Behind the scenes of Colorado’s P3 plans

Governor Jared Polis and P3 Unit director Natriece Bryant open up on the state’s plans to capitalize on P3 opportunities

Credit: Getty

If Colorado has its way, the term P3 may stand for pathway to progress and prosperity as well as public-private partnerships.

“By utilizing a P3 model, not only will we be able to tackle some of the biggest issues in the state, we can do it through a collaborative partnership with other businesses and private entities to help us get to our goal,” Colorado Governor Jared Polis tells P3 Bulletin, when asked why he thought P3s were the right strategy to address the state’s community-based needs.

Faced with rising home prices and a lack of inventory of affordable for-sale and rental homes to address the state’s housing crisis, Polis knows he had to think differently to address the need.

“Coloradans are facing challenges around where they can afford to live, with some being forced out of their neighborhoods through no fault of their own or option of living near where they work,” Polis continues. “This unfortunately results in more traffic, lost time and money spent on long commutes, more air pollution, and greater economic and workforce challenges.”

According to the Governor’s Office, Colorado requires approximately 225,000 affordable for-sale and rental homes to address the state’s housing crisis. The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority reports that nearly half of all the state’s renters pay at least 30% of their income on housing, with an additional 24% paying at least half of their income on housing.

They also noted that Colorado ranks ninth in the nation in highest housing rents. Six out of 10 Colorado households are unable to afford the average priced home and rising mortgage rates are also contributing to pricing individuals out of the market.

To address affordable housing - as well as behavioral health capacity, broadband deployment and child care services - the governor decided P3 procurement was the right strategy and worked with the Colorado legislature to pass SB22-130. The bill created the P3 Collaboration Unit within the Department of Personnel and Administration, and charged the office with planning, designing, managing, developing, operating, implementing and governing the use of P3 projects for the State of Colorado.

“The forces that have simultaneously led Colorado into an era of economic vitality and prosperity are also those that have contributed to imbalance and potential instability in our markets,” explains Natriece Bryant, veteran of Colorado public sector and now director of the P3 Unit. “Governments not only can - but should - initiate actions with private partners and in cooperation with each other that will help balance Colorado’s economy so that it works for everyone to create a Colorado for All.”

Speaking on her first year running the unit, Bryant says: “The creation of a program that is the first of its kind is not an easy feat. I think I have been able to apply each job I have had in state government to the role and those experiences have helped shape the success of the office.”

Among the successes she identifies are establishing guidelines and parameters for evaluating project advantages and risks; working with state agency leaders to identify assets which can be redeveloped and repurposed; and finalizing a program manual to guide decision-making, especially in regard to acceptable delivery methods and financing.

Bryant also cites the recent passage of SB23-001 as a major accomplishment. The legislation provides $13m to utilize state-owned land for housing and may lead to the building of 80 units of affordable housing on state-owned land in Dowd Junction, Eagle County.

She remains very optimistic about the unit’s ability to execute on projects in the next 18-24 months that are “for the betterment of Colorado”. In addition to Dowd Junction, another project she is very excited about would address access to childcare.

“We are helping the Department of Corrections with a Feasibility Study right now to identify a parcel of land that they can utilize for early childcare for their employees and surrounding community members. We know that some of the biggest challenges for employees, who do not work your typical 8am-5pm shift, [involve] childcare. We have partnered with them to help solve this by utilizing state land to develop a center that is accessible for their staff and community members.”

She also shares that the Unit is seeking legal, financial and technical P3 consultants to assist with project execution and advise on future projects that not only involve housing and childcare, but also facility needs for behavioral and mental health.

Since establishing the unit, Polis and Bryant have become sought-after speakers at US P3 conferences and industry-related events. However, it remains to be seen whether there will be widespread adoption and interest in these types of community-based infrastructure programs, since most of the major players still remain heavily invested in large-scale civil infrastructure projects rather than smaller real estate-type P3s.

Bryant counters by noting that the warm reception she has received from the industry is opening doors. “We have started soliciting some of our projects,” she says, “and we have received responses to our projects that show there is not only a need for P3s in Colorado but a huge interest at the private sector level.”