What the Steel Yards began 10 years ago, Boulder Junction — an enormous project that will eventually include mass transit, street-level retail, condominiums, bike paths and parks — continues, said Samuel Assefa, the senior urban designer for the city of Boulder. "Boulder Junction completes a development pattern that Steel Yards started," he said.
Boulder Junction, currently in the planning stages, will be located on a 160-acre site northeast of 30th Street and Pearl Parkway. In October, Boulder's planning board will conduct an in-site review of phase one of the project. Phase one, located west of the railroad tracks, is approximately 50 acres and is envisioned to develop over 10 to 15 years and extend just south of Pearl Parkway. The Steel Yards is located in the upper half of the phase one development.
Steel Yards is critical to Boulder Junction, said John Koval, vice president and director of development at Coburn Development Inc. "Steel Yards is the anchor for the Transit Village (aka Boulder Junction), a hub for the city's light-rail station, bus routes," he said. Coburn is the original developer of Steel Yards. "It's appealing and livable," Koval said. Steel Yards is livable enough even for Coburn Development. They moved their offices there in March 2010.
Steel Yards saw a densely packed future
Steel Yards has been modeling a new face of Boulder for some years now, one with fewer wheels, but more bikes and walkways, underground garages and above-ground homes.
The planners for the Steel Yards were forward thinking, said Zachary Epps, Re/Max Alliance Realtor, who promotes and sells in the Steel Yards.
"I like the project," he said. "Today, people just assume it fits as a mixed-use project, but when they started on it, this area was not residential in the eyes of residents. Now it is."
Epps, a 30-year resident of Boulder, said he remembers when Boulder Steel inhabited the site. "The developers had a long-term view that panned out. It's amazing to me that it's grown the way that it has. It's not downtown. People get it stuck in their head that mixed use has to be downtown. My point is the developers created an urban mixed-use thing in a non-urban environment." Epps said.
Ground breaking for Steel Yards occurred in 1998. The larger part of the project is now finished with 180,000 square feet of commercial space and 90 residential units, including 30 percent affordable housing. The only section not yet built out is an 80,000-square-foot mixed-use area that Coburn Development hopes to begin designing in 2012.
Steel Yards is the former home of Boulder Steel Inc., a steel distributor. When the company moved to Broomfield in the early 1990s, Home Depot was interested in the site, but the Boulder city leaders rejected the idea of filling the space with a big-box retailer.
William E. Coburn, founder of Coburn Development, proposed a plan that incorporated the principles of New Urbanism, providing walkable, compact, vibrant, mixed-use communities with work places, shops, entertainment, schools and parks. Boulder was all for it, but major zoning changes had to come first.
Koval said that from conception to building, it took eight years for the Steel Yards project to be up and running. A commercial building moratorium and the poor economy were some of their obstacles.
A great place to live and work
Epps said that interest in resale at the Steel Yards is good. His clients like the project because of amenities offered without the chaos and price of downtown Boulder.
Koval said that within the commercial space Coburn owns, the company is enjoying low vacancy rates, with any empty spaces being filled in a timely manner.
"We're maintaining tenants and getting new ones," he said.
Steel Yards tenant and president of WishGarden Herbs Catherine Hunziker, said she's been happy living and working at Steel Yards since 2003. WishGarden Herbs is an apothecary that ships and delivers its products to natural-foods retailers and larger chains such as King Soopers and Kroogers, so the community doesn't come to her door. But to Hunziker, the Steel Yards is a village within a city. People with diverse backgrounds live and work here and greet each other at the coffee shop or in passing, she said.
Finding a home for her company where she wouldn't have to drive too much was an important goal when Hunziker moved her company and employees to Steel Yards, she said. She uses her bicycle, not mass transit, but said that she's looking forward to when the light rail comes to the area. It will make the transportation even easier for her employees, especially the three that commute from Denver.
"Boulder Junction will change things, but overall, I think the transit center will have a positive effect," she said. "Most people here support the idea of moving people without expending resources and causing pollution."