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The Confluence: Project Update

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):

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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.

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19 Comments

  1. John says:

    Ken I know you like Elitch’s and all but I hope this project permeates into that area and eventually leads to the property of that amusement park being developed into mid rises. I hate Elitch gardens, its tacky.

    • christopher says:

      couldnt agree with you more!

    • Ken says:

      John, I like Elitch’s from the perspective that, until we have developed the hundreds of surface parking lots throughout the Downtown area, having an amusement park as a Downtown amenity is a cool thing. But the acres of asphalt that surrounds Elitch’s and, in particular, the Pepsi Center and Coors Field, must be on our radar screen for future development. Their suburban template is not conducive to the long-term sustainability or success of a great urban center.

    • TakeFive says:

      It may not be quite as nice as a performing art center, but I’d view it as much a city asset as any other, only for those who may be different from yourself. Hopefully, mid-rises become a dime a dozen.

      Perhaps some day, Elitch’s will be viewed in the same vein as its predecessor, as a community gem.

  2. Bob says:

    If they’re going to leave part of that building standing, hopefully they’ll at least take the ugly fence down and clean the whole place up a bit. Since I moved into the CPV, I’ve thought that block was a serious blight on an otherwise very nice part of town, so I’m glad to see something is finally being done about it.

  3. Chad says:

    The two story historic building on the corner, would have made a nice counterpoint to a new modern project. While it wasn’t in the greatest condition and somewhat unremarkable, these old brick buildings are in my opinion an irreplaceable part of our Denver urban fabric and history. I always find it annoying that developers never seem creative enough to integrate existing buildings into new projects. Rather than creating interesting, eclectic, mixed-age developments based on context, they are content to “scrape, scrape, scrape” in order to put up brand new buildings that tend to be rather banal bits of glass and pre-cast concrete (worse yet stucco). I for one think its a shame to see this little building go.

  4. Dan says:

    I for one am thrilled to see this ugly run-down building scraped off the face of the earth. Even if nothing is built there anytime soon, it’s still a step in the right direction.

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  6. Simone says:

    I agree with Chad. It requires more effort and creativity to integrate an older building into a new site, but it likely would have resulted in a richer project. Too bad that opportunity was lost…

  7. Corey says:

    I love having Elitch’s downtown along the river. I have an eight year old son and we go to Elitch’s many times over the summer. It is important to have facilities for families and children to enjoy downtown. Alot of people, the majority of whom probably do not have children, seem to think downtown redevelopment can only include sports venues, trendy restaurants, boutique shops, night clubs, etc.

    I think Elitch’s can be improved upon by making it more unique to, and representative of, Denver and Colorado. It would be great it Elitch’s was tought of in the same vein as the Santa Monica Pier, Chicago’s Navy Pier, Coney Island, etc.

    Some people may think Elitch’s is just a tourist trap, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. There is nothing wrong with having fun, and not everyone’s idea of fun (especially an 8 year old) is sitting at an outdoor cafe for hours at a time.

  8. svc says:

    I agree with Chad. I also think this will have a negative effect on the pedestrian experience at Congluence park itself. I can’t imagine enjoying one of my most favorite Denver parks with a 30 something story building towering over head. With condo/retail sales barely keeping up with current inventory now, how will more inventory help our recovery? This feels like urban renewal in the worst way. I believe pioneers originally found gold in the Confluence and therefore Denver proper was started. Our heritage should not be for sale but for all of us who have made Denver our home. An extension of the park itself would be my first choice or similar scaled townhomes as across the street/live work. I also wish they could have saved Baby Does retaurant, I always thought it would make great lofts. Does anyone know what the status of the project on it’s old site at 23rd&I-25?

  9. Aron says:

    Am I the only one who is concerned by what Oz has shown us so far. Frankly I’m happy to see the cpv become more dense, but seriously. The massing seems to reflect a developers appetite, not a responsible approach to a prime but underutilized site. The last thing we need is tech center type (hodge podge) development in such an important area. I know that we all are glad to see development there, but I’m more interested in a pedestrian scaled neighborhood there, as opposed to pencil (and massively out of scale for the area) towers.

  10. Chucolo says:

    I know this is way off topic, so apologies in advance, but does anyone know what entity owns the sadly deteriorating Colorado Building on California and 16th? It’s getting close to Fontius-status, even if the building does house some retail and offices.

  11. Corey says:

    Chucolo, the Dikeau (sp) family owns the Colorado Building. They are a major downtown property owner. I totally agree that it is disgraceful they have let the building deteriorate to its present state. It would make a great small hotel, lofts, or office space. In case you didn’t know, the Dikeau’s house their art collection in the building and the admission is free. They have many interesting and provocative pieces.

    I am also extremely tired of seeing the eyesore that is the Cotrell’s Building remain standing on the 16th Street Mall. Considering its location diagonally across from the Denver Pavilions, I think it would be a good location for a House Of Blues.

    • saint says:

      I lived almost across that building for 2 years and never new there was an art collection/free gallery! Haha. Talk about a well kept secret.

      And ditto to that. Though I think the Cotrell’s building could just be spruced up a bit on the exterior and it would be fine (the interior needs complete renovation). A HoB would be awesome there, and would draw some healthy competition against the Paramount.

  12. Chucolo says:

    Thanks, Corey. If history is a guide, there won’t be any renovations/upgrades on this building either….

  13. saint says:

    Like Corey said, Elitch’s is great to have downtown, as it’s best if there’s something for everyone. Not only that, but there are great plains of parking lots around it and the Pepsi Center to deal with first and foremost. At the very least there could just be a couple of parking garages and a great deal of park.

    As for this project, while I’m happy to see another tower underway, the original building, at least along the creek, could have been saved for some nice sidewalk cafes. And the tower could be a bit more creative, for being at such a prominent spot, though at least it’s not a simple solid box. Speaking of crazy tower designs, what ever happened to Buzz’s project?

    • Chad says:

      And I can’t understand why the Pepsi Center and Elitch Gardens can’t share parking spaces. I guess its probably a money generating issue, (each wants the parking revenues)but frankly the pepsi center lots are usually empty while the Elitch ones are empty and vice versa. Think of how much parking lot we could get back for development if we could work out a shared arrangement.

      • Ota says:

        Oh no, you need to have parking all around each venue, be it a restaurant, theme park, stadium or store. Heaven forbid, the customer would need to walk a few extra feet!

        I completely agree. I am always amazed at the mess that is Park Meadows Mall area or even Denver West/Colorado Mills. At this site, you have the Pepsi center, Auraria Campus, Elitch’s and close proximity to the heart of downtown. A (paid) shuttle system would certainly work, but the smart move would be to require underground parking structures. All that freed up land would be converted into huge green zones.