A conversation with Heidi Majerik, Director of Development at Forest City Stapleton (now Brookfield Properties), about what’s next for Stapleton.
Heidi, could you tell us about the strategic plan for Stapleton’s very first neighborhood?
Heidi: We began with the Denver citizen’s vision for the neighborhood, which was outlined in the Green Book developed by the Stapleton Foundation.
The neighborhood’s strategic planning was centered on the ideals of traditional Denver neighborhoods: higher density, porches that front the street and a connection with the surrounding city-street grid.
What were some of Forest City’s (now Brookfield Properties) top focuses?
Heidi: There was a big focus on bringing retail into an underserved part of the city … so our actual first project was Quebec Square Shopping Center. We were also really focused on creating community through our land plan as well as education. And we started to create the framework of the Master Community Association’s programming that we all know today.
The first pool and school were then added with the second neighborhood. Bringing Westerly Creek Elementary in was huge! Lastly, we were really focused on offering multiple home collections across price points, which attracts a diverse group of buyers. We wanted to create a true community.
What were some of the challenges of selling homes on a site that was empty and once a former airport?
Heidi: There were a lot of industry professionals who said our model wouldn’t work, and I recall seeing an article that said people would never buy in a community with a range of home products and prices on the same block. You have to overcome perception. We had to figure out how to price and the challenges of setting price with what’s around you. And then we had to deliver and execute.
Stapleton is in a great location, which helped, but it was a challenge conveying the vision for the community with nothing but documents and a plan.
How did you tell the development story from the beginning?
Heidi: It really all started with Sam Gary and other community leaders who envisioned what the former Stapleton International Airport could be. They created the Green Book out of that, and then we truly benefited from Mayor Wellington Webb’s superior leadership in negotiating a deal with the airport authorities on the land at Stapleton. The development story is a story of civic leadership.
Did you encounter any surprises during the first years?
Heidi: It was easier to convey our vision and overcome perceptions than we thought – that was a surprise! People were lined up and in lotteries to purchase a home at Stapleton. We expected a good market response, but it was way beyond anything we imagined. There was just so much demand that there was no clear buyer demographic or psychographic associated with each product type.
What were some of Stapleton’s first highlights?
Heidi: Hosting the Denver Parade of Homes at Stapleton in 2003, opening the first homes, and when the first residents moved in!
Additionally, when we opened the first pool, we had a lobster bake for the residents. Residents came to celebrate the Parade of Homes with us; that was just a pretty exciting time. But just to see the first shovel of dirt move and the first house go vertical in winter 2002 – those events were amazing.
Energy-efficient homebuilding was becoming a focal point nationwide when Stapleton began. How was that message reinforced at Stapleton?
Heidi: Forest City (now Brookfield Properties) required energy-efficient building of all of our homebuilders. Starting out of the gate, we helped provide education and resources to help them achieve Built Green. Today, all Stapleton homebuilders are building to Energy Star 3.0 standards, and we’re seeing homes that are at least 20% more efficient than when we began construction more than a decade ago.
What are some lessons that you learned along the way? What changed as Stapleton added more neighborhoods?
Heidi: We’ve learned the value of fronting the community’s homes on green space, instead of running the green areas along the backyards. We’ve seen this concept welcome residents out into the shared areas to meet each other, which fosters a true sense of community.
We have also innovated new home products. The market has dictated that we need to bring new types of homes to Stapleton every couple of years, which helps with resale value and gives the neighborhoods a fresh feel.
What are you most proud of at Stapleton?
Heidi: We have been good stewards of the land and trustees of future generations. We’ve created a community where all kinds of people are living out their lives. They’re starting careers. The kids are growing up. They’re moving into new homes. We’re providing that fabric of community that supports people throughout their lives. It’s our responsibility to treat this land well … from our sustainability efforts to our home densities, we’re able to conserve important resources.
Why did you move to Stapleton?
Heidi: I’ve always had a personal philosophy to live close to where I work. I think that’s a big factor in people’s happiness … I don’t like to commute. I chose Stapleton over Park Hill because living here makes me better at my job. I can understand what residents like, what they don’t like and how they live. And because I see what we’ve built, I can see new opportunities for future construction. It’s like I get the opportunity to be a social anthropologist by living here!
My family and I love living here … we really do. Life’s not always easy, but now I have great neighbors to lend a shoulder along the way.
How many more years before Stapleton will be fully developed … and what’s next for the community?
Heidi: I’m glad you asked that question … we’re celebrating a decade of development this year, but we’re only halfway there. We have another 10 years of residential development ahead of us!
We’re also excited to introduce Conservatory Green neighborhood, Stapleton’s next, great neighborhood. It will be north of The Shops at Northfield Stapleton and around the corner from the Rocky Mountain National Wildlife Refuge and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The neighborhood is named after the town green and plaza at its center, and the area’s 480 homes and models will begin to open next spring.
What most excites you about Stapleton’s future?
Heidi: There are so many things about Stapleton to be excited about. Obviously, I’m excited about our next neighborhood, but I’m equally excited to watch what’s already here evolve and grow. Just to see the impact that some of the young people have made here … I’m excited to see what they’ll do over the next 10 years.
What’s our community going to do next? What impact will they have? I learn so much from the community every day that I live here.