The Exchange: A New Take on Development in Fort Collins

the exchange
In addition to the patios surrounding the central plaza, the northern-most end of The Exchange redevelopment will provide additional outdoor seating.


Fried chicken served out of a waffle cone and ice cream served out of a 30-foot tall churn bucket are just a taste of the unique experiences coming to The Exchange in Fort Collins this fall. This redevelopment will extend Fort Collins’ downtown corridor a block farther north and exchange an underutilized space with something truly unique in the Choice City.

jay hardy

Jay Hardy
President, Brinkman

The Exchange is a pivotal project that represents Brinkman’s mission to forge public-private partnerships to create meaningful places in the community. This redevelopment plugs in to the larger vision outlined in the city of Fort Collins’ Downtown Plan and has been a collaborative project with the city and Downtown Development Authority.

The Exchange redevelopment will offer unique experiences to visitors with artisan food, craft cocktails and year-round events in the central plaza. In addition to the new businesses coming to The Exchange, visitors will also enjoy a free book library, self-service bike repair station, fire pits and public artwork embedded throughout the outdoor areas.

The long-term vision for the central plaza is to designate the fenced space as an entertainment district in which visitors could enjoy something from each of the tenants and roam freely between. This “common consumption” area, if approved by City Council, must meet stringent guidelines for safety and security and would make it possible to enjoy year-round music and entertainment in the plaza with adult beverages in hand.

Upcycling shipping containers into store fronts is an eco-friendly concept that the real estate development industry is seeing more and more. The Exchange is hopefully the first development of many in Northern Colorado to utilize this sustainable approach taking place elsewhere in the state. The environmental impact of utilizing shipping containers is substantially less than building new.

Because shipping empty containers back to their origin comes at a substantial cost, there are currently hundreds of thousands of containers sitting unused in ports around the world. Refurbishing them uses a fraction of the energy it would take to melt them and reuse the materials and they can be easily retrofit as a modern popup space for a range of businesses. From a durability standpoint, shipping containers are built to withstand rigorous ocean travel for decades, so they’re practically immune to deterioration when used as a business space.

Compared to traditional brick-and-mortar construction, shipping containers reduce waste, cut down on construction time, and reduce labor and material costs. It comes as no surprise that container architecture has become all the rage in recent years.

exchange plaza

If approved, the fenced plaza enveloped by shipping container store fronts and the original north and south buildings will become a common consumption area.

The tenant mix of the overall development is made up of concepts that intentionally complement each other. Within the 53,000-square-foot development, visitors will find fitness studios, offices, and an eclectic mix of food options including artisan donuts, pizza, burgers, sushi, tacos and ice cream. The watering holes are equally diverse including a wine bar, distillery and brewery. In addition to the varied product mix, the tenants also represent a blend of local businesses and successful concepts from elsewhere in Colorado expanding north. One of Denver’s most popular ice cream shops, Little Man Ice Cream, is bringing a new brand to The Exchange called Churn with the storefront consisting of a 30-foot, cylindrical, old-style ice cream churn bucket. This unique concept fits within the branding of the development which was named The Exchange because the immediate vicinity was the former site of a livestock exchange.

Located at the intersection of two highways, U.S. Highway 287 and 14, The Exchange is adjacent to other similar projects revitalizing the area including The Elizabeth Hotel, Union, Washington’s, and Ginger & Baker. This renaissance occurring in downtown Fort Collins of innovating formerly underutilized real estate into vibrant and interactive spaces represents a larger industry trend.

Deemed “adaptive reuse development,” projects like The Exchange are another industry trend popping up around the country. From offices to apartments, developers are choosing to leverage existing buildings instead of tearing down and building up. Adaptive reuse is a more sustainable way to redevelop sites through the reduction of urban sprawl and environmental impact caused by the traditional built environment. In some areas around the country, adaptive reuse has become a vehicle for developers to acquire and reuse valuable plots of land that may otherwise be inaccessible due to historical designations.

From the tenant mix to the construction process, this project has certainly exchanged ordinary development for something innovative.

Published in the June 2018 issue of Building Dialogue.

Edited by Building Dialogue