Denver Development

Fore! Could Topgolf Be an Option for the Park Hill Golf Course Property?

Topgolf in Colorado Springs.
Topgolf in Colorado Springs.
So far, the Park Hill Golf Course debate has focused on two potential outcomes: Either the property's conservation easement is lifted by Denver voters on April 4, clearing the way for development, or voters keep the easement in place and the property remains undeveloped.

But there's potentially a third option: If Referred Measure 2O doesn't pass, the property owner, Westside Investment Partners, might look to build a Topgolf on the 155-acre property and revive enough of the golf course that closed in 2018 to fit within the letter of the law.

"Should 2O not pass, Westside would not exclude consideration of any allowable use under the easement, such as a Topgolf, that supports an eighteen-hole golf course. Westside has always believed Denver benefits more from new affordable housing and parks over a golf course, and that’s what this campaign is about," says Bill Rigler, a spokesperson for Westside, which bought the property from the Clayton Trust for $24 million in 2019 and is now pushing 2O.

Topgolf has several facilities in Colorado, and they're wildly popular; the idea of creating one in Park Hill has been a standing joke for people who like golf and have been following the debate over the property. Topgolf is a brand that builds fun, high-tech driving ranges with food and drink options brought to guests by waiters. It also features music, lots of lights and high fences, and attract traffic that disturbs some neighbors.

"They could reopen the golf course and there would still be room to accommodate Topgolf in the area that was the driving range," says Jeff Peshut, a real estate consultant and Park Hill resident who opposes lifting the conservation easement. "It makes sense that Westside would pursue something like that as a way of recouping their investment in the property if, as seems likely, 2O fails."

Denver City Council referred the conservation easement measure to the ballot early this year; in 2021, Denver voters passed a measure that requires a citywide vote in order to lift any easement, but the proposal was clearly aimed at the Park Hill Golf Course property.

Metro Denver has two Topgolf facilities: one at the northern tip of Thornton and one in Centennial. Could it have a third in the area if 2O doesn't pass?

Topgolf did not respond to an inquiry. The Denver City Attorney's Office says that it is unable to speculate on concepts without a detailed proposal.

Westside isn't in the business of building entertainment amenities like Topgolf, much less running golf courses. It wants voters to lift the easement so that the company can create a mixed-use development with some affordable housing, land for a grocery store and 100 acres of open space.

"Westside may be planting the rumor as a campaign tactic to get people who don't want the golf course and want a park to vote to remove the conservation easement," Peshut says.

The conservation easement, which has sat on the property since 1997, has a purpose section that focuses on "conservation of the Golf Course Land as open space and for the continued existence and operation of a regulation-length 18-hole daily fee public golf course." The easement also notes that the property cannot be used in any way that would "be a detriment to the continued existence and operation of the Golf Course," except for certain permitted uses, like a "driving range, golf learning center, club house, restaurant and bar." That would seem to open the door for a Topgolf.

"There’s no ambiguity in the conservation easement: it must be used for golf, and passing 2O is the only legal way to use this land for something more productive," says Rigler, offering a reading of the conservation easement shared by Westside and the Denver City Attorney's Office.

Opponents of development on the property, including the groups Yes for Parks and Open Space and Save Open Space Denver, argue that the language of the conservation easement would allow for the land to be used as a municipal park. Counting former mayor Wellington Webb and Denver City Council at-large candidate Penfield Tate as members, these groups would like to see the City of Denver purchase the land from Westside and transform it into a park. According to the terms of the ballot measure approved by Denver voters in 2021, the conservation easement on the golf course could be lifted without going to voters if the land were being turned into a city park.
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Could this be the setting for a new Topgolf facility?
Amy Harris
That Westside could be toying with the idea of adding a Topgolf to the Park Hill Golf Course land isn't without precedent; Topgolf has built facilities on the sites of golf courses before. In 2022, the company opened a Topgolf on a former municipal golf course in California. Topgolf still runs a par-3 course on the site, adjacent to the traditional Topgolf facility.

But another developer has run into opposition with its efforts to open a Topgolf facility in Timnath that would be similar to the one in Thornton. Some residents of that Larimer County town oppose the project, worried about how a Topgolf might change the small community. Guide Our Growth, an opposition group, has been collecting signatures to force a special municipal election over whether nets or fences more than 65 feet high will be allowed in Timnath; the town's current height limits are 57.5 feet, and the Topgolf concept sketch shows netting poles 156 feet high.

Opponents say that the property was supposed to remain open space, and point to Colorado Parks and Wildlife's concerns that birds might collide with the fences. Neighbors are also worried about the facility's lights and music, and what it might do to their views. Guide Our Growth plans to submit its petitions for the special election to the town clerk tomorrow, March 29.

The deadline for Denver's vote on the Park Hill Golf Course property is next Tuesday.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a former staff writer at Westword, where he covered a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports; he now lives in upstate New York.

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