PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. – Stapleton International Airport, originally called the Denver Municipal Airport, served as Denver’s primary airport from 1929 until 1995 when a large convoy of airport vehicles left for the new Denver International Airport, leaving behind six empty runways.
For the last 16 years, Forest City Realty Trust has been transforming the 4,700-acre airport into one of the largest in-fill projects in the country as a model for urban redevelopment with 11 neighborhoods, 16 schools and shopping and business districts.
As BrightView continues to install streetscapes and parks, and handle water mitigation for one of the largest urban redevelopment communities in the country, traces of the airport can still be seen in the tower and Hangar 61, restored and now used by the Stapleton Fellowship Church.
“There have been efforts to preserve the history of the airport in the new design,” said Chris Perry, assistant branch manager at BrightView Design Group in Colorado. “They even took all the old runways and broke them up into stone slabs to build walls out of them.”
Amelia Earhart made a stop at the airport in 1931 on a cross-country tour promoting autogyros. The runways saw Lockheed Model 10 Electras, World War II B-17 bombers, Douglas & Convair airliners, Concordes and Boeing over the years.
BrightView was selected for the rewarding project of restoring nature to its original luster in the Stapleton master-planned urban community.
“We have built an excess of $60 million in work over those 16 years,” Perry said. “Our work that we’ve done there has been primarily metropolitan district work, which includes the majority of the streetscapes, the parks and the open spaces.”
Stapleton is planned to have more than 1,116 acres of parks and open spaces – making up 35 percent of Stapleton – with an 80-acre Central Park, 47 miles of bike and walking trails and 50 parks, including a skate park and two for dogs.
A forgotten brook that ran north through Stapleton Airport was buried for years in a pipe beneath a runway, but BrightView successfully salvaged and restored the creek and its surrounding riparian plain, creating an interconnecting system of ponds, wetlands and prairies.
There are native and drought-tolerant plants that makes up Westerly Creek Park and the Westerly Creek basin will be able to handle a 100-year flood scenario.
Each of Stapleton’s 50 parks is different, allowing the 30,000 future residents to find their own favorite outdoor space.
“We have some parks that are sensory parks and we even created a Pizza Park,” Perry said. “The space is shaped like a pizza and has a wood-fired pizza oven in it. We also built a Rumble Park where the sidewalk is scored that when you ride a bike or scooter or skate over it, it makes music.”
The first homeowner moved into the community in 2002 and has grown to more than 20,000 residents to date and more than 35,000 trees have already been planted in Stapleton. The entire community won’t be completed for a few more years.
“This project is unique in its scale,” Perry said. “Depending on how quickly the remainder of the infrastructure takes, it will probably be another four to six years before Stapleton is complete.”