• August 31, 2015

August 31, 2015—In my last post, I described the role of public-private partnerships in the rise of airport cities. The airport city being developed around Denver International Airport, or DIA, is one of the most ambitious projects of its kind and exemplifies the value of private-public collaboration on such projects.

Collaboration began in 1990, five years before the airport was built 23 miles northeast of Denver and focused on that far corner of the metropolitan area.[1] The geographic reach of collaboration expanded as the economic potential of the airport city became clear:  DIA, one of the world’s 20 busiest airports for passenger traffic, turned Denver into a major transportation hub. The city of Denver joined with other public and private stakeholders in planning development.

The Denver City Council now plays a central role, and the plans and projects that shape the airport city must be consistent with the Denver Comprehensive Plan. That plan, adopted in 2000, established goals and objectives for the city’s future. These objectives included congruency of citywide land use and zoning to ensure strong connections among urban centers, convenient transportation options for residents, and compact development to prevent sprawl. This comprehensive approach has resulted in a well-integrated airport city.

Pena Station near Denver International Airport

From the runways to main street: 382-acre mixed use development planned next to Denver International Airport. Image used with permission of DIA Media Relations: http://www.flydenver.com/about/media_center/pena_station_rail_stop (accessed May 22, 2015).


Under a major constituent planning effort, the “Eagle PPP–East Corridor Project” forms a vital transportation network for the airport city. A 22.8-mile commuter rail, the East Rail Line, joins Denver Union Station with the airport and at least two corporate anchors, a 519-room hotel with a conference center and a public plaza, and a 382-acre, mixed-use, environmentally friendly and walkable development called Peña Station. The project includes a maintenance facility, and another 17.4 miles of commuter rail lines that will connect with the East Rail Line, essentially linking all of Denver with the airport.[2]  Construction of the rail lines began in 2011 and the lines are scheduled to start service in 2016.


As with many modern transit projects, private funding has a role. About $450 million, a fifth of the total transit costs of $2.2 billion, will come from the firms that design, build, finance, operate, and maintain all of the Eagle PPP Project rail lines and the maintenance facility.[3] In exchange, these “Denver Transit Partners’’ will receive a share of the revenue from operating the system. The remaining transit costs will be financed by a combination of Federal Transit Administration funds, local bond proceeds, sales tax revenue, and local government funds.[4][5]


Under related plans, the Peña Station site will be a new hub for Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co. This fast-growing business services and technology arm of the Japanese Panasonic Co. will be near the airport.[6]  The hub will occupy 7 to 10 acres and, like the rail connection, is scheduled to open in 2016.

Peña Station, which will have a plaza, a park, a parking facility, and roads, will also be a showcase for sustainable city planning, with connections through multiple modes of transportation, and buildings that are LEED certified or comply with similar green building standards.[7] The initial infrastructure for this portion of the airport city’s development will cost $58.7 million and be financed by its four property owners and the Denver Department of Aviation.


And there’s room to grow. Under the Airport City Master plan 9,000 acres are reserved for future development. The expected direct and indirect impacts of growth are impressive: 25,000 construction jobs, 30,000 employed in the airport city area, 40,000 jobs created in the Denver metro region, and $300 million in annual tax revenue for the city and state.[8]

Public-private partnerships are becoming popular in developing countries. Governments in these countries and in advanced economies should keep watching Denver and how it uses public-private partnerships to realize the full economic potential of its airport city.

Alejandro Schwedhelm is a Nathan Associates specialist in multimodal transport, transit-oriented development, and international development. As an associate with the firm, he provides technical and analytical support for airport-related land use planning and policy. He has a master’s in urban planning from New York University and a B.S. in environmental spatial analysis from the University of North Georgia.


[1]Taylor, Mike. Ready for takeoff: Gateway Plan Bolstered by Visions of DIA “Aerotropolis.” Confluence Denver. November 19, 2014.

[2] RTD FasTracks: About the Project. Regional Transportation District of Denver. 2015

[3] RTD FasTracks: East Rail Line A. Regional Transportation District of Denver. 2015.

[4] RTD FasTracks: Innovation Makes project Possible. Regional Transportation District of Denver. 2015.

[5] RTD FasTracks: About the Project. Regional Transportation District of Denver. 2015.

[6] Panasonic to Build Enterprise Solutions Base at the Peña Station Rail Stop in Denver, CO. City of Denver.

[7] 61st and Peña Station Area Plan. City of Denver. January 13, 2014.

[8] Denver ‘s Airport City Concept Unveiled. Denver International Airport. April 26, 2012.


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