The underutilized corner at 15th and Little Raven next to Confluence Park is one of Downtown Denver’s choicest development sites, with an interesting history of proposals dating back over a decade. Today, let’s review some of that history and take a look at what the future holds for the property. First, here’s the site in question (from Bing Maps):


Back in the 1990s when the area was mostly rail yards and warehouses, the Confluence property was zoned PRV (for Platte River Valley). The PRV zone was intended to be a placeholder zone for the valley until new developments would trigger rezonings on a site-by-site basis. In 2001, the property was rezoned to R-MU-30. At that time, development in the CPV was just taking off and residential in the area was still rather untested; plus, an Xcel Energy electrical substation occupied the adjacent parcel at the confluence of the creek and river. So, it was felt that the new R-MU-30 zone, which required a boxy LoDo-style building envelope was the best solution for the site. The resulting structure would have been 90 feet tall, stepping down to 60 feet, and covering the entire site from property line to property line, with facades the length of a football field facing Little Raven in the “front” and facing the electrical substation in the “back”. No project, however, materialized.

In 2007, developer Ray Suppa (who built the Palace Lofts in LoDo and the Waterside Lofts at Wewatta and Cherry Creek) started the process with the city to rezone the site. By 2007, conditions had changed in the Central Platte Valley. Residential development was booming and projects such as the Glass House reflected a trend for taller buildings and higher densities, and the Xcel Energy substation had been replaced with the new Confluence Park Plaza. That rezoning would have allowed a building up to 140 feet in height for a portion of the site. But before the rezoning ever made it to City Council for final consideration, the request was pulled. Mr. Suppa and others felt it was best to step back and take a fresh look at what would be best for the site.

In 2008, Mr. Suppa, Councilwoman Judy Montero, and the Community Planning & Development department decided to ask the Urban Land Institute for its opinion. The ULI convened a Technical Assistance Panel, which I had the honor to chair, to study the Confluence site. Our panel consisted of prominent architects, planners, and developers from both the Denver area as well as from out of state. After much research and interviews with dozens of stakeholders and other urban design experts, the panel concluded that the R-MU-30 zoning was no longer appropriate for the site and recommended that the site’s density be reconfigured into a point tower at Little Raven and the creek, with a shorter structure at the corner of 15th and Little Raven. By shifting the density upward, it also would allow for a good percentage of the site to become open space integrated with Confluence Park Plaza.

In August 2009, after a year of extensive outreach by Mr. Suppa to the CPV neighborhood and the broader Downtown community, the Denver City Council approved a rezoning of the site to PUD (Planned Unit Development). The new PUD zoning reflects the panel’s recommendations and provides for a high-rise up to 350 feet in height at Little Raven and Cherry Creek, and a mid-rise structure (maximum height of 65 feet) at the 15th & Little Raven corner with a form that creates a strong urban edge and identity to the site and connections with the adjacent parks. Brownstone-style residences along Little Raven connect the two buildings. Parking would be accommodated on three underground levels. The mid-rise at the corner would include ground-floor retail and five floors of residential and/or office uses above.  The high-rise would have 32 or 33 floors of residential uses. Overall, the project would contain approximately 385,000 gross square feet. The project will also seek LEED certification.

Courtesy of OZ Architecture, here are a few images. Please note: the buildings have not yet been designed. These images reflect only the form, scale, and orientation of the project under its new PUD zoning. The actual architectural design of the project is yet to come.

Conceptual site plan (left) and conceptual rendering (right):

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Two more images from OZ showing different tower concepts from vantage points nearby:

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In May 2010, the city approved the Design Standards and Guidelines for the project, which articulate to a level of detail not found in the PUD zoning various aspects of the project including building form and orientation, landscaping, ground-floor treatment, etc.

Finally, some of you have no doubt noticed that the existing buildings at the site are being demolished. Actually, not all of the site will be razed at this time. The existing buildings consist of a two-story structure right at the corner of 15th and Little Raven, and a one-story structure closer to the Confluence Park Plaza that stretches all the way back to Cherry Creek.  A portion of the one-story building near Cherry Creek will be retained and made available as two art studio type rental units. This is an interim situation, until such time as the full project moves forward. Which brings me to the question many are probably wondering: when will the tower project get underway? Like everything else these days, the answer is basically: “it depends on the market”.   However, given Mr. Suppa’s track record with successfully building major projects in the Downtown Denver area and the high-profile and attractive nature of the site, I would say that this project is likely to be one we will see happen before too long.

Here are a couple of demolition photos taken Friday by my friend Matt:

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Let’s hope the economy continues its recovery so we can see the Confluence project move forward soon. This is going to be an exciting addition to the Central Platte Valley and Downtown Denver.