AURORA, COLO. - Florence Square is the cornerstone in the revitalization of original downtown Aurora. A few years ago, the neighborhood had lost many of its larger businesses, leaving behind pawn shops, inexpensive furniture stores, and rundown motels.

Developed by Medici Communities, Florence Square is helping change all that by bringing new apartments and retail to the old downtown area of Aurora, the largest suburb in the Denver metro area.

“It’s getting people to live down there,” said Troy Gladwell, principal of Medici.

Envisioned as an entire urban community, the development is seen as a prime example of new urbanism, with pedestrian areas and convenient access to mass transit. Florence Square is the first notable new development in the area in 30 years.

The first phase of the two-phase development, which featured 110 affordable apartments and retail space, was completed in 2005. The 71-unit second phase will be completed this year. Residents began moving in at the end of June. All the units in the development are affordable.

One-bedroom apartments are about 700 square feet, and two-bedroom units are about 880 square feet. Monthly rents range from $537 to $671 for a one-bedroom apartment and $645 to $806 for a two-bedroom unit, including utilities.

Overall, Florence Square will have 54 units for households earning no more than 40 percent of the AMI; 119 units at up to 50 percent of the AMI; and eight units up to 60 percent of the AMI. The total development cost for both phases is $26.5 million.

The development is made up of stylish two- and three-story brick buildings with high-pitched roofs. Envisioned with artists in mind, the development includes many live/work lofts.

There are 12 residential buildings, each with a courtyard. There’s an additional mixed-use building, with residential units. Gladwell calls it a “more human scale” than having one large building. The apartments also have windows that look out onto the street.

The developers borrowed some inspiration from an old movie theater across the street. They added their own old-style marquee to the design of Florence Square, giving the development flair and a connection to the neighborhood.

Today, the area boasts cultural activities, community gardens, a new library, renovated theater, and a renewed sense of community.

Gladwell and his team at Medici worked closely with city officials on the development. The city donated one parcel and leased another to the developer for $1 per year for 99 years. Aurora also contributed $1.5 million to the project, with most of those funds going to the second phase.

Financing for the second phase also included a $2.6 million permanent loan from the First Bank of Denver and $73,982 in deferred developer fees. The development received an award of LIHTCs from the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, which generated almost $8.5 million in equity. MMA Financial was the syndicator. The Aurora Housing Authority provided a predevelopment loan and was involved in some of the planning and design.

Additional project information, as provided in application by the nominator.

Q. Why does the nominated project deserve to be recognized based on the award criteria of this contest?

A. Florence Square is the anchor building of a significant urban revitalization development in Aurora, Colo., the largest suburb in the Denver metropolitan area. Florence Square is the cornerstone project of a community effort to bring new life to “Original Aurora.” The area’s metamorphosis began four years ago, at a time when many of the larger stores had moved to more affluent suburban areas. A hodgepodge of inexpensive furniture stores, ethnic markets, rundown motels, and dilapidated apartment developments was all that remained. Florence Square was proposed as a mix of retail and 100 percent affordable rental housing, with an emphasis on development of not just an apartment building but an entire urban community. Aurora city officials recognized the importance of Florence Square to the area’s redevelopment and supported the project with a financial commitment of $1.5 million in urban renewal funds. Today the area boasts cultural activities, community gardens, a city library, a rehabilitated movie theater, a “Concerts in the Park” series, and a true feeling of community. The development has successfully catalyzed a new urban center built around transportation, retail, and affordable housing. Florence Square has become a prime example of new urbanism, including pedestrian areas and easy access to mass transportation. On top of all of this, it offers affordable housing to those earning as little as 40 percent of the area median income.

Q. How does this project represent an innovative solution to a specific development challenge?

A. It is difficult to comprehend Florence Square’s innovations unless you understand the problem it helped solve. The site had become fully blighted and rundown. Crime was prevalent and no new construction had taken place in the area for at least 30 years. The neighborhood offered some affordable housing, which consisted mostly of motels, very old apartment buildings with little or no landscaping, and virtually no place for children to play. Retail consisted of pawn shops, small ethnic markets, thrift stores and used furniture stores. The site for Florence Square was across the street from an old, unused movie theater, with the marquee still in place. Using that marquee as their inspiration, the developers built brand-new housing, with retail opportunities and an emphasis on art and loft space for budding artists. The marquee was recreated as part of Florence Square, further emphasizing the urban and artistic feel of the area.