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Creating (Expensive) Neighborhoods

by Diana Scott

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"The Presidio combines the natural beauty and history of a national park with 21st century possibilities," says Presidio Trust Corporation Executive Director James Meadows in an early Trust brochure. Commercial possibilities are what Meadows seems to know best.

Imperious, unflappable, and avuncular, the 1966 Air Force Academy graduate flew missions over Vietnam and went into real estate in the 1970s, according to his official bio. By the 1980s, he ran his own building and land development and consulting business in Phoenix, and by the early 1990s, he had developed master-planned communities for Dole Food's real estate subsidiary, Castle & Cooke. From 1994-97, Meadows headed the effort to convert Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado to civilian use, until he was tapped to do likewise at the Presidio.

The Rocky Mountain News characterized the conversion of Denver's Lowry Air Force Base, under Meadows, as the fastest base conversion in the country, although it would take 20 years and $1 billion to complete. The website for Lowry reads like something out of the 1950s, with a distinctly '90s, post-Cold War, eco-consumer twist. Its graphics are as American as baseball and apple pie:

"Here at Lowry, a glorious transformation is taking place. Where once there were roaring jet runways, there are beautiful new neighborhoods reminiscent of old-time Denver...The busy aircraft hangars are giving way to quiet parks and picturesque baseball fields, wetlands, playgrounds and open spaces. We like to say that Lowry has the 'Best of the old, and the best of the new.'"

At the Presidio, Meadows loves to talk about the existing fiber-optic loop with satellite uplink and downlink capacity for global multimedia outreach. (One of his achievements at Lowry was to interest developers in building homes there when it was still considered a financial risk.) The key to Lowry's take-off as a neighborhood, according to Ken Schroeppel of Denver's Mayfair Neighborhood Association, was the raising of bonds for the infrastructure -- $30 million "right up front," -- to connect new streets to the city's grid.

Lowry has "exceeded everyone's expectations" as last year's site for the "Parade of Homes," an annual homebuilders' showcase in an upscale part of Denver, according to realtor Kathleen Ruby, head of the nearby Mayfair Park Neighborhood Association. She said it was the second best-attended Parade of Homes in Denver's history, with homes on exhibit selling in the $400,000 to $900,000 range.

Ruby acknowledged that there were bumps along the road. According to a 1997 Rocky Mountain News article by John Rebchook, Meadows locked horns with the prior head of the Association concerning the failure of the Lowry Redevelopment Authority (which he headed) to upgrade multi-family units on the base adjacent to the neighborhood as quickly as promised. The Authority used those units adjoining Mayfair Park as "transitional" housing for low-income tenants, which, according to the Association, generated operating revenues for the Authority while it launched other development plans -- and fueled local opposition.

"At first, we felt the Lowry Redevelopment Authority wanted to make deals and wasn't being sensitive," said Ruby...But time ended up being on our side." Her group slowed down things a little, to generate "design guidelines and things like that," she said. "On one hand, we didn't want [the site] to sit there empty. Tax revenues were needed to pay back the sale price to the Air Force, even though the city of Denver [had originally] donated the site. But it has worked out better to go slow and make things go up right," she said. Most of the contested rental housing has been phased out, according to Ruby, and converted for sale as townhouses.

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Albion Monitor December 28, 1999 (

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