Once one of metro Denver’s more affordable suburbs, the town of Castle Rock for decades was the very definition of a bedroom community. Now it seeks to defy the label and become more self-sufficient and self-contained.
The Douglas County seat is going through yet another growth spurt, one that has taken its population from 48,580 residents in 2010 to nearly 77,000 last year, according to the state demographer. But this spurt is different than past ones. Developers are adding new condos and apartments and office and commercial space to the once-neglected downtown and looking at industrial sites nearby.
It represents a more balanced approach than earlier construction waves focused on single-family homes and retail pads on undeveloped land.
Two large developments, one called Miller’s Landing by P3 Advisors and the other called The Brickyards by Confluence Cos. are planned on the west side of Interstate 25 across from downtown, extending the town’s core while reusing industrial land. And all the new building has an eye on creating the kinds of spaces that will allow residents to work and play close to where they live.
“One of the things we have worked on is whether we wanted to be a bedroom community or a self-sustaining community,” said Mayor Jason Gray, who ran on a self-sufficiency platform. For example, Castle Rock needed a college and a hospital, and it secured both of those.
The Douglas County School District, Arapahoe Community College and Colorado State University teamed up to create the Sturm Collaboration Campus, which counts more than 1,000 students. The campus provides traditional classroom offerings, along with applied learning and workforce training to help students prepare for in-demand jobs.
The Centura Castle Rock Adventist hospital, which started with 55 beds, is adding 36 more because of high demand. The hospital employs 600 people, and adjacent medical offices, which are also expanding, employ hundreds more.
One of the first of the new-generation projects to go downtown was called Encore, developed by Confluence Companies out of Golden. The town was initially looking for a developer to build a parking garage on three lots. It got a garage, but also a seven-story project with 124 for-sale condos and ground-floor retail and office space.
The thinking was that young professionals would be moving in, but instead, well-off retirees and empty nesters wanting to trade in their unincorporated single-family spreads for a maintenance-free lifestyle, the kind normally found in downtown Denver or Boulder, were the dominant buyers, said Frank Gray, president and CEO of Castle Rock Economic Development.
But adding housing alone isn’t enough, said Gray, who isn’t related to the mayor. The town and its economic development groups, which are privately run, have been selective in what it has allowed in terms of restaurants and retailers and in attracting the kind of amenities designed to appeal to those new residents.
“Five or six years ago, you didn’t see people walking around downtown except maybe on a weekend. Now you see people every day of the week,” Mayor Gray said.
When he first arrived in town from Alaska, after a brief stay in Denver, back in 2009, about 300 to 400 people attended the annual celebration of the lighting of the star on the rock that gives the town its name, Gray said. Last year, the holiday season kick-off, which is called Starlighting, drew 25,000 people to Wilcox Square.
Extending the center
Confluence also has added a 228-unit apartment building called Riverwalk across the street from Encore and in late September broke ground on its third downtown project, representing a $28 million investment, called Riverwalk Luxe, which will have 28 luxury apartment homes and more than 21,000 square feet of for-sale commercial space.
Once Riverwalk Luxe is complete, Confluence will have invested about $180 million in downtown Castle Rock, including adding eight restaurants. But the biggest investment is yet to come, a $380 million redevelopment called The Brickyards on 31 acres once occupied by the Acme brick factory, which for decades supplied much of the masonry used in Front Range homes and buildings until it closed in 2018.
Confluence had hoped it could salvage the buildings on the site and create a hip reuse of industrial space, think the Source in River North on Brighton Boulevard. Although Acme made bricks, its buildings were made mostly of steel and metal. They weren’t functional to convert or esthetically pleasing.
“We initially got excited about repurposing the hold brick facility but it wasn’t a viable option. We are now looking at clearing the site. It will be a complete scrape,” said Tony DeSimone, a principal with Confluence Companies.
That isn’t to say there won’t be a strong brick theme in whatever comes next. Confluence picked up 3 million leftover bricks when it acquired the Acme site for $7 million. Those bricks are slowly making their way to other new buildings in Castle Rock and DeSimone is open to hearing from anyone who might want to pick some of them up.
The Brickyards is still in the planning stages, but it will include higher-density residential, office, and commercial space. About 11 acres are being set aside for a new park and recreation facility that Castle Rock wants to build, DeSimone said.
“We are trying to create another great location. We want to be part of delivering high-quality projects,” he said.
Nearby, on a former landfill that is now cleared out, P3 Advisors, which specializes in brownfield redevelopment, has been working on an even larger project for the past eight years. Miller’s Landing, accessed through I-25 and West Plum Creek Parkway interchange, covers 65 acres that could eventually include mixed-use multi-family projects, a full-service hotel, as well as pads for office and retail and other uses.
The pandemic caused the project to hit the brakes and Sean Temple, a principal at P3 Advisors, said higher interest rates are again causing things to slow. As the master developer, P3 Advisors is working with other developers to bring projects to the table, and lenders remain skittish.
“We are in a market pause based on uncertainty in 2023, to be frank, until we get a stabilization in economic policy and interest rates,” Temple said. But he adds that next year will be a good time to put in infrastructure in preparation for the eventual rebound.
As developers work out their plans, Castle Rock has spent millions of dollars to enhance what they are doing, including completing Festival Park downtown, adding the Phillip S. Miller Park which has ziplines and an amphitheater at Miller’s Landing and the addition of a recreation center for The Brickyard.
About 70% to 80% of Castle Rock’s working population commute elsewhere to make a living, which often means driving a congested I-25 up to the Denver Tech Center or down to Colorado Springs. Independent-minded residents opted out of paying taxes to the Regional Transportation District in 2005, probably realizing they wouldn’t receive much in the way of services anyway. But the move has left them with few options but to drive.
Gray, head of the economic development office, is himself a long-distance commuter, but in the other direction. He comes down from Adams County where he previously worked. But he is pushing hard to lay the groundwork so residents, both current and future, don’t have to make a long drive. And if he is successful, that should only shorten the time it takes for the town to reach its expected capacity of 140,000 residents.
Castle Rock added more residents than any other municipality in the state last year save Colorado Springs — 3,194 versus 4,450, according to the state demographer.
Castle Rock alone added more people than Boulder, Denver and Jefferson counties combined last year. But that isn’t a fair comparison, given that the three populous counties lost a combined 9,851 residents. This might be fairer — Castle Rock added more people than Adams and Arapahoe counties, two metro counties that grew by nearly 3,000 residents combined.
“You are either growing or you are dying,” Mayor Gray said. Castle Rock wants to be in the camp of those growing.
But to do so, the community has to make the best use of the land it still has available, and more importantly, the limited water it can still access. In short, it has to be smart about how it develops among a population that isn’t necessarily open to “central” planning and a heavy-handed approach by the government.
The town passed an ordinance that bars new developments from having front lawns and limits backyards to 500 square feet of grass. It is working to become a leader in water recycling, essentially creating a closed-loop system so water can be preserved and reused over and over.
Given that most residential water use goes to make lawns green and gardens grow, promoting denser development does two things — provide better use of the land left to develop and allow for more efficient use of water.
Castle Rock experienced a surge in single-family home permits to above 1,000 a year from 2018 to 2021, excluding a brief dip in 2019. Construction hasn’t been that strong since the housing boom between 2004 and 2006. But the more novel trend is in multifamily. From 2005 to 2015, there were only 209 multifamily permits issued over an 11-year period. But since 2016, the town has issued 1,958 permits for apartments and condos or nearly 10 times more.
That isn’t to say single-family neighborhoods are fading away. Westside Property Investment Co. this fall reached an agreement with the town to build 5,850 single-family homes and 3.2 million square feet of office, commercial, retail and industrial space on a 2,200-acre project called Dawson Trails, with nearly half the land dedicated to open space, parks and trails.
Castle Rock annexed the land back in 1984, and has waited patiently for its development. Dawson Trails will likely represent the southern boundary of development in Castle Rock and a hard southern boundary for metro Denver.