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#9: Convention Center Expansion and Hotel

Next in line at #9 in our countdown of “Denver’s Top 10 Urbanism Achievements of the Aughts” is the expansion of the Colorado Convention Center and the construction of the Hyatt Denver Convention Center Hotel next door.

First, a quick history of Denver’s convention centers. The city’s first convention center was the Denver Auditorium at 14th between Curtis and Champa, which opened just in time to host the 1908 Democratic National Convention. That handsome facility today has been incorporated into the Denver Performing Arts Complex and is the home of the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Eventually, the Auditorium became insufficient for a city Denver’s size, so in 1964 Denver voters approved a bond issue to build a new convention center. Currigan Hall was completed in 1969 at a cost of $13 million. It covered two full city blocks between Champa and Stout and from 14th to 12th Streets and was connected to the Auditorium with a skybridge. Currigan Hall featured a 100,000 sf exhibit hall on the ground floor, 40,000 sf of exhibit space in the basement, and another 30,000 sf of meeting space in the mezzanine.

By the 1980s, Denver again desired a bigger and better convention center. Finally, in June 1990, Phase 1 of the Colorado Convention Center opened to great fanfare. The new $126 million convention center was 940,000 square feet in total size and featured a 300,000 sf main exhibit hall, 65,000 sf of meeting rooms, and a 35,000 sf ballroom. Phase 1 covered the blocks between Welton and Stout and from 14th Street past 12th Street to almost Speer Boulevard.

As soon as the new Colorado Convention Center opened, city leaders began discussing the need for a convention headquarters hotel, as well as the future Phase 2 expansion of the new center. Planning for the Phase 2 expansion occurred throughout the late 1990s, and in November 1999, Denver voters approved a $310 million bond issue to pay for the center’s expansion. Construction began in January 2001 and opened in December 2004. The expansion added another 300,000 square feet to the main exhibit hall, another 35,000 sf of meeting rooms, an additional 50,000 sf ballroom, a 5,000-seat auditorium, and a 1,000-space parking garage, taking the entire facility up to 2.4 million sf in total size. To accommodate the expansion, Currigan Hall, as well as TerraCenter, an office tower at Speer and Stout, were demolished, and Stout Street and the Light Rail tracks were rerouted to curve through the facility. Here’s an animation I’ve created using GoogleEarth archive images, starting with a black and white 1999 image before construction began, and ending with a 2006 image after the hotel was completed:

2010-01-17_ccc_animation2

Meanwhile, several convention center hotel proposals were advanced by the private sector, but none could get off the ground. Finally, with expansion of the convention center underway, the Webb Administration, fed up with the lack of progress on the hotel project, decided that the city should build the hotel itself. Construction on the new Hyatt Denver Convention Center hotel began in June 2003 and opened in December 2005, one year after the expanded convention center opened. The new hotel covers the entire block bounded by 14th, 15th, Welton, and California, and includes 1,100 rooms in a 37-story tower.

The combination of the expanded convention center and the Hyatt hotel has allowed Denver to stay competitive in the convention-hosting business by keeping the city in the top tier of convention cities and able to host all but the biggest conventions. Together, the Colorado Convention Center and Hyatt Denver Convention Center Hotel projects have spurred substantial private-sector investment in the area and, along with the investments made next door at the Performing Arts Complex, have greatly contributed to the overall revitalization of Downtown Denver.

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6 Comments

  1. Eleanor says:

    Very cool changing-picture-thingy!

  2. SVC says:

    I disagree with the “positive” changes to downtown. 1st of all it was sad when another use for Currigan Hall was not found, as the building was designed to come apart in sections and be moved to another location. This could have housed thousands of homeless or provided much needed space elsewhere. 2nd Many historic buildings including the old, old, Denver Post block was razed for this monstrosity. 3rd the Denver convention center and hotel already look dated and neither has ground floor retail space. For an urban planner I am surprised you see these as positive for our “urban”neighborhood and walkability for area residents.

  3. Ken says:

    SVC, thanks for your comments. I agree with you about Currigan Hall. It was a shame that no one was able to find a new use for it at another site, since it could have been disassembled and relocated relatively easily. Regarding the historic buildings that were demolished, the Denver Post building was the only one with any architectural significance, but its small scale given its location made it not economically feasible to save, unfortunately (as compared to, say, the old Central Bank building at 15th and Arapahoe that had great economic reuse potential and was needlessly demolished). Finally, once the surrounding parking lots are developed and retail added there, the lack of retail at the convention center will become less necessary and apparent.

  4. Matt Pizzuti says:

    Did the city of Denver recoup its expenses and come to turn a profit on the hotel?

    If so, it seems like a great way for metropolitan governments make money for programs without having to go through the gauntlet of sales tax increases. What if the law forbidding commercial projects in RTD was changed and RTD built a hotel in Union Station? What if the City of Denver launched a few more of its own projects while the economy was down, keeping buildings coming during the downturn and providing some extra income to the city in the future?

  5. Ken says:

    Matt, the city’s Hotel Authority is paying back bonds floated to build the hotel over time, but the revenue to do so is more than sufficient.

    I agree that RTD should be able to have the flexibility to partner with the private sector on developments at their stations.

  6. Dave says:

    My father was trying to work with the city of Denver to move Currigan to the Jefferson county fairgrounds. At the time Jefferson county was looking to expand the fairgrounds. The city of Denver told Jefferson county they did not want to move Currigan to another location in the Denver area. Denver didn’t want any competition for shows.