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.