by Jill Jamieson-Nichols Colorado Real Estate Journal, September 17, 2008

Tim Zink has been involved with Three Springs since its inception, so it was pretty exciting to see the first buildings come out of the ground.

Even so, “It doesn’t compare to today when a school bus pulls up and a dozen kids get off. That, to me, is what it’s been all about over the last six years that I’ve been working on this development,” said Zink, general manager of Durango’s first and only traditional neighborhood development.

A 682-acre project of GF Development Group LLC, owned by the Southern Ute Indian Tribe Growth Fund, Three Springs is maturing into a fully mixed-use community of single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes and affordable housing with a major employer – Mercy Regional Medical Center. Its growing commercial area, the Mercado District, so far has three mixed-use buildings with approximately 30,000 square feet of retail and 50,000 sf of fully leased office space.

Developers now are contemplating new medical office space – possibly office condo space – to supplement 150,000 sf of fully leased space at the medical center. Also in the future are a Neighborhood Center that would serve as a community gathering spot, Durango’s next elementary and middle schools, and a 75-acre community park.

The Neighborhood Center, which may strive for LEED Platinum certification, will include meeting space for homeowner association meetings and other community groups, and computer labs for before- and after-school program, and adult education programs. “We want to have demonstration displays throughout the building that really explain and expose people to what it is to be a LEED-certified building,” said Zink.

Three Springs is unique in that it had a major employer – Mercy Medical Center – from the get-go. “With the hospital and with the Southern Ute Indian Tribe as the developer, it’s allowed a lot more front-ending of that commercial, job-creating component,” said Tim McHarg, Durango assistant planning director. “The residential is coming along in conjunction with that.”

Three Springs’ homebuilder, Tierra Group, has completed 37 single-family and duplex units within the development, attracting a generational spectrum of buyers, from young couples to grandparents. Pricing as of midsummer ranged from $279,900 for a townhome (nine townhomes are being built by Timberline Builders) to a high-end home at $693,900.

“Particularly for a new home within the city of Durango, we’re way more attainable than most of the product that’s out there,” Zink said. Between the hospital’s 1,000 employees, some 270 employees in the Mercado District and 170 residents, Three Springs has attracted service providers including Alpine Bank, Anytime Fitness and Progressive Insurance to its retail space and soon will welcome its first restaurant. The retail space, with asking rates of $15 to $22 per sf triple net, is 42 percent leased. Lots also are available for uses such as a dentist, motel and small grocer. As part of the traditional neighborhood design, which includes an integrated trail system and pedestrian underpasses at major intersections, Streets within the Mercado District have reverse angle parking, so drivers pull forward as they are leaving their space. “We want to make sure if you were riding around Three Springs on a bike that you feel as comfortable on your bike as you do in a car,” Zink commented.

Three Springs hasn’t happened without growing pains.

“It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time that the public process is going to take. For us that was a long road,” Zink said. Durango didn’t have codes that allow for traditional neighborhood development. Codes had to be written that allowed the community’s narrow streets and wide sidewalks, and that addressed lot setbacks, for instance. “Not only did we have the codes and standards, but we had architectural guidelines that we had to write,” Zink said.

McHarg said the majority of the Durango community seems to view the development as a success. Other traditional neighborhood development is planned for the Ewing Mesa area in Durango, but a developer hasn’t stepped forward, and given infrastructure issues, current economic conditions and hundreds of housing units still to develop at Three Springs, that project isn’t likely to get under way for quite some time.

As it builds out over the coming 20 to 30 years, Three Springs will have an estimated 2,000 residences and 350,000 sf of mixed-use commercial space. Homebuyers haven’t necessarily come to Three Springs looking for the traditional neighborhood development, but have been enticed by what they found, Zink said, “They showed up, they went, ‘Ah . I get it. I see the vision. I want to be part of this.’”