entry are from the Naturally Boulder Web Site (

The article in the November 14, 2007, Daily Camera ( ) about layoffs at the former corporate headquarters in Boulder of the natural and organic grocer Wild Oats, resulting from its acquisition by Whole Foods, got me thinking about Boulder’s industry cluster of natural foods companies.

An industry cluster can be defined as the spatial concentration of a group of horizontally or vertically related companies which benefit from their proximity to each other due to spillover effects such as access to suppliers, customers and business partners, knowledge transfers, the availability a well trained labor pool and other factors. Classic examples of clusters include the advertising business on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and software and Internet companies in Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Clearly Boulder’s loss of the Wild Oats’ corporate headquarters and roughly 250 well paying jobs is an economic blow to the local and regional economy. Employees, residents and local officials would all have preferred to see Wild Oats remain an independent corporation based in Boulder. Having been laid off myself, I understand the stress, uncertainty, and adverse financial and emotional impacts that an unanticipated job loss can have on employees and their families.

However, these layoffs can ultimately plant the seeds of future growth and innovation. Boulder has a well established natural foods cluster with a rich, ground breaking history stretching back to the 1970s and earlier. This cluster has been recognized by the Boulder Economic Council (BEC), a local community and business-based non-profit, as one of the City’s “Key Industries” ( )

According to the BEC, the natural and organic products cluster in Boulder County consists of 65 company’s employing 2,100 workers at an average salary of $42,000 per year. I believe this data is from 2004 but the exact date is not clearly specified on their web site.

The local cluster includes retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, manufactures and other types of companies. Well established companies like Celestial Seasonings, Horizon Organics, White Wave Inc., as well as start-ups like Fiona’s Natural Foods, Inc., and Justin’s Nut Butter are part of the group.

I believe that the talented headquarters staff from Wild Oats will generate new natural foods businesses and make powerful contributions to existing young businesses in Boulder. Clusters are notoriously hard to start from scratch and they tend to evolve based on specific localized economic, demographic and geographic characteristics but existing clusters such as the natural and organic foods cluster in Boulder can be supported and promoted by local governments and non-profits. To date, I think that Boulder has done a solid job of promoting this cluster. To maintain and strengthen the cluster and help redeploy laid-off Wild Oats staff, civic leaders should:

--Continue to fund the existing city business incentives through the Economic Vitality Program including the Flexible Rebate Program and the Employee Training Assistance and target a substantial portion of these funds to natural and organic foods business.

--Expand the innovative and successful Naturally Boulder Task Force, including the annual Naturally Boulder Days and related events ( Add a formal mentoring program to Naturally Boulder which connects established industry professionals with emerging entrepreneurs.

--Establish additional classes and workshops at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce specifically designed to assist natural food entrepreneurs.

--Collaborate with the University of Colorado to establish a business case competition for natural food products where the winner receives financial and operational assistance in launching their business in Boulder County.

--Develop additional forums to connect natural foods entrepreneurs with local business incubators, angel investors and venture capitalists in the Denver Metro Area.

While the loss of Wild Oats is undoubtedly a set back, Boulder has proven to be fertile ground for natural and organic food companies. I believe the cluster is strong enough to rejuvenate itself and it will continue to play a dynamic role in the local economy. With ongoing support from the public, private and non-profit sectors, Boulder will maintain its place as a leading edge innovator in the organic and natural products sphere.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Including a Commerical Bus Depot at Union Station

The redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station as a multi-modal transportation hub as part of the overall FasTracks effort is one of the most exciting development projects in Denver (and the United States as a whole). A primary benefit of this project is that it will create convenient linkages between different modes of transportation—light rail, commuter rail, Amtrak, the Ski Train, local and regional mass transit buses, commercial buses, private van services, taxis, the 16th Street Shuttle and Downtown Circulator, bicycle and pedestrian access and others. Each new transit service which interconnects at the junction increases the value of all the other transport modes, creating a positive “network effort” or externality. To maximize the social benefits of the transit system as a whole, as many modes as possible should be co-located at Union Station.

The master plan for Union Station includes the idea of locating Denver’s main commercial bus terminal, serving carriers like Greyhound, at the Union Station site ( This terminal would likely be above grade (i.e. elevated above street level).

Greyhound’s current Denver bus terminal is a low rise building located at 1055 19th St., taking up the whole city block defined by 19th, 20th, Curtis and Arapahoe streets at a location ripe for redevelopment to a higher and better use. According to press accounts, Greyhound has been approached by the developer of Ritz-Carlton which is located across 19th street from the bus depot. (

Based on some of the publicly available status updates on the Union Station project, it appears that Greyhound, the primary commercial bus carrier in Denver, and the public agencies involved in the Union Station project have not yet been able to come up with a plan to ensure that Greyhound moves from its current location to Union Station due to the high cost of constructing a new commercial bus terminal at Union Station.

According to the Denver Union Station Redevelopment Project Update – July 24, 2007, posted on the Friends of Union Station Web Site ( ):

“On June 21, 2007, Cal Marsella on behalf of the EOC sent a letter to Greyhound
to determine their level of interest in participating on a financial basis at
DUS. On July 9, 2007, Greyhound returned the correspondence stating that
they would prefer a location on or near the site that is at-grade, and that the
cost of the facility at $40M to $50M would be too high for them to provide their
portion of a local match. They also suggested that the partner agencies
apply for additional federal funds (5309 FTA funds) for the intercity bus
portion of the project. RTD has already applied for a Federal 5308 grant
funds for the RTD regional bus facility. Greyhound stated that while they
are comfortable in their current facility, they would be happy to work with the
Partner Agencies to be a part of the DUS project.

At this point in time there is not an acceptable at-grade location on the 19.5 acre DUS site for a commercial bus facility. The commercial bus providers will not be able to provide sufficient funding to develop a private facility for their uses on site at or above grade. To the extent an adjacent site is found and developed by Greyhound, the project will work with them to connect it to the facility. The Partner Agencies will also continue to work with Greyhound and the other commercial bus providers to provide access at DUS….if they are interested.”

I do not know for sure if this information from the past summer represents the current status of the negotiations between Greyhound and regional public transit officials but I think it is very important for Greyhound and the transit authorities to work out a way for Greyhound to be located on site at Union Station. Even if Greyhound can not be moved to the Union Station location when the transit hub is first launched it must be part of the long term plan. Because Greyhound and the public at large (including the public transit agencies) will be better off if Greyhound is co-located with other carriers at the site, both parties should be prepared to make appropriate financial contributions to the costs of including a commercial bus depot at Union Station and other necessary compromises.

I strongly encourage both Greyhound and the public authorities to work together to find a “win-win” solution to fulfill the promise of making Union Station the true multi-modal transit hub in the Denver Metro Area by maximizing the number of transit modes operating at the station, providing additional passengers for Greyhound and advancing the public good.

Note, the photo of Union Station in this blog entry was taken from the Wikepedia entry for “Union Station (Denver)”

Saturday, November 3, 2007

United Announces Daily Denver to London Flight

After years of speculation, United has announced the launch of a daily non-stop flight between Denver and London starting March 30, 2008. This is great news on several fronts: it will keep competitive pressure on the existing British Airways Denver to London route, promote global economic and cultural linkages between Denver and other parts of the world, increase Metro Denver’s international competitiveness as a location for global corporate headquarters, provides evidence that recent “open skies” treaties negotiated between the United States and other nations are starting to remove regulatory barriers to expanding international flights and may be an indication that United is planning to expand Denver International Airport’s role as an international hub instead of just using DIA as its second largest domestic hub.

In blog entries from September 23, 2007 ( ) and September 5, 2007 ( I discussed the relatively low volume of international flights into and out of Denver International Airport She the following Denver Post story for additional details regarding this announcement ( ).