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Union Station: 1601 Wewatta Update #3 (Inside the Infill Edition)

Back in September, we reported on the groundbreaking of 1601 Wewatta; the 10-story office building going up at 16th and Wewatta in the Union Station neighborhood. Since our last update, this project has reached some critical milestones in terms of construction: the project has ‘bottomed out’ at 53 feet below grade, and a tower crane has recently been installed. In the past, we have always gone ‘inside the infill’ when there has been some kind of structure built on the site but today we have something different for you! Thanks to Dave Klebba and Matt Greenberg of Hines, we were able see the bottom of the hole for ourselves!

First off, here are two shots from above the hole. There is still a lot of dirt; however, the concrete beams for the underground parking structure have started to go vertical, along with the elevator core.

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Let’s head down into the hole! The site was very busy with laborers working on either the shoring walls, setting rebar for the concrete beams, or finishing up the excavation on the southeast corner of the site.

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Because there are four stories of underground parking, this meant excavation ended up going below the water table. Because of this, an extensive dewatering system had to be installed. These systems pump out the ground water and filter it so it is safe to return to the storm water drainage network.

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1601 Wewatta is another great contribution to the Union Station neighborhood build-out. The 10-story office building will have a great public space along 16th Street, including an additional entrance along Chestnut Street. Having the additional entrance helps activate Chestnut Street especially with pedestrians using the light rail station across the street. The LEED-Gold building will also include solar panels on the roof. For more information including floor-plates and renderings, be sure to visit 1601 Wewatta’s website!

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31 Comments

  1. Keith says:

    Thanks for the update Ryan. This is my favorite project going up right now in all of Union Station, can’t wait for the finished product!

  2. Rob C says:

    I’m not one to usually complain about design, but this building is so lackluster to me. Maybe I will feel differently once it’s done.

  3. Tmac says:

    The design is very Tech Center. Glad to see an empty space is filled in…c’mon Hines.

  4. Tmac says:

    That last comment was meant as a critical response. I don’t feel suburban designs are meant for this very urban setting.

    • Scott says:

      I think you need to adjust your perception of what urban is. Urban isn’t just lower Manhattan where the streets are canyons and you don’t see the sun but once for 15 minutes during the day.

      I don’t have a particularly strong opinion about this building either way but I don’t think your criticism is necessarily warranted in this case.

      • James says:

        Question about drainage. I see many projects have to set aside drainage areas for accumulation of heavy rain that can slowly enter the storm sewer system (and some of them do it quite attractively, like the area next to the Denver Art Museum that is close to the library). But some of these projects, like this one, have none of these such spaces.

        How do they deal with the water issue?

  5. TakeFive says:

    Fascinating

  6. Jeffrey says:

    Confounding.

  7. Nathanael says:

    Legal parking requirements are clearly too high. The need to build parking shouldn’t be going below the water table!

    Parking is necessary and all, but seriously, aren’t they expecting people to arrive by public transit?

    • Paul says:

      They are including parking well in excess of what the requirements are- which is the same as every other project that is going in behind Union Station. The minimum parking ratios has been exceeded by every project that is going into the LoDo/Union Station areas. Given this situation, it’s pretty evident that the developers feel that the transit elements are a nice amenity, but not something that is a total replacement for having adequate automobile parking. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on the transit system either, it’s developing to be a great commuter system, but the lack of access within Denver itself makes it a hard sell as a true replacement for the automobile.

      • Jeffrey says:

        Paul, I agree. I am all in favor of fast-tracks, etc., but we need localized rail (streetcars) and we need the prominent neighborhoods (Cherry Creek, Highlands, etc.) and major streets (Colfax, Broadway, Colorado, etc.) to be served by rail (streetcars). Maybe this will happen, but it is many years in the future, and, in the mean time, developers are building and they need to accommodate parking. I probably won’t be alive by the time my Denver gets to where I’d like it to be!

      • Jeff says:

        Its a free market and if the developers want to include more parking than the requirements that is up to them. I would imagine that this would be a hidden cost built into leasing rates even if a business decided to not offer parking, but who knows.

        I guess there is nothing wrong with offering that much parking. The shameful aspect is that we will create and/or maintain urban highways to shuttle these suburban motorists into/out of town, really detracting from the quality of the street life and walkability. 15th and Wewatta is a prime example of this.

        If we plan for narrower streets and on-street parking, it will slow the streets down, add time to people’s commute, and they may consider mass transit, all while making the streets and sidewalks safer and more enjoyable.

        • Nathanael says:

          “I would imagine that this would be a hidden cost built into leasing rates even if a business decided to not offer parking,”

          It will be.

          The thing that bugs me is, there are acres and acres of parking all over downtown Denver, usually half-empty. It’s not as if there’s a tight crunch on parking and a need for more. It just seems like a poor investment — one made out of habit, rather than with forethought.

          This building, 1601 Wewatta, is literally located less than a block away from the commuter bus station, the commuter rail platforms, the light rail platforms, the Mall Shuttle and the new MetroRide.

          No office worker in their right mind would drive there. (Especially considering the number of park-and-rides on the rail lines in Denver.) Customers of the offices might need to park there, but there aren’t going to be huge numbers of them — four stories of parking is really a lot for office customers alone.

          The best use of parking in this location would be for a rental car company, for people arriving on Amtrak or intercity bus. Or for parking for people taking Amtrak or intercity bus I suppose the building owner could rent the garage out for such a purpose; that might get it used. Otherwise, it’s likely to be half-empty and a drain on the building’s finances.

          • Bobby says:

            “No office worker in their right mind would drive there. (Especially considering the number of park-and-rides on the rail lines in Denver.)”

            Then why are the garages in LoDo full every day? I’m not saying that driving is the “better” thing, I’m just saying that people are still doing it.

      • Nathanael says:

        Um… wow.

        I anticipate that in a few years or decades they’ll want to convert some of that parking. The trends towards public transportation in Denver are good (though as Jeffrey says, you certainly need your Colfax streetcar back!).

        This is probably a case of excess conservatism on the part of developers; Denver has been *extremely* auto dependent for a *very* long time, so it takes some guts to bet that it will become less so.

        Given the state of Denver public transportation, I would expect there’s still a need for this much parking in a residential building (there’s always some destination you’ll need a car to get to, so people will have cars even if they don’t need them for their commute).

        But in an *office building* it seems to make a lot less sense to me. Building a parking garage so deep that you need to build a pumping system for the groundwater is a *humungous* financial investment in parking — and parking is strictly a loss leader. Those parking spaces will be empty every night, and for every worker who commutes by bus or train one will be empty every day, and the building owner will be spending a lot of money just preventing them from flooding.

        Downtown Denver’s already loaded with parking; it’s not as if it’s difficult to find a space.

        • Jeff says:

          I was thinking the same thing about converting the parking levels down the line, but those 3-4 levels will be subterranean. Nothing like working in an underground cubicle!

          What the city needs to do is stop giving preference to the auto over all other modes.

          The idea is you can still drive, but it should be slower and more costly.

          • Nathanael says:

            As I suggest above, maybe the parking could be used for a rental car facility for people arriving at Union Station by train. Or something like that.

    • TakeFive says:

      Interestingly… While a completely different market and dynamics some landlords in Metro Phoenix are finding their office buildings “outdated” as they no longer have sufficient parking. The cause is tenants more efficient use of leased space meaning more employees per square feet. This is wholly different from having good transit options of course but I found it interesting.

  8. Jeff says:

    The abundance of parking is really a shame. It is encouraging people to drive in from the ‘burbs instead of taking the light rail or commuter rail in from the ‘burbs. We should institute congestion pricing and/or tolls on I-25 and raise the gas tax to help fund intra-city transit to level the playing field. The commute in already takes forever, but if it took forever and was more expensive, more people ride the rail, fares can be reduced, etc. etc.

  9. Jim Nash says:

    This is only one phase of Downtown development. Tens of thousands of new apartments, mostly lifestyle-driven, but office, hotel and condo developments are modest-to-nothing. Right now, the rental development wave is a national trend — but, as in Denver, there are few, if any office towers going up, few hotels, very few condos, even in Florida. All indications of very tepid job growth, and very little business expansion. Denver, a Point of the THC Triangle, with Seattle and LA, will attract lots of Bud Tenders, but how many white collar jobs are being added Downtown?

    Another indicator, all the suburban office towers “announced” in the last year — mostly southeast along I-25 — but so far no ground breaks. If you combine all the Union Station office buildings, under construction or announced, with the few other Downtown office projects, they equal just one of the office skyscrapers that went up 35 years ago.

    So why be so critical of office developers, who are building in a very soft office rental market? Their labor and materials costs constantly rise, driven by a worldwide construction boom. Build It And They Will Come? Let’s see how fast they lease up.

    Very encouraging (speculative) news yesterday in the Denver Post about how Union Station developers are planning a full-block multi-use project for the Market Street bus station, which is about to close, handing off to the new Union Station bus box operation.

    Seems like the Public-Private urban concept — especially wrapped around rail transit — is the main driver of office and hotel construction. Using transportation to drive jobs and business travel expansion. Bill Clinton will be in Denver in June, to showcase Union Station as Exhibit A of Public-Private Success.

    Let’s hope the rising demand for streetcars will get the politicians, developers and planners buzzing about putting at-grade rail lines along the big streets, using the same Public-Private principles to reshape the inner city, to create business opportunities, where the jobs are.

  10. AF says:

    Trust me, Hines does not want to pay for the parking as it is extremely extremley expensive to go lower than one level below grade in that location for parking ($50,000 plus per stall) and they can’t go up because they are limited on height. The major problem as Jeffrey mentioned above is that Denver has a huge hole when it comes to public transportation. You can get to all the suburbs from Union Station but you can’t get to Cherry Creek, Park Hill, West Highlands, etc by any mode of public transporation except bus. I am all for the public transporation but we can not be a true leader in walkability/public transporation until this is fixed. As a new office developer, they need to be competitive in the near term with the existing supply of office product and offer parking at just above 1/1,000. This parking will be empty at night by the office tenants but there is an extreme shortage of public parking in the area as the 1,000+ stall parking garage that was originally planned by block B over the tracks has been nixed. I think this is a great building and will add to the overall Union Station development.

  11. Jim Nash says:

    Thanks, Al, for giving us a peek at the inner workings of the planning/permitting process. So, Ken, as a planner yourself, why is the process so secretive? Who really controls this process? The developers? The planners? The mayor’s office — if he pays that much attention to it?

    How does a “1,000+ stall parking garage that was originally planned” get nixed? Who makes those decisions? Seems like this website is best-suited to dig a little deeper into how buildings actually get planned, permitted and built. We want more from you, Ken, as an insider.

    And as a reporter for more than 40 years, I understand you have to respect and protect your sources. But please reveal more about what’s really going on, as you know it.

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      If you’re referring to the parking garage that was part of the DUS project, it’s not all that complicated, and it certainly wasn’t secretive; they discussed their reasoning to remove it at several of the public DUSPA meetings and I think the media reported on it too. They would have had to have built the parking garage back in 2011/2012 or so at the time they were starting construction on the commuter rail station, as you don’t want to be building a parking garage over completed commuter rail platforms and tracks. The parking garage included part of the (once) L-shaped B Block building, so that would have had to have been built at that time too. Additionally, the feds ruled that the parking garage had to be built to a certain “progressive collapse” anti-terrorist bombing construction standards, which substantially added to the cost. Since the project didn’t have the money to do the parking garage and the developers weren’t yet ready to do the B Block building, the project team made the decision to nix the garage. It is not unfeasible to build it in the future, but it will cost a lot to do so, as you’d have to build it over active train tracks/platforms. Some day, when Denver’s market has so little supply of developable land and such great demand for development, someone might be willing to pay the price to construct the garage and/or office building over the tracks. But back in 2011, the time was not right.

      That’s the best I can remember how it happened.

      Separately, however, why would we want 1,000 cars to be parking at Union Station, the one place in the entire region that should be the most pedestrian-oriented in nature? The public has no obligation to provide storage space for citizens’ personal possessions.

      • Jim Nash says:

        Thank you, Ken, for the insights. The details you provided here are what I believe we’re all reading this great website for. I really appreciate it most when you open up, de-mystify some of the whole planning/permitting process.

        You end with the key question, How many cars should be parking at Union Station? Which centers on the basic design concept of the project — replacing as many cars as possible with rail riders in the Downtown area. But as Paul points out above, developers are hedging their bets against cutbacks in parking nearby, by building more spaces on their own.

        I’m sure general news media does some spot coverage of Union Station’s evolution, but it’s your unique experience and position that can reveal a lot more about the “project team” that this website can illuminate. I’ve learned so much about how ideas turn into the built city, thanks to Denver Infill. Please give us more background info, so we can better understand the process.

      • Nathanael says:

        It would be useful to have an integrated rental car center at Union Station. And that’s all I’ll say about parking at Union Station.

  12. Nathan says:

    Hi! I saw in the new last week that Atlanta based Portman Holdings has acquired 1801 Wewatta St. to develop a mixed use office/hotel. Was hoping you could dig up some more info for us? I found their press release here, but was hoping we could get some photos! – http://www.portmanholdings.com/content/portman-holdings-acquires-1801-wewatta-st-near-denver%E2%80%99s-union-station#.U2KIWcErOSQ.twitter

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      Hi Nathan,

      Yep, big news on 1801. We’re keeping our eyes and ears open for additional details, although the way the press release reads, it seems like it’s early in the development process. Stay tuned…

    • TakeFive says:

      Want to be impressed? Check out their web site: http://www.portmanusa.com/home.php
      The Press Release does mention that Hensel Phelps will be the General Contractor.

  13. Bobby says:

    With Union Station advertised as a new central gigantic transportation hub, yet hardly any parking added, how can they truly call it a transportation hub?!?! People may have to *gasp* drive to Union Station to take a train somewhere. Not everyone has access to public transit. Public transit isn’t always convenient. Public transit is definitely not faster. Public transit isn’t always cheaper.

    So people will park at these buildings vs a huge parking structure that was never built.

    Everyone saying that this is WAAYY too much parking must not frequent any garages in LoDo. The garages a block away are often at capacity and have to turn cars away. The statement that everyone is moving to public transit is just not accurate.

    • Bobby says:

      And when you are trying to lease a building to a prospective tenant, parking and access is a huge draw. I guarantee a tenant would pick a building with a lot of available parking vs a building without. It all comes down to what will help lease the space.