The Denver International Airport (DEN) aspires to build a world-class airport city of diverse commercial uses on its 16,000 acres of non-aviation property. Sasaki’s interdisciplinary design team is collaborating with the airport’s real estate division to create a Strategic Development Plan that establishes a comprehensive long-range planning framework, development strategy, and design standards to realize DEN’s vision.
The Strategic Development Plan transforms DEN’s non-aviation land into a series of concentrated, vibrant development districts designed to serve a spectrum of national and global businesses. Focused initially on approximately 1,000 acres along the airport’s main access road, Peña Boulevard, the plan celebrates an identity that is distinctly DEN and uniquely rooted in the Colorado landscape. Each development district capitalizes on the property’s unique landscape amenities, views of the rolling prairie and Front Range, and seamless international airport access.
The plan supports the airport’s core aviation mission by leveraging DEN’s size, capacity for growth, and central location, both nationally and globally, to envision sustainable, economically-beneficial development. With approximately 53 square miles of land area, DEN is the second largest airport landowner in the world. At its current size, DEN serves over 58 million passengers annually and is the largest economic driver in the state of Colorado, fueling more than $26 billion in annual economic benefit. DEN has the land area available to cost-effectively expand its airfield from its six existing runways to twelve runways at full buildout, with the ultimate ability to serve over 100 million passengers.
The vision for DEN’s airport city builds on the distinct architecture of the iconic Jeppesen Terminal, vast prairie landscape, and breathtaking views of the Rocky Mountains. A newly constructed passenger rail line connects DEN to Union Station in downtown in about 40 minutes. Stopping at several transit-oriented development sites, this new transit line forms what Mayor Michael Hancock refers to as Denver’s Corridor of Opportunity. The network of regional, national, and global connectivity—combined with DEN’s extensive land resources, the natural beauty of the surrounding prairie and Rocky Mountains—provides the context and inspiration for the Strategic Development Plan.
Each of the plan’s priority development districts has a signature character derived from its relationship to the airport terminal, landscape context, and connection to regional transportation networks. The districts are founded on a framework of streets and public spaces designed to balance flexible growth and evolving technologies with the creation of attractive, human-scaled places. DEN’s development districts are conceived as destinations to attract innovative local, national, and international businesses as well as the broader regional community. The plan anticipates a diverse mix of uses including hotel, conference, and other hospitality functions; destination and local retail; commercial office space; research and development; and manufacturing.
The Strategic Development Plan’s distinctive landscape strategy considers four levels of user experience. Characterized as unobstructed, transitional, immersive, and aerial, these levels of experience dictate scale-appropriate interventions based on the typical speed and position at which one experiences the landscape, be it on foot or bicycle, or in a car, train, or airplane. This strategy is uniquely appropriate to the tens of thousands of visitors and employees whose perspective varies depending on when and how they travel through DEN’s landscape. Underlying the landscape experience is a commitment to contextualize development in the high plains ecoregion, minimize intensive landscape maintenance, and utilize landscape as an integrated medium for DEN’s commitment to public art.
The planning process is engaging a cross-section of airport leadership and divisional expertise, as well as stakeholders from the City of Denver and neighboring jurisdictions. Sasaki is collaborating with HR&A Advisors, Matrix Design Group, Peter J. Park, PGAL, HDR, and VHB to develop the plan.