People and Projects to Know: Carla Ferreira, Principal at The Aurora Highlands
When ground breaks on a new project within The Aurora Highlands’ master-planned community, chances are you’ll see a smartly dressed woman shoveling a big scoop of dirt from the land, smiling brightly at the cameras, all while wearing heeled boots and a neon pink construction hat.
That’s Carla Ferreira, and she stands out because she wants to.
She is exceptionally proud to take the lead as the principal and director of onsite development on her first major project, The Aurora Highlands, which will eventually be home to 50,000 residents and pave the way for Aurora’s expansion. Spanning 4,000 acres near Denver International Airport, it will boast four Aurora Public Schools, a water park, an ice skating rink, a recreation center, and public art walk, along with apartments, condos and single-family homes. It is no small task, and Carla is ready.
“I was literally born into this world,” Carla said. “I grew up watching my father Carlo build successful master-planned communities in Texas and Nevada. He raised me without a nanny or team of babysitters, which meant construction trailers doubled as my daycare centers.”
Carla would quietly take mental notes as she listened in on thousands of her father’s conversations with cities, counties, utilities and builders. It was easy for even a young child to recognize that construction and development were male-dominated industries, but that did not mean Carla was intimidated. She did, however, want to chart her own course.
Her fierce passion for art and fashion led her to pursue those creative outlets after college. She spent a decade assisting renowned photographers, working in fine art galleries and examining the details that make a painting or sculpture stand out and have meaning. She was living her dream. It couldn’t get better. Until it did.
Her father called her in 2017 with a big idea: He wanted to work together on a legacy project on a massive plot in Northeast Aurora. He saw an opportunity to create a community that connects Denver’s airport to the city and the mountains. If there was anyone who could make this project special, it was his daughter.
Carla quickly saw the potential. It was like a work of art in a new medium. And so, The Aurora Highlands was born.
“It was daunting at first, because with women only representing about 11% of the construction industry, and even fewer in the executive circles, it was clear I was in the minority. But I also knew I wasn’t alone. I immediately surrounded myself with other female leaders in the homebuilding space, and we became a powerful coalition.”
Between the everyday tasks of cultivating relationships with public and political entities, coordinating with the development’s builders, managing design, engineering, sales and marketing teams, Carla has been able to do what she does best: get creative.
An area required to be reserved for water management runs about two miles through the property and spans nearly 100 acres. This was Carla’s biggest opportunity to transform seemingly unusable space into something exceptional. Why not create a public park that, when completed, will feature public art installations, performance plazas, climbing walls, a zip line, embankment slides, nature play, linear challenge courses and pollinator gardens? Call it “Hogan Park at Highlands Creek” honoring late Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and invite everyone in the state to come and enjoy it.
So, that’s what she did.
Carla’s connections to artists around the world have brought big names to the project like Olivia Steele, who’s work can also be at famous music festivals like Burning Man. Hunter Brown, a renowned sculpture artist, has already installed his original piece “Life Blood”. CU Alumna Lisa Solberg has recently installed totems and rock etchings. The next artist, Daniel Popper, will install his work in the Spring.
In any other world, this is the kind of art that you would find in museums or mansions. In Carla’s world, it’s free and open to the public.
“This is what it’s all about,” Carla said. “When people are choosing a place to live, they want to be proud to call it home. They want to be a part of a community that adds to the greater neighborhood and, even further, to the city as a whole. Our beautiful homes, new schools and unique amenities provide just that.”
The Aurora Highlands is still in development, but hundreds already call it home, including Carla. When all is said and done, it will be unlike any other master-planned community in the state, and possibly the country. It will stand out, just like its leader.
“I heard a great piece of advice years ago that I can’t get out of my head: Create the world that you want to live in. That’s what I get to do with The Aurora Highlands, and it has been the biggest honor of my life.”