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Denver Federal Center Contributes to a Thriving Community

People enjoying lunch at Bicentennial ParkThe power of collaboration is something that the Denver metro community discovered long ago. How else would you explain the Denver Federal Center: This federal campus played a key role in developing Colorado and the Lakewood community when built in 1941 and continues to do so today.

The federal campus evolved from what was known as the Hayden Ranch to a World War II ammunitions plant and then to a thriving business campus today. In the late 1930s, the Denver Chamber of Commerce, civic organizations, the railroad interests and others did their job well in positioning Denver as the place for the government to build a munitions plant. As a result, in 1941, the War Department bought 2,080 acres for $181,077.

Unemployment was plaguing Colorado and other parts of the country, similar to what we’ve been experiencing these past few years, so a big construction project like the ammunitions plant, known as the Denver Ordnance Plant, promised to create thousands of jobs. Overnight, people’s lives changed. Imagine going from a hired hand working at the Hayden Ranch earning 50 cents per day to earning $50-$75 per week. Employees learned for the first time what it was like to be employed under modern standard working conditions and to see their wages influenced by national policy.

Today, the federal campus continues to thrive, experiencing approximately 6,500 daily visitors, employees, and deliveries Monday through Friday. The workforce has lived in and influenced many of the Denver metro neighborhoods, especially Lakewood’s. Stable incomes mean established, stable neighborhoods. The business climate is also impacted as other businesses have moved to Lakewood to serve agencies at the federal campus. Over time, some federal agencies have expanded beyond the campus and created hallmark office buildings in Lakewood, adding to today’s continuing thriving city.

Collaboration once again proved successful in 2007 as the U.S. General Services Administration, operator of the federal campus, sold 65 acres of land. That sale consisted of 50 acres resulting in the city’s construction of Routt Street from Alameda to 4th Avenue. The remaining 15 acres just north of the hospital site was set aside for the Regional Transportation District.

More than 1,500 employees were relocated from the former St. Anthony central campus to Lakewood in June 2011. As with the federal agencies at the federal campus, the hospital is bringing new business to Lakewood. For example, DaVita Clinical Research, a provider of clinical research services focused on kidney research, and a variety of other specialty therapeutic populations will be a part of the St. Anthony Hospital campus. The 80-bed facility will be operational in mid-2012 and is expected to create more than 50 specialized research jobs.

The 15-acre parcel of land sold just north of the hospital will help create a transit center. With such a dense cluster of employment and the fact that GSA’s vision is to make the federal campus the most sustainable one in the U.S. by 2020, it made perfect sense to create the federal center light rail station as part of the West Rail Line project. The West Rail Line project team recently installed the final 116,000 lineal feet of track. Crews working just west of the Union Boulevard Tunnel tied in the track for the whole rail line from Denver Union Station to the Jefferson County Government Center. This line is scheduled to open May 2013. These community assets would not exist if it were not for the collaboration of GSA, the city of Lakewood, St. Anthony and RTD.

The funds from the property sale allowed GSA to reinvest in its now 623-acre campus by repairing and upgrading the outdated utilities infrastructure (i.e., upgrade of water distribution services, sanitary sewer systems, and roadways). The project allows the federal campus to remain a thriving and viable community partner for many more years and deliver tenants a more reliable and safe working environment.

In 1941, a gallon of gas cost 22 cents, considered high and resulting in many people carpooling to work. Furthermore, people were reminded not to drive more than 40 miles per hour to conserve rubber. Today, the average cost for a gallon of gas is about 1,750 percent higher than in 1941, and while it’s not prohibitive to most from driving alone, carpooling is still very much relevant. While we may not focus on conserving rubber today, we often hear that we need to live more sustainability and demonstrate good social responsibility.

While many things have changed over the years, the fact that the federal government continues to positively impact the local community still stands true. The ability to do so has been propelled significantly through collaboration with local partners. “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller.

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