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AURORA, CO-Medici Communities, headed by outspoken affordable housing advocate Troy Gladwell, has begun constructing the $32.9-million, mixed-use, public-private partnership deal called Florence Square. Florence Square is a 4.73-acre site between East Colfax and 16th avenues, and Dayton and Florence streets.

Gladwell, former president of the Colorado Affordable Housing Partnership, says Florence Square will serve as a model for urban infill revitalization projects in Colorado and nationwide. “This project is about reinventing a classic part of original Aurora, and about delivering high-quality housing to people who will benefit from this renaissance,” Gladwell says.

Florence Square will feature an expansive outdoor esplanade and pedestrian-oriented design. The first phase will feature three-story, mixed-use building along Colfax that will have neighborhood retail on the first floor and office and residential on the upper levels. Phase I also will include the first 110 of an eventual 220 residential units, designed in pods with courtyards and landscaping. Denver-based RNL Design, the largest architectural firm in the Rocky Mountain region, is working on the project with Gladwell.

“We asked RNL Design to come up with a design that would accommodate literally dozens of ideas and concerns,” Gladwell says. “The streetscapes, the unique footprint of the residential sites. and the overall need for pedestrian-friendly features takes cues form the best idea of the past and the brightest concept of the future.”

The purpose of Florence Square is not only to provide a mix of housing that is affordable and market rate, but also to use art to help a blighted and under-served area. Aurora hopes to attract artists that have been forced out of older neighborhoods that have become too upscale and costly.

The first residential units at Florence Square will be ready in August. The commercial space will be ready either next month or in September. “The retail space is Phase I is already leased up,” Gladwell says. “Tenants include a restaurant, an African food s market, a specialty apparel store, and a coffee shop.”

Aurora Mayor Ed Tauer attended a ceremony to kick off the project. “The city of Aurora is making a great step forward with this unique project,” Tauer says. “It took a great vision and patience on the part of Medici Communities to get to his point and we are happy to partner with a developer that has a genuine commitment to affordable housing as well as the arts in our community…This is a partnership in action, and it is the commitment of Medici Communities that is making it happen. This is the prototype for re-energizing a neighborhood.”

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