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New Lower Downtown Project: Z Block

A major mixed-use infill development is coming to Lower Downtown Denver, and a big gap in LoDo’s urban fabric will be healed in the process.

Colorado-based McWhinney, along with partner Grand American, is planning an office, residential, and retail project on the block bounded by Wazee, 19th, Blake, and 18th streets. Named “Z Block” to highlight the project’s location along LoDo’s fun-sounding Wazee Street, the mixed-use development will bring a substantial infusion of activity to the heart of Lower Downtown and replace nearly a half-block of surface parking with buildings that reinforce the historic district’s traditional urban form. Here’s a GoogleEarth aerial photo where I’ve outlined the project site in yellow:

The image above shows Z Block’s key location between Denver Union Station and Coors Field, as well as its T-shaped footprint that covers not only the full half-block along Wazee, but a portion of the block’s Blake Street frontage as well. The white-roofed building in the image above on the Wazee side of the block is an old one-story warehouse (used for parking cars!) and adjacent to it at 18th and the alley is a small three-story office building. Both of these buildings are non-contributing structures to the Lower Downtown Denver Historic District and will be removed. Here’s a Google Street View image showing these two structures.

Additionally, two one-story buildings in the center of the Blake Street side of the block are also non-contributing structures to the historic district and will be replaced by new construction. Here’s a Google Street View photo of these two buildings:

On the Wazee side, Z Block will feature a 6-story, 260,000 square foot office building with office space on floors 2 through 6, and a mix of office, restaurant/retail, and lobby spaces on the ground-floor. On the Blake Street side, the project will include 70 apartment units in a 6-story structure with residential and retail spaces on the ground floor. Z Block also includes three levels of underground parking with a total of 425 spaces, allocated as follows: 260 spaces for office users, 70 spaces for residential users, 83 spaces for existing tenants on the block, and 12 additional spaces. Here’s a ground-floor site plan (all the following images are courtesy of McWhinney and their project architect, Shears Adkins Rockmore):

The image below shows how the project will span across the alley, connecting the office and residential portions. The “invisible” building in the center foreground is the historic building where the Celtic Tavern is at 18th and Blake (18th Street is on the left and Blake Street is on the right). The new structure on the right side of the image is the residential component facing Blake Street, and behind and to the left is the block-long office building facing Wazee. The top five floors of the office building on the 18th Street side has been cut away to illustrate the project’s mid-block connections, ground-floor uses and street-level passageways.

Z Block viewed from 19th and Wazee looking south:

Z Block viewed from 18th and Wazee looking east:

The residential part of Z Block on Blake Street:

According to McWhinney, Z Block is scheduled to break ground in October or November 2014 with an 18-month construction time frame.

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20 Comments

  1. Ballpark resident says:

    Wow.. Hard to believe they can stick 70 apartments on the Blake side portion, but it looks like a great design. Walking down Wazee will soon be more interesting.

  2. PaulS says:

    Wow, this looks like it is going to be a really nice development. All of the passageways between the buildings on the block are a nice touch. The tucked away retail pad sites will offer some unique and intimate locations for restaurants, etc. They’re definitely using the circulator bus stops in their marketing of this building, which is nice to see. Denver seems to be on a roll, getting some high quality projects proposed and built. It’s time for me to move back!

  3. Jeffrey says:

    This is, over-all, a very attractive project, especially on Wazee. The architects are clearly thinking about the pedestrian street experience. I do, however, wonder about the way the alley is being developed, here. My observation is that urban settings work best when we have alleys. Garbage trucks, garbage cans, electric maintenance, back door deliveries to restaurants, etc. Is that being sacrificed here? If not, if the alley is still going to be used for alley kind of things, then does it make sense to have “retail”, as designated in the floor plan, that fronts onto the alley?

    I guess I would have also preferred to have the two single story brick buildings on Blake used as is, but that is a slightly different issue.

    • bryan says:

      Agreed…I’m hoping this isn’t “final-final”…there is no reason to take away a functioning alley here. No reason to take pedestrian activity off of sidewalks(which are already too quiet) and force it onto overly-tucked away retail.

      They are getting too cute here and turning their back on the city – leave the alley for your services and keep the retail facing the streets.

      Great looking project, but I hope it’s adjusted.

      • Ken Schroeppel says:

        I think the alley will still function as a typical alley, although certainly a nicer looking one. The Windsor Dairy Block and the Clancy’s building and the one next door still to them will still need places for their trash, etc.

        • bryan says:

          I sure hope so…however, it looks like there is a glass partition blocking the south end of the alley in the 1st floor rendering…I really hope I’m wrong!

          • Ken Schroeppel says:

            bryan, I think you’re looking at that cut-away image from the wrong angle. The alley is the passage that runs from the lower left to upper right of the image, which you can see goes through with the residential building spanning above.

    • Ted says:

      I have a slightly different reaction to the alley conversion. While I agree that alleys serve a unique function in an urban setting in getting the “unsightly stuff” off the street; I have also long been fascinated by alley-conversions to pedestrian streets. When I was studying in Rome this summer, I noticed for the first time that most European cities don’t have traditional American-style alleys. Instead, they often have an ancient patchwork of tight, narrow pedestrian alleys that double as service alleys in the modern age. On these streets, storefronts co-mingle with dumpsters, parked cars, and residential doorways. Oftentimes pedestrians simply share the driving lane with the garbage trucks and slow-moving automobiles (some streets are less than 15′ wide).

      Integrated into this urban language is the existence of city blocks so small that they make Portland’s 200’X200′ blocks look large (some Roman blocks are only 75’X50′ or so, comprised of only a single building, compared to Denver’s ~350’X~450′). Bustling, automobile thoroughfares represent a small fraction of the streets in this kind of urban network. One of the lessons I took away is that our urban blocks in Denver could be broken down into even smaller pieces. And quiet, pedestrian alleys and passageways used to subdivide the blocks could provide a more human-scaled alternative to the bustling grid of wide, American, city streets. This project excites me, because this is exactly what it appears to deliver!

      • mckillio says:

        I agree, I would love to see something creative done with alleys, it could really set Denver apart.

  4. Mark says:

    Great news! It’s exciting to see all the projects either in progress or soon to be under construction. Anything in the works for Market between 18th and 19th? To me it’s one of the biggest eyesores downtown!

  5. Jason says:

    I dig it. Way to go, McWhinney!

  6. Dogpatch says:

    Love it!! It seems the alley thing is an issue with some, but I really like the idea. Denver doesn’t have enough (or any) cool little tucked away places to get off the street. I always enjoy stumbling across these kind of things while visiting cities.

  7. Kyle says:

    I think it looks great! Well done all around.

  8. timothy says:

    Quick poll: Which is you favorite street?
    Mine is Wazee. Just walking along Wazee takes me back 100 years in time. Fantastic!

  9. Mark B. says:

    Maybe others besides me remember the original redevelopment plan for this block, back in the go-go 1990s. Arnold Schwarzenegger was involved somehow (as a real estate investment), along with (I think) Great American, and there was to have been a massive multiplex and lots of retail on multiple levels. The Denver Pavilions were proposed at about the same time, and broke ground before this could get started. This is a far, far better use of this block than that original project would have been, and I’ll be happy to see it completed (it will make a great entry to LoDo for people coming in on 20th and turning right on Wazee).

    I also remember that in the 1980s, the one-story building along Wazee was home to a furniture factory, called Aven-Rich. In 1981, when I was a design student at the Colorado Institute of Art, my class took a tour to see how upholstered furniture was built. Not that long ago, but it seems like ancient history.

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      Good memory, Mark. This project’s genesis can be found here: http://denverinfill.com/blog/2009/11/wazee-street-office-project-proposed.html

      … where the Stadium Walk project is discussed.

      • Mark B. says:

        Thanks, Ken. I had forgotten about your 2009 post, and especially the fact that it was being considered for DaVita at that time. Let’s hope the third time is the charm, and that this latest Grand American project gets off of the drawing boards. I really like the strong, muscular design along the Wazee side–respecting the 19th and early 20th century red brick warehouses all around, but also clearly part of the 21st century.

  10. Barb Gibson says:

    Isn’t it the Celtic Tavern… not Clancey’s Pub at the corner of 18th and Blake?