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New Auraria Project: AHEC 5th Street Parking Facility

Downtown Denver’s Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) has been undergoing a construction boom in the past few years, with Metro State University’s Hotel & Hospitality Learning Center and Student Success Center, Community College of Denver’s Confluence Building, and University of Colorado Denver’s Academic Building One adding to the Downtown scene. Now, another new Auraria campus project is about to get underway.

At the western edge of the Auraria campus, the proposed AHEC 5th Street Parking Facility is in the works. This new 1,100-space, five-story parking structure will occupy a site that’s currently a surface parking lot and will provide parking capacity to replace the surface lots removed due to the construction of the above-mentioned new buildings. The 5th Street Parking Facility is part of the implementation of the AHEC Master Plan which envisions the eventual replacement of all surface parking lots on campus with parking garages. Here’s the site:

The development is only a block north of RTD’s Auraria West Campus transit station, so of particular importance is the fact that this project will include ground-floor retail (approximately 15,000-sf) on its 5th Street and Larimer Street sides. Larimer Street runs along the southern side of this project—currently just a parking lot drive aisle—but it’s envisioned to be re-established in the future as a street/transit corridor to connect with the existing segment of Larimer Street on the eastern side of the campus that runs from the Tivoli to Speer Boulevard and into Lower Downtown. (That big parking garage to the east of this site will have to be “modified” in the future to make that happen.)

Below is a rendering of the AHEC 5th Street Parking Facility, courtesy of Denver-based Pahl Architects, looking at the 5th and Larimer Street corner:

The expected completion date of the project is Summer 2014.

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19 Comments

  1. Jason says:

    This looks great. But, I do hope the folks at AHEC put a better effort into leasing the retail spaces than RTD has. (Anyone else notice that the retail spaces in RTD’s DU park and ride have been vacant since construction was completed in 2006?)

  2. Mark Barnhouse says:

    How would they modify the massive garage built in the early 1990s to allow Larimer to pass through? How does one tear down part of a garage? Glad I’m not a structural engineer.

    • Larry says:

      I have heard that they plan to tear down the entire garage. But, it’s not very difficult to demo a portion of a garage. The columns separate each section of the structure and they just remove the sections to one side of the column. They still might have to make some minor modifications to the remaining structure. I think they just did that same thing at St Joseph’s Hospital.

  3. Dan says:

    I work at University of Colorado Denver on the AHEC campus. I wish I could get some grassroots organization to rally against this plan. The AHEC plan is a disaster. It is $20 million for this parking garage system. There are three college/universities using the space, and there are strict requirements on the number of parking spots per student, even though AHEC is positioned close to lightrail and DUS.

    Students and myself, who park on campus, then have to walk 15 minutes to the classrooms. If you look at the aerial map of the campus, over 50% of the land is parking. We often joke that AHEC is founded on the parking-lot lobby, and they needed to get customers, so they worked to start 3, not 1, universities on the site.

    $20 million dollars:

    Spend $4 million to build two pedestrian underpasses to allow people to cross from the parking lots on the west side to the buildings on the east side.

    Spend $6 million to build a pedestrian bridge over Speer to get people coming form downtown and DUS back and forth. Right now, Larimer and Speer is a disaster. To walk to get food from any AHEC building is 15 minutes to go 400 meters, because you have to cross Speer both the east and west traffic. Solve some Denver traffic problems by building

    $5 million underpass or system to cross Auraria Parkway for people going to Pepsi center and lightrail in that direction.

    Remaining $5 to improve Auraria Parkway and Speer intersection.

    AHEC does not care about pedestrians taking transit to get to campus. They care about parking.

    I have read and studied the strategic plan for AHEC, it too, is a disaster, all in my opinion. They want to build more parking. They have a light rail stop on campus that literally goes 600 feet and stops again at the Sports Authority station.

    • mckillio says:

      Very good points, particularly about the du/triplication of light rail stops. Though crossing Speer doesn’t seem that bad to me.

    • Freddie says:

      Hmmm…. When I see the satellite view of the campus, I see a lot of cars in those lots. They’re mostly full at the random moment when this picture was taken. When Auraria fills all those lots in with development, as they are rapidly doing – to meet their future needs and to blend the campus in with the urban fabric of downtown – where are people going to park? Are you suggesting they force people to take light rail by restricting parking? I don’t understand exactly what your complaint is here.

      I went to Metro. I would park out in one of those far lots (as most of the inner lots were full by the time my first class started) and walk to the east end of campus. It wasn’t that bad. …stop in the Tivoli and get a cup of coffee on the way. Kinda fun actually. And not too long of a walk at all – much shorter than some of the walks my friends going to school in Boulder or Greeley would have to take from class to class, or from car to class, or from dorm to class.

      I suppose the west light rail station is also too far from the east part of campus for you? You would rather leave the sea of parking lots on over 50% of the land and spend $20 million building a bunch of pedestrian bridges everywhere (which you’ve apparently researched the cost of and found to be much cheaper to build than garages)?

      I guess I just don’t understand what you’re trying to argue here. Perhaps you didn’t word it very well or your point went over my head.

      • Dan says:

        Some of my points about spending 20 million for a parking garage, express that there are better ways to spend the money:

        1- If you take mass transit to get to the AHEC campus, there are significant barriers that increase the last-mile transportation. With the DUS being a 1/4 mile away, it should not take 25 minutes to walk to campus. The AHEC system could more effectively use 20 million to make it easier to get in and out of the core building area.

        You yourself said you parked at the outer most lot. And you then walked in at least 15 minutes to get to your class. 15 minutes walking should get the average person 1.5 miles, I bet you walked .25 miles waiting for cars at streets.

        2- If you were a Metro student, then you know that for the most part, bikes are not allowed on campus and are restricted. Younger population is more likely to use mass transit and use bicycles, yet the AHEC plan is not coming in line to this. I’m not even an urban planner, and I know stats that this current generation of 18-27 year olds are 25% more likely to use non-car modes of transportation. AHEC doesn’t understand this and is out of touch with urban planning.

        3- The campus could put more student housing in that exact spot. Instead, there is AHEC-destination housing being put together 3 miles away north of Park along I-25.

        4- The underpass for walkers…if you know the campus, you know there are MAJOR roads that breakup any direct walking path. You want those parking lots to available, then free up the 15 minute walk that people take to get in and out of the rest of campus. Very often the parking lots are just

        • Chris says:

          Dan, if I may let me respond to some of your comments:

          The reason that this parking structure is being built is because campus infill is happening at an unprecedented rate. Three new buildings – the CCD building, Metro’s Student Success building, and UCD’s new academic building – have been or are being built on what was surface parking (and the parking structure is also being built over existing surface parking). And while it is true that transit ridership is increasing, so is campus enrollment. It would be foolish for the campus to not at least replace parking that is removed due to infill.

          As for the connectivity improvements, your suggestions are certainly valid. But underpasses and overpasses over city streets are not something that AHEC can just go out and build. Streets belong to the city, and those improvements take immense coordination between AHEC and Public Works (among many others). Having said that, AHEC is currently partnering with the Public Works department to develop improved pedestrian and transit connections between the campus and downtown. This includes bike connections to and through campus.

          Campus housing is actually forbidden by state statute on the Auraria campus, as a result of negotiations with the adjacent residential neighborhoods at the time lands were set aside to create AHEC.

          In my opinion, the location of the parking structure is well-considered. It is located adjacent to the Auraria West light rail station, which is projected to be the 2nd busiest station in the network. It is located at the fringe of the campus, allowing central campus areas to be developed for academic and student support uses. And it is near the under-construction Metro sports complex, providing parking for sports complex visitors.

          • Dan says:

            Chris,

            Thank you for your information and the discussion. My original points were to try to describe some options that do not seem to be considered.

            A few things, as for “campus housing” being forbidden, there is housing off of 5th Street, so I guess it depends on whether that is on AHEC campus or considered off campus.

            I understand the growth of the 3 institutes and their respective buildings.

            Just as the growth is happening, so is the change in demographics. AHEC’s population, I would say, in the past 5 years is becoming younger and fewer non-traditional students.

            It is also strange that surrounding AHEC is large amounts of parking for Pepsi Center and Elitch’s Garden, and it just seems strange that rather than the city and state strategically plan for growth of buildings that would serve

            It seems I upset some people with my post in wanting to use the 20 million for other options than parking. I’d also like to see AHEC use the 20 million for common building space for classes, studying, anything. However you see the need for the campus to grow, parking structures do zero for the actual education process.

            So while other universities systems are investing in new buildings for studying nanotechnology, bioengineering, and biochemistry…we are giving the Metro/UCDenver/CCD a new parking structure, even though there are plenty of parking options surrounding AHEC.

            So the overall view is whether 20 million for a parking structure, is really well thought out in the long run.

            Just note, even in their strategic plan is that they will demolish part of the parking garage that they built. The big 2-block long parking structure…where is the long term investment in a parking garage that they use for 15 years, and then demolish part of to build a more sensible campus.

            Yes, I understand the AHEC restrictions, but it doesn’t mean they are right.

          • Paul says:

            Dan,

            One major omission to your argument is where the $20 million for this structure is coming from. Unlike a general classroom building, which will cost significantly more than $20 million, this parking structure will be self-funded through parking fees. As you are obviously are aware, AHEC is primarily funded by two mechanisms: service payments from each of the resident institutions and usage fees i.e parking. The service payments barely cover the cost of operations and maintenance at the campus. The usage fees do provide a funding mechanism for additional capital improvements on campus such as a self-funded parking structure.

            It’s disingenuous to assume that this $20 million could be easily redistributed to other projects. It’s based on future debt servicing and unless a usage fee is paid for a pedestrian underpass you are not going to have the capability to service the debt and that $20 million vanishes.

        • Freddie says:

          1. lol, I never said I walked “at least 15 minutes” to get to class. I said, “it’s not that bad,” “it’s no worse than walking on any other campus,” and “walking was fun!” My point there was that I don’t understand what you have against walking on a college campus. I assumed that your 15 minute figure was a slight exaggeration, but I’m not sure. Maybe it is 15 minutes. Who knows. I guess it could be. But so what?

          2. I remember the pedestrian thoroughfares were very crowded and bikes were not allowed for a reason. The AHEC “doesn’t understand” that young people “are more likely to use non-car modes of transportation”? What are you talking about?! THERE ARE TWO FREAKING LIGHT RAIL STATIONS ON CAMPUS – one of which you seem to be against. What do you suggest? Should bikes be allowed to ride on all your pedestrian bridges and tunnels? Or should there be more Jetsons tubes built for bikes? And who cares if it’s a 25 minute walk from DUS – especially when THERE ARE TWO FREAKING LIGHT RAIL STATIONS ON CAMPUS.

          3. I’m not sure why the AHEC isn’t allowed to have student housing on campus. That has always annoyed the crap out of me – especially as an urbanism enthusiast that would like to see some more population downtown, not to mention some shiny, sky-rise apartments/dorms on the campus. Maybe Ken or somebody can tell you what the deal is with that. As I understood it, the surrounding neighborhoods didn’t want the campus there because their neighborhood would be ruined by wild college parties and too many people parking in their neighborhood, etc., so the campus had to promise they would never allow student housing and that the campus would be totally self-contained and not intrude on the surrounding neighborhoods in any way – hence the rules about having a certain number of parking spaces on campus, etc. But this is just what I “heard” from some kid that sounded like he knew what he was talking about. It could be totally wrong.

          4. I only remember having to cross one major street and the rest were cake – probably 7th but I’m not sure because the campus has changed a lot in the past 10 years and no longer matches the mental map I have stored in my head. But honestly, I can’t think of ANY part of downtown that one could walk through without having to wait at some annoying (if you allow them to annoy you) streetlight before being able to cross. That’s just the nature of being a pedestrian in an urban environment; you gotta wait for the little green guy sometimes.

          Dan, I think you’re totally missing the point of this garage. They aren’t adding parking for the sake of adding parking because they like parking so much. They’re replacing parking lots with garages so that parking no longer consumes so much land, and filling in those old lots with shiny new (useful) buildings. When they’re done, there will be NO parking lots left – literally. Those parking lots you hate so much are going to be gone. THAT’S their plan. You say you’ve read it, but I have my doubts.

          • Dan says:

            Freddie,

            I never said, that you said, you walked 15 minutes. I said I estimated that you probably walked 15 minutes from the outer parking lot to get to buildings like the north classroom. Any time you want to meet and attempt to park and walk to the AHEC library and time the walk, let me know.

            I like walking, want people to walk, etc. But I think your logic is really really poor. You say you looked at single satellite photo and you get your information that the parking lots looked full? This is your view of life? Well, I looked at the same satellite and I didn’t see any crime happening, so it looks like the area was devoid of any bad things happening. Cool, solving things with google images/maps is easy. You say you want to walk…from your car. That’s a strange response to when I brought up trying to help people WALK to campus from the surrounding area.

            I bring up helping ways to walk to campus and on campus, you say I am against walking…bad logic on your part.

            You also have terrible logic when it comes to any statement about the DUS and not caring about time it takes for that transit center versus the light rail. Light rail serves South Denver and now Golden to the west. Maybe you hate the north, but DUS serves everything north of Denver. So you are ok with transit to the south, but not the north.

            Most of all, your jetson’s remark…did you think I was proposing glass tubes crisscrossing the sky?

            Walking underpasses keep cars moving and people walking. Win and win.

            Here’s an example of an underpass :

            http://www.flickr.com/photos/bouldercolorado/sets/72157631620968882/

            I dare you to respond to this comment after looking at the above website link and tell me that such “underpasses” are crazy jetson ideas and too difficult to

            My original post, which showed that people like yourself don’t seem to know what a walking underpass is, just simply suggested 3-4 of these strategically around AHEC. My goal was to bring up the idea that these might actually have better payoff in terms of campus sustainability, growth, and transportation, then simply more of the same…a 20 million dollar parking structure.

            Again, while other universities systems are spending 20 million for advanced teaching labs in nanotechnology, bioengineering, and bio chemistry…AHEC is giving 20 million to a parking structure and thinking it is necessary.

            If there is crowding with existing AHEC parking, any student can simply pay for parking across auraria parkway at Elitch’s or Pepsi center.

            So Freddie, I think you missed my point…replacing parking lots with parking garages, which seems like a better idea for density, is not advancing education in that same area of space.

            AHEC gets money from a number of Metro/UCDenver/CCD sources as well as several levels of the government…and their decision to serve students with more parking versus actual education facilities.

            I want the students that I teach at AHEC to have advanced buildings…not advanced parking garages.

            Again, I dare you to respond after seeing the pictures of campus underpasses and tell me about jetsons and “safety” concerns.

    • Freddie says:

      Also, I would much rather walk down a sidewalk to the buildings on the east side, along a street with shops, trees, people, buildings, sun, etc., than to walk all the way across the campus in an underground tunnel. Yuck.

    • Jerry G says:

      One final comment. Your concerns about the pedestrian environments along Speer and Auraria Parkway are valid, but those issues need to be addressed directly. Building underpasses or bridges does not change the fact that these are roads within an urban environment and not highways. Denver needs to re-evaluate these roads (and others around town) with the goal of substantially improving the pedestrian experience.

  4. Rob C says:

    What is wrong with walking?? I dont get it! Why do we need tunnels and bridges to get people from one place to another when we can have perfectly adequate sidewalks with trees and shops and flowers, etc. Who wants to be stuck walking in a tunnel which is also not safe. The city can make changes to the intersection to make it safer for pedestrians, but I hardly think that the AHEC plan is a disaster by any means.

  5. Freddie says:

    Dan, since you “dared” me to respond:

    You’re changing your story as you go along. In your first post you said it was a “15 minute walk” from the campus parking lots to the classrooms and you suggested they build underpasses from the parking lots on the west side of campus, to the buildings on the east side. My argument that the walk ain’t so bad was about THAT walk.

    As for the satellite view: That was to back up my argument that the parking gets used, and that the parking is indeed needed, so they can’t just go filling in all the surface lots like they’ve been doing, without replacing those spaces with a garage. I’m sorry Dan, but the campus needs parking. The garage itself doesn’t advance education; you’re right. However, it certainly does free up those surface parking lots for buildings that do indeed serve the purpose of advancing education.

    Also, I know you didn’t want to build actual Jetsons tubes. I was cracking a joke about your plan to build tunnels and bridges about the campus. I personally thought the Jetsons remark was pretty hilarious (even if I’m only amusing myself). But I’ve got to be honest; if they did build actual Jetsons tubes, I suppose it would have a negative effect on the urban fabric below by removing pedestrians from the street, but it would still be pretty awesome. I mean, they’re freaking Jetsons tubes!

    And yes, of course I know what an underpass is. But the one in your pic goes under a street – not a campus.

    Anyway, I’m about done with this little debate Dan. You suggest I’m missing the point because you’re mostly talking about how long it takes to walk to campus from the surrounding area. Well I agree that crossing Spear is a huge pain in the butt. And I suppose it’s a bit of a trek to walk from DUS to the campus. But we’re talking about the AHEC here. The AHEC can’t do anything about crossing Spear, or how long it takes to walk through the city from DUS to the campus, or whatever.

  6. Jerry G says:

    Dan,

    In answer to your question, the student housing on 5th street is a private development, as are all of the campus-associated housing, even the one that is “3 miles away”. The company that developed the housing near 5th street had (and hopefully still has) plans to expand that development. The plan that I saw was pretty substantial, and is something that the campus desperately needs. Interestingly enough, the addition of retail to this proposed parking garage will make it, in some small way, more desirable to live in that nearby non-campus housing, and in future expansions.
    Second, the problem with using the parking at the Pepsi Center or Elitchs is that AHEC does not control it. That means that they cannot fix the price of parking nor guarantee that it will be available to students when they need it or that is always be there. I think it is safe to assume that those parking lots will be developed at some point in the future. I would expect that the city, and the owners of that property want that. Hopefully with more off-campus housing options for students/employees. Surface lots are land banks, only. When it happens, those students would be out of luck. Personally, I do not think that surface lots belong anywhere downtown. Period.
    Finally, those campus surface lots will be developed. It is just a matter of time (see above). There will always be a certain number of students who chose to drive to campus, for whatever reason. Forcing them to take public transportation, however desirable from our perspective, is not really fair to them. Building a new parking garage on campus allows for those students who do drive to avoid some of these issues. They will already be on campus and have less to travel to class.
    And yes, there are significant barriers to crossing Speer, Auraria Parkway and Colfax. Those need to be addressed. However, AHEC has no control of that. AHEC cannot build tunnels, bridges or make any improvements themselves. Those are the responsibility of the city alone. The best that AHEC, and the institutions, can do is pressure the city to make those changes. And they should be. As should you and all other employees and students of the campus.

  7. Jeffrey Miller says:

    Segway or the highway, anyone?