A ‘true believer’ talks about southeast corridor, transit imperative

By Jan Wondra

Meet Stephanie Lawrence and you can feel as if you have met a force of nature. As the Colorado managing director of Texas-based Granite Properties, one of the largest property management groups in the Denver metro area, this young powerhouse is helping to change the perceptions of what property management is and how it plays out in our suburban environment.

“This will change the skyline for Village Center, and this will change the experience for Denver south and the corridor,” said Lawrence, speaking of the newest 300,000-square-foot project, the site Greenwood Village calls Village Center and Granite Properties prefers to call Granite Place at Village Center

The privately held company has developed more than 20 million square feet of office space in major markets around the country. In Denver metro, its headquarters in the Plaza Tower One Building at 6400 Fiddler’s Green Circle in Greenwood Village. It also owns High Pointe Tower, Prentice Plaza, and One Union Square. Lawrence joined Granite Properties in 2005 and helms a tightknit local staff.

The company’s approach is bullish on transit.

“We see firsthand the demand for light rail with the properties we own,” said Lawrence. “It’s the amenities, the activity, the sense of community. One of the things we’re really working hard on is to connect this new project and make everyone understand that this is the extension of the Village Center. There’s a perception in the market that east is not as good as west, and we’re working hard to connect this. We are exactly the same distance from light rail (as Plaza Tower One), and the new project will have eating options, a health club, all the options over on the west side. It’s all walkable.”

Lawrence is encouraged by the recent public conversation about development around transit stops and says it’s critical to our style of suburban-urban development.

“Where we differentiate from other projects is space. You go to One Belleview (Center), which sits on Denver land, and it’s a tight feel. In the suburbs, people still want space. Our value proposition is all about the employee experience. Our new projects all have open community space, both inside and outside. Even the lobby of our new project will have community areas. The future will be all about the experience—where do they want to come to work every day?”

Lawrence is concerned about what she sees as a reluctance of some city governments, including Greenwood Village, to accept the development mix necessary around light rail stops.

“Way before we got involved (on our new project), Koelbel, who owned the land, reached out to the city. Usually, there is an element of the unknown, but usually, you have a decent feel if the city is behind you or not,” said Lawrence. “I’ve had some pretty direct conversations with the city. … This council has to get off their offensive stance on multifamily.”

As to the coming opportunity around the Orchard Station sub-area, she says, “I say that (the area) can have the right mix at Orchard Station if you can do something with the Triad.”

About the need for housing, specifically condos in the Denver south area, Lawrence is pragmatic.

“No one can do condos until they do something about the construction defect law. There are a lot of people working on it, but it isn’t coming anytime soon.”

She’s enthusiastic about the proximity of Granite Place at Village Center, as well as their current buildings, to light rail.

“The gist of the project is that we believe it offers a unique value proposition.  This is all about our potential clients and their employees’ experience,” said Lawrence. “People can’t underestimate the value of connectivity to light rail. The power of the light rail is real – the station stops are where people want to be. A healthy approach to development includes this understanding.”

The company is leading the market in what it calls a customer-tenant-centric mentality, according to Lawrence.

“We look at a building as a community for its occupants,” she said. “They need to understand that you value them. A few years ago, when you talked about your business, people talked about the building, the bricks, and mortar.  We changed our focus to ‘what does the customer want?’ It’s a customer-focus instead of a building focus—a different view of real estate.”

Two things drive Lawrence forward.

“We’re a huge believer in Denver southeast – we own here, we experience it. There’s a reason that we own this much real estate in this area,” she said. “And we’re believers in transit.”

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