Colarelli sees golf course as urban renewal oasis

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Vince Colarelli is the president and CEO of Colarelli Construction. He recently submitted an ambitious plan to the Urban Renewal Authority that would transform a 105-acre former golf course and vineyard into a $1 billion data center business park. The best part: if the project is approved, the data centers would receive electricity from an onsite plant that’s powered by trash. We recently spoke with Colarelli about the proposed development.

You applied for urban renewal designation for this project. Do you need that designation to move forward?

I can go do a one-off data center, but our goals and expectations for the legacy of this project are much broader than just building a data center. In order to enable those broader-reaching objectives, getting the urban renewal designation (and its tax incentives) is fundamentally important. It doesn’t happen without the urban renewal designation.

Tell us about the “energy from waste” aspect.

Our vision is to create the region’s first sustainable industrial park. Instead of having mechanically chilled water to cool the facility, we’ll use natural ventilation to do so. The data centers will derive energy from the consumption of municipal waste, or beetle-killed wood, or the consumption of sludge. We can use those to generate electricity for the grid and it becomes a renewable source of energy.

You purchased the property four years ago and then the market soured. Why is now a good time for this project?

The data center industry is the fastest growing industry in the United States. You think about your iPhone, and all of the apps that are being developed. Those live somewhere in a data center cloud, and as they become more and more popular, the need for data centers to handle, manage and store that kind of data has become greater and greater. Not just in telecommunications, but also in the healthcare and the financial industries, where records and transactions are becoming electronic. The need to store, transfer and service electronic data is becoming more important.

If everything goes according to plan, what kind of timeline are you looking at?

We are hopeful that we’ll begin construction around mid-year 2011. We think it will take us 12 months from there to have the first data center online, but our vision is for the property to hold eight or nine different data centers.

Do you have interest from companies who could use the data centers?

We have a lot of interest from a national standpoint. I talk to several people every week and we’re entertaining several different offers, so I’m really excited about where this is going. This was borne out of the collaborative efforts of a lot of different organizations. We’re working with Colorado Springs Utilities, we’re working with the city, and we’re developing a city park for the property. We’re also working with UCCS on a workforce development program. At the end of the day, we believe that this represents a $1 billion investment in Colorado Springs. It also brands the city as a leader in the IT industry and in renewable energy systems.

Audio excerpt of the interview with Vince Colarelli.