Heaven is a suburb

The streets aren't paved with gold down in the brand-new city of Lone Tree --yet.

The Lone Tree Golf Club describes itself as "a public country club," and the oxymoron seems entirely fitting. The gabled roof of the 50,000-square-foot clubhouse looms over the fairway, and the club boasts a full-service restaurant and bar, a parquet dance floor, a boardroom, and even suites for overnight visitors. On a sunny afternoon, a group of ladies in bright-green golf shirts emblazoned with the Lone Tree logo sip iced tea and nibble on salads in the restaurant, watching men in khaki trousers tee off on the driving range just outside the window.

Lone Tree looks and acts like a private country club ("Men's Shirts Must Have a Collar" warns one sign) because that's exactly how it started. The club was the centerpiece of an early 1980s real estate development that wrapped hundreds of homes, some selling for as much as $600,000, around a golf course designed by Arnold Palmer. When the club's developer went bankrupt in Denver's end-of-the-decade real estate rout, the South Suburban Park and Recreation District was lucky enough to purchase the golf club for $4.7 million, giving area residents one of the poshest public courses in the country. But Lone Tree's lucky streak is really just beginning. To understand why, all you have to do is look down the fairway toward the northeast.

The golf club sits on a hilltop, and duffers have picture-perfect views of the massive Park Meadows mall now under construction at I-25 and County Line Road. The shiny copper roofs sparkle against the blue sky, and signs are already up for the Nordstrom and Dillard's department stores that will anchor what developers insist is not a mere shopping mall but Colorado's first "retail resort." Across the street from Park Meadows, the Incredible Universe store already has a full parking lot, and a jumble of bulldozers and concrete foundations herald the future homes of superstores like Home Depot, Barnes & Noble and Bed, Bath & Beyond.

This retail explosion, coupled with a bit of wily maneuvering by residents, has given birth to Colorado's newest municipality. And the city of Lone Tree, which will hold its first city council election next month, will soon be one of the richest. The enclave takes up little more than one square mile and is home to just 2,500 people. But Lone Tree has a retail bonanza at its doorstep. The tiny city is poised to collect millions of dollars in sales tax from the thousands of metro residents who will come to shop in the area. Residents can expect to see their property taxes slashed as the sales-tax revenue pours in. And that will be just the beginning of Lone Tree's good fortune.

The city's neighborhoods will likely be among the safest in the metro area, as five full-time police officers patrol two dozen quiet streets. Hundreds of new trees and shrubs will shade those boulevards, as lavish landscaping goes in on residential streets and along County Line Road, Yosemite Street and C-470. Welcome signs with a distinctive Lone Tree logo will greet the public, and elaborate fountains will splash in the summer sun at major intersections.

If Lone Tree's founders have their way, the city will no longer be a semi-obscure subdivision on the south side of County Line Road. Instead, it will take its rightful place as one of the Denver area's premier destinations. "I'd love to be in a position where this community is not looked at as just another suburban community," says Kevin Maiman, an activist in the incorporation effort who is now running for city treasurer. "The [elite] communities that are successful, like Beverly Hills or Seaside, Florida, have an established image. There's all sorts of things we can do to make Lone Tree a place you recognize on the map."

Boosters of the incorporation campaign told Lone Tree voters last November that the new city could collect $1.8 million a year by assessing a 1.5 percent sales tax. Those estimates were based on sales at existing stores within the city limits, including Incredible Universe, Sam's Club and Denver Sports. When Barnes & Noble, Pier 1, Home Depot, Bed, Bath & Beyond and several other stores open this fall, Lone Tree revenues will skyrocket.

So far, the Hahn Company, the developer of Park Meadows, has refused to allow its shiny new mall to be annexed into Lone Tree. But if town officials can change Hahn's mind--and they plan to try--they'll truly hit the mother lode. With projected sales of $300 million in the first year, the 1.5 million-square-foot mall could be raking in as much as $400 million a year by the turn of the century. Foley's and Joslins will open at Park Meadows next year, and J.C. Penney and Macy's are both rumored to be in discussions with Hahn about going into the mall. If Park Meadows is ever brought inside the town boundary, Lone Tree might collect as much as $6 million per year in additional sales-tax revenue.

Park Meadows is expected to draw shoppers from all over Colorado as well as neighboring states such as Wyoming and New Mexico. Many of those consumers will also patronize the superstores in Lone Tree, across Yosemite Street from the mall. That means the people paying Lone Tree's bills will almost entirely be residents of other communities. "The people shopping in the stores are the ones paying the sales tax," says Maiman, clearly buoyed by the prospect. "The tax burden goes to a different source than Lone Tree residents."

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