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Geller’s Bell Park Project Moves On To Option B

Buzz Geller’s 34-story “Bell Tower” was dismissed as “too massive” by the Lower Downtown Design Review Board at their meeting last week.

You may recall the controversy over the proposed tower, located at the corner of Speer and Market on Block 242 in Lower Downtown. Geller obtained the property in a swap with the city for land Geller owned where the city wanted to build (and is currently building) the new Denver Justice Center. After acquiring the creekside property, Geller lobbied for and ultimately received the right, via the creation of a new Special Review District, to construct one of two project designs: “Option A” being a thin 400-foot signature tower with expanded public open space along the creek and a 55-foot high LoDo-esque companion building on the 14th Street side of the creek, or, “Option B” being two LoDo-esque buildings on both sides of the creek that would cover more of the site. Either plan’s final design was dependent upon the approval of the Lower Downtown Design Review Board.

Option A (left) – Option B (right)

Persuing Option A, Geller teamed with Fentress Architects and eventually arrived at this signature design:

This design was panned by the Board as not being “feather-like” enough so, in response, the design was “pinstriped” by Fentress in an attempt to appear a bit thinner:

Personally, I think the original non-pinstriped version was a cleaner and better design. But anyway, the LDDRB still wasn’t sure if the tower met the Special Review District’s guidelines, so they asked the city for a clarification. The city’s response in late September was that even the pinstriped version of the tower wasn’t “vertical and slender” enough and that “minor tweaks” to the building’s design would not meet with approval.

So, as John Rebchook at the Rocky Mountain News reports in his articles of November 4 and November 7, Buzz Geller let his Option A tower go through the LDDRB process one last time, knowing it would get rejected, which is exactly what happened last Thursday. The board found the tower to be too “massive.” For comparison purposes, the rejected Geller tower design had a footprint less than half that of One Lincoln Park.

With the rejection, Geller is now planning on persuing Option B, the two shorter blockish buildings covering more of the site. That in itself isn’t a bad thing. While I would have preferred Option A, two low-rise buildings with active ground-floor uses at that location will still be far superior to the ugly surface parking lots that exist there now.

But, I have to wonder: A developer is willing to build a $300 million archtecturally striking tower in our urban core that has a footprint smaller than just about any residential tower in this city and a site plan that maximizes views and public access to the creek, but it is rejected over what could be described, at best, as a subjective design nuance. Meanwhile, the city allows another developer to slap up not one, but three cheap beige monstrosities in the Golden Triangle that are architecturally offensive and derided by almost everyone. Does this make any sense?

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63 Comments

  1. beyonddc says:

    Anon 11:30:

    Your anger is misplaced.

    Assuming the LoDo board works like every other in the country that I know about, it doesn't draw its own boundaries. They can't just decide to review anything they want.

    There is an architectural review zoning overlay district approved by the City Council. The review board only has authority inside that district.

    If the city wants to change the boundary of the review district, it's the City Council's job to do so.

  2. The Dirt says:

    Instead of complaining about this, why don't some of you e-mail to the mayor or a city council person. Seriously. Write a mature, non-threatening e-mail expressing your disappointment with the process. You know, try to use facts rather than emotions. "Given his record" – whatever that means, maybe, he'll listen.

  3. tallfreak says:

    The Denver Justice Center. What an Ironic name for that place. It screwed Denver out of a great Building by Steven Holl and a great Tower by Buzz. But, hey the Gov't got what they wanted. Things could be worse we could have beyonddc designing all of our buildings.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I'm extremely late to the party here, and Anon 11:30 said some of what I would have said had I commented earlier. To me, LoDo runs between 14th and 20th. The whole purpose of the design review board, as I understand it, is to protect the historical integrity of LoDo, to ensure that nothing gets built in the district that seriously detracts from the historical structures. And I think they've generally done a good job of that, particularly in recent years as architects' responses to the historic quality of the area evolved from an earlier tendency toward pastiche historicism to more contemporary, interesting buildings. I will argue with beyonddc forever on this, I'm sure: a well-designed and well-executed contemporary building (see: Sugar Cube) is always preferable to one that inexpertly incorporates faux-historic flourishes just to please someone who doesn't like contemporary architecture (see: the Larimer Square parking garage, just north of the Geller site on Market)(and the key word in the preceding sentence is "inexpertly"–I agree that 16 Market Center is a decent design, because the architects knew how to do historicism correctly).

    But that's getting off topic. Why not petition City Council to remove this site from the district entirely? Its inclusion has never made much sense to me, as there are NO historic buildings on the block bounded by Fourteenth, Speer, Larimer and Market. LoDo is a big rectangle–this is like a Florida, dangling off of a lower corner of the main body of the district. If I could go back in time, I'd prevent the city from tearing down the old City Hall, which was a magnificent and historic pile of masonry. But it's too late for that, and we're better off as a city with a project that expresses the culture and design preferences of our time, however "trendy" they may be.
    (Historymystery)

  5. votrer says:

    whoa! do we have a record number of comments here?

  6. Anonymous says:

    And we thought the Bell Tower was cool and crazy and signature.

    Check this out…

    http://www.dynamicarchitecture.net/home.html

    Moscow and Dubai…could we get one in Denver?

  7. Freddie says:

    Joe:

    I don't mind a low-rise one bit and definitely understand that the city benefits from street level improvements that add culture and activity more so that it does from height. But I also don't like to see height shut down unnecessarily by an unreasonable bureaucratic process.

    sc48:

    But this ain't really Lodo; it's merley an ugly parking lot just beyond the edge of Lodo. A high-rise would work perfectly here. Massing the project into something more slender actually does better to preserve the view of real Lodo.

    And the truth is, height gives more significance to a building with bold design such as the one proposed here. A bold addition to a relatively bland skyline is very valuable.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Wow, Buzz! How about another land swap and not with the city either. Personally I think LODO is overrated and your beautiful tower might look better somewhere else. Just leave that land to the parking lots. With the economy in a several years long recovery we shouldn't be so pissy with our perfections and be glad to support a well backed development. I think your tower would be striking addition anywhere near or in the downtown proper. Say the Golden Triangle or North of downtown on Broadway near the light rail line.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Go Buzz Go, never ever give up! Or for that matter settle.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Uh oh ,here comes mister negative…and I enjoy being negative when it comes to public/private sector communique if it will only cause possible insight. I really don't care in the least if anyone thinks what I have to comment is positive in purpose. As if purpose is single in dimension or not. I guess that's because it's fulfilling to me to know that people can at least read since that would mean they could actually think as well )>such an uncharted sphere of conscious<(. Here's my tidbit Betties: Denver tries ewh so hard to get back it's original turn of the nineteenth century spirit with lots of pedestrian colour etc. Reminiscent historic low rise bulk…yes hopefully like the older Sugar building. Yet it doesn't seem to look enough at the psychological dimension that downtowns provided in those days. Which had more to do with 'numbers' than money. Even the well-to-doers were intrigued with going downtown to observe the poorer and subconsciously that is part of why they would go downtown, not just for business but to be simply be fascinated by the 'mass' of people. Remember the DNC crowds and the energy? In my opinion Denver will be extremely hard pressed to re-create anything close to the city it was before the trolley system was ripped out by 'big bizz'. What are we going to do make it a biking only downtown? Sporty! (The parking lots would be smaller.) So the answer to that is trolleys again, yes it is mmhmmm. I know it's a bit off point but not really, because my point in all this chatter is question the true 'purpose' of the LODO Design Review Board? And why is the city council limp about this? So no matter what you do in lower downtown whether it's a sleek eclectic high rise or a bulky mass of law offices it won't bring any more bodies downtown really without fluidity of transpo within all the core neighborhoods. Well because as I understand it we as a community of planners and designers are generally and 'fashionably' 'anti-auto', which I think is a good thing, at least until they are mostly transformed to alternative fuels anyway, cough cough. Since just being anti-auto in attitude isn't the solution. My negative insertion is to just give up. No one will ever seems to be satisfied anyway, whether you sit on a board or not. The city died in spirit when it was rendered accessible mostly to corporate monthly parkers. Maybe all the professional officinados that talk a mean talk about pedestrianizing downtown should walk their talk and walk more downtown…the fresh air helps you think, NEW thoughts.
    DEEPFLOAD

  11. beyonddc says:

    Anon 04:39 – I agree that poorly-executed historicism is very bad… almost as bad as poorly-executed modernism.

    The thing is, I'm not so much a historicist as an ornamentalist. I don't want historic buildings, I want contemporary buildings with human-scaled ornament. I will THIS over THIS 10 times out of 10. I come off as a historicist because right now the contemporary architecture community is not very interested in human-scaled ornament.

    Anyway, I think I've been pretty reasonable in this thread. My point here hasn't been to complain about the design of this tower (though I do think it would go out of style quickly), as much as it's been to point out that the LoDo board didn't do anything wrong here. They're charged with a specific task, which they carried out to the letter. If the city feels this particular development outweighs the task set before the LoDo board, or that this site shouldn't be held to the LoDo standards, that's totally fine, but the onus to make that type of decision is on the City Council. It's certainly not up to the LoDo board to assume powers it doesn't have!

    Whatever our aesthetic differences, we should not be condemning the LoDo board for doing its job. Condemn the process for failing to account for exceptions or failing to define what we want from LoDo, and demand the City Council fix those problems, but for goodness sake don't attack public volunteers for doing exactly what the city asked them to do.

  12. beyonddc says:

    Another thing:

    I don't necessarily disagree that the developer here got a bum deal with the land swap. Doing that in good faith, going through a long regulatory process, and then being shot down at the last minute *is* unfair.

    But again, that's not the LoDo board's fault. It's the City Council's fault for enacting a dysfunctional process.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The size of the Option A footprint is totally irrelevant. The downfall of this scheme was the pimp architect and the greedy developer. If they would have collectively done what was right for the building and for the city instead of what was right for their egos, they would have gotten through the LDDRB. Instead, the Fentress ego turned the project into a personal mission to support his pseudo "starchitect" persona – which is a myth solely of his own making – and the developer refused to reduce the size of the gargantuan balconies that made an otherwise slender building (7,500 SF footprint and 34 stories tall!!!) look fat and short. Only Fentress could pull that one off!

    Frankly, if ole Buzz had simply gone with a less eogtistical architect, he'd probably be breaking ground on his sales center as we speak.