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Denver Justice Center Update

Steady progress is being made on the $380 million Denver Justice Center project on Blocks 011-W, 012-W, and 020-W in the Civic Center district. Work began on the complex in Fall 2006 with the construction of the Parking Garage on Block 020-W, which was completed in July 2007. Meanwhile, demolition of the former Rocky Mountain News building on Block 011-W began in March 2007 and was mostly complete by May 2007. Excavation work and construction of the new courthouse and jail buildings began soon thereafter. The jail is scheduled to be complete in April 2010 and the courthouse in August 2010.

Here’s the Courthouse component on Block 012-W, which will contain 35 new courtrooms, a jury assembly area, judges offices, and more in a 320,000 SF building:

On Block 011-W is the Pre-Arraignment Detention Center component. It will house 1,500 jail cells in a 508,000 SF building:

In between is a large public space. Elati Street (Gene Amole Way) will cut across the plaza, but will function more as a drop-off/pick-up drive than an actual through street:

Here’s the site plan and courthouse rendering:

My friend Jeff and I were talking about this project just the other day, and we were both struck by how big this public space will be. I can see this space being relatively busy during the weekdays, with jurors, justice center employees, and escaped prisoners enjoying lunch out on the plaza. But the rest of the time? I’m afraid it will become another empty windswept space that will draw only a few homeless people and the occasional skateboarding teen. It’s hard to imagine this is a place that Denverites or tourists will intentionally go to, just to hang out.

What we need in Downtown Denver are more successful public spaces, the kind that are buzzing with people weekdays and weekends—morning, noon, and night. That’s my hope for the public spaces at Union Station, which is why I’m involved with Union Station Advocates.

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9 Comments

  1. Matthew says:

    Upon completion of this project, will the city/county demolish the existing justice center? I have to say the existing building and courtyard is one of the bleakest places in the city…

  2. FrancoRey says:

    "I can see this space being relatively busy during the weekdays, with jurors, justice center employees, and escaped prisoners enjoying lunch out on the plaza."

    Escaped prisoners, Ken? Makes you sound like you don't have much confidence in the security of this new building. You crack me up. lol.

  3. mymilehi says:

    Meanwhile, the Auraria Campus community is dealing with a lack of classroom space, and also with the State, who is trying to strip funding from the much-needed new Science Building. Oh, and lets not forget incompetent professors!
    (Metro students are doing Instructor evaluations this week:)
    *giggles uncontrolablly*

  4. Anonymous says:

    Driving by on 14th I was struck too by how big the space seems, how disconnected the two buildings seem to be. However, the auditorium wing shown in the plan is not yet built, and that might tighten up the space. I think the problem is that the buildings are too short for a space this large; with this much room in between, the buildings ought to be proportionally taller, maybe six to eight stories instead of four or five. But let's wait to see it finished before we condemn it utterly. (historymystery)

  5. Anonymous says:

    FYI, the heights of these buildings are limited by viewplanes.

  6. Saint says:

    I agree with historymystery. They should have gone a bit taller. But I imagine they would have hit the view plane from the Capitol Building, no? So that might be the tallest they could go.

    Even if it's not lively during the weekend, it will at least light up the area during the week. And maybe we'll see a bit more development along that stretch of the 'Fax?

    I like how gov't buildings have gone from neoclassical to corporate chic, and we see the whole development here in Denver.

  7. FrancoRey says:

    I think the large plaza dilemma could be resolved by placing a spot of emphasis in the middle somehow. Something like, I dunno, a circle with benches or a statue or a fountain? A space-filler is definitely needed, though.

    I would not mind seeing them put in a tree-lined walkspace. You know, putting those square-caged covers for plots that trees grow in every 10 feet or so; that would be nice. Run them from one end of the plaza to the other, parallel to the buildings on each side. I don't know how to better explain it…I guess it would be like those trees placed on the 16th street mall in growing plots.

  8. SC48 says:

    I think the best solution to the large plaza dilemna would be to fill in those empty lots off 13th & 14th st. If there are a lot of residents in the area, it would likely see weekend use. Any plans for that area? I imagine even if there are, they won't be moving forward in this economy.

  9. Dori says:

    What goes on the new justice mall? Art, art, art! There's also always room for incredible landscaping!