Collaborators Without Borders

Luella Chavez D’Angelo, right, makes a point July 7 at a forum at Koelbel Library in Centennial as Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon and Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet listen in. The three speakers stressed the importance of collaboration and partnerships between government and private entities along the south I-25 corridor. Photo by Peter Jones


Two mayors and one CU vice chancellor do it the ‘Denver South’ way


Public-private partnerships. Can you say that five times fast?

Three of the woman leaders of the south I-25 corridor speak it every day.

“We started our city with that public-private partnership,” said Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon at a forum this month for the South Metro Denver Chamber. “We engage with businesses that have wonderful practices, have the ability to tap into nationwide research and development in their own businesses and bring best practices to us.”

Those partnerships in the ultra-cooperative south metro area are also public-public. Centennial, a city known for contracting out the most basic of city services, also works closely with its municipal neighbors on a shared blueprint for the I-25 corridor.

“We sit down and we talk about common goals and vision,” Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet explained to an audience of local business and government leaders. “… We speak with one voice. We advocate together. We recognize that we succeed together.”

What’s more, with education as a driver in attracting business and a skilled workforce to what is often called “Denver South,” the rebranded University of Colorado South Denver also has a seat at the table. The facility at the former home of Wildlife Experience on Lincoln Avenue was recently the subject of a “friendly annexation” by Lone Tree.

“We really wanted a mayor, a city council to speak on our behalf, to advocate for us, to promote us,” said Luella Chavez D’Angelo, the satellite facility’s vice chancellor of enterprise development. “… We are building a mini campus for each and every one of you and your families in your backyard.”

The fact that this chamber-sponsored forum on “Collaborators Without Borders” was populated by two mayors and an official from a university is evidence in and of itself that the southeast metro area has its own way of conducting business via teamwork.

While CU partners with Lone Tree and Centennial engaged in a first-time partnership with Lyft, the two cities also work together to maintain a seamless climate for economic development. As suburbs increasingly function with vague borders, why fight it, the officials reason.

After all, when was the last time you consciously recognized the boundary between Arapahoe and Douglas counties or Centennial and Lone Tree when crossing County Line Road to get to Centennial’s IKEA or Lone Tree’s Park Meadows?

“We want to facilitate getting across that road,” Noon said, noting that the cities have an intergovernmental agreement to maintain the busy thoroughfare. “We get that done because that way the snowplowing looks the same … so these collaborative mindsets are definitely a benefit for everyone.”

Local businesses have gotten on this public-private team through the Denver South Economic Development Partnership, as well as by way of smaller partnerships.

In Lone Tree, business has helped solve the “last-mile challenge” from the burgeoning light rail line. Last year, about 80,000 people jumped onto a business-supported shuttle service that gets commuters to Lone Tree’s major employers.

“We think that was one of the most creative, unique entrepreneurial efforts that was taken on by the city, and it speaks to the public-private partnership,” Millet said.

Lone Tree’s CU Denver South is among the destinations now within a short Uber or Lyft ride from light rail. Like its neighboring cities, this receiving point for curriculum and research from all of CU’s four campuses was designed with a 21st century approach.

“It’s the place where President [Bruce] Benson, our fearless leader, really wants us to be innovating, really challenging the ways higher education has traditionally done things,” she said. “… [Millennials] don’t want to learn things just sitting in a chair anymore. They want to be learning with their hands. They want to be learning in a real-life situation.”

The generation that will soon constitute half the nation’s workforce has touched not just transportation and education, but the very nature of the suburban landscape. Last month, Greenwood Village voters resounding rejected a proposal for a large high-density mixed-use development. Centennial and Lone Tree have grappled with similar questions over how to integrate new urbanism into the aging suburbs.

“How do we make sure that compliments what we [already] have?” Millet asked. “… I like to think of providing the best of both worlds to our residents, that if you want the white-picket fence and the yard, we have that. If you want to turn it and lock it and go to Boca for the winter and come back, we have that option for you as well.”

This changing face of the southeast community has received notice, not just from USA Today and Money magazine, but from younger, less official sources, like Millet’s 20-year-old son.

“[He] came home from college and he’s like, ‘You know, Mom, Lone Tree’s getting a little cooler,’” the mayor said with smile. “I said, ‘Yes, we are, honey. Let me take you down to Monk & Mongoose.”

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