First Phase of Sun Empire Industrial Development in Aurora Gets Underway

Sun Empire, courtesy of Dark Roast Media.

The Opus Group (Opus) and Principal Real Estate Investors, announced back in July 2022 the acquisition of 316 acres of land located at East 56th Ave. and Harvest Rd. in Aurora for the development of Sun Empire. Now, seven months later, construction of the 3.9 million-square-foot industrial development is officially underway.

Phase One will include two Class A buildings — one sized 624,535 square feet and one sized 204,496 square feet — with both buildings available for occupancy in the first quarter of 2024.

The project has up to 3.9 million square feet of speculative buildings available for lease, build-to-suit for lease or sale, and user-land sale. CBRE’s Todd Witty and Daniel Close are marketing Sun Empire for lease, sale, and build-to-suit development.

“Rising interest rates have pushed some real estate investors to the sidelines and forced them to hit the pause button on new development. Elevated tenant demand in metro Denver’s industrial market and a slowdown in construction starts will further limit supply, making it harder for tenants to get the space they need within their desired timeframe. Sun Empire’s speed-to-market is a key differentiator as those looking for industrial real estate in greater Denver need the space as soon as possible,” said Mr. Witty, SIOR, senior vice president at CBRE.

Total availability of industrial real estate in Metro Denver decreased 30 basis points year-over-year to close out 2022 at 7.2%, according to CBRE research. This is approaching the market’s record low of 6.4­% availability, set in 2014. Persistent tenant demand, strong leasing activity, and a slowdown in construction starts, point to further availability rate compression in the coming quarters.

Opus is employing several methods to make the Sun Empire construction process as efficient as possible. For example, they are mass-grading the entire 316-acre site, versus just the first two building parcels.

“Preparing the whole site at once means if a tenant is interested in Sun Empire, but one of the first two speculative buildings does not meet their needs, they can initiate a build-to-suit elsewhere in the park immediately,” said Mr. Close, senior vice president, CBRE. 

Opus is also investing in snow removal at the site during construction, so teams can continue working and not lose days waiting on snow melt.

The first two buildings will both have dock-level and drive-in loading with more than 140 trailer parking spaces and 660 car parking spaces between the two properties. Building 1A, which is the larger building, is a cross-dock design that is divisible to 156,133 sq. ft. Building 1B is a rear-load design with parking in the front and is divisible to 51,124 sq. ft. Alternatively, either building can be leased to a single tenant. Additionally, there are amenities incorporated into the speculative designs from the start, including office suites and dock levelers.

“Our vision with the first two buildings is to provide a turn-key solution for future tenants. We decided to take the extra step to invest right off the bat in the amenities we know help tenants operate better. We have also sized the first two buildings to meet the bifurcation of demand in the market for both small-bay industrial space and large, bulk distribution space,” said Joe Swensson, director of real estate development at Opus.

The first phase of construction is taking place at the northwest corner of the property, leveraging access to existing utilities and infrastructure already in place. Later phases, which can still be influenced by tenant preference, can accommodate building sizes ranging from 200,000 sq. ft. to 1 million sq. ft. Each building in the park is slated to include substantial trailer and car parking, as well as dock and drive-in loading.

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