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Denver Union Station: Final Update – Grand Opening

Here we are. After all these years we have finally made it to our final updates on the huge and incredible, Denver Union Station project. So how exactly do you wrap a project up of this scale? Instead of just wrapping up in a single post, we will have multiple posts throughout the week: revisiting some milestones of the project, sharing personal experiences, and of course providing ample amounts of photos in each post! To kick off the week, let’s start with the grand opening ceremonies that took place this last weekend!

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Fountains! The new fountains on Wynkoop Plaza were a huge hit on Saturday. Throughout the day, children played in the water and ran back and forth on Wynkoop Plaza as the jets shot water high and low.

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Wynkoop Street between 16th Street and 18th Street was closed allowing for tents, food trucks, and a stage. The activation of this entire space was as great as everyone would have hoped; pedestrians activating both the plaza and the street.

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Here are some above views of the opening ceremonies. Most of the attention was focused toward the south and central part of Wynkoop Plaza, asking the question, what’s going on with the north end of the plaza? There are two main reasons for the lack of activation. One, the 18th Street Pedestrian bridge is still not open and two, finishing touches are still underway such as adding movable tables and chairs. There is no set timeframe for these two things however, like all newly completed projects, things can only get better.

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Dana Crawford front and center! The short ceremony attracted a big crowd and as soon as the speeches were over, people lined up with their tickets to check out the inside of the historic station.

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As expected, there were waves of people moving throughout the station. Visitors had full access to the ground floor with all of the retail in the Great Hall open. For a complete look around the historic station, head on over to our coverage from the soft opening!

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What exactly is going on in the historic station? It’s part train station and part living room. There are benches, couches, and comfy chairs for passengers and passerby to relax, grab a bite to eat, and enjoy a refreshing drink. This is a concept that has never been done and is completely experimental. Time will tell how well this concept will work in the historic station but for the time being, it is incredibly neat!

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Here is a sampling of the retail spaces along the Great Hall. The spaces are small yet very functional with a very large variety of commodities, from food to books to boutique outlets.

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Because there are so many retail spaces around the station, there is a lot to explore! Have you found this awesome sign yet?

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That’s a wrap on our grand opening coverage! Stay tuned for many more pictures, and posts throughout the week!

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18 Comments

  1. Ryan Nee says:

    I’m mostly thrilled with the historic station renovation, and much of it has actually turned out much better than I envisioned. It is finally possible to picture how the whole DUS project will feel once the neighborhood settles in a little but around it.

    However, it does seem like there are still a few fairly major kinks to work out. All of these seem fairly easily solvable, so I’m not too worried:

    1. The public versus private space distinction needs to be much stronger in the historic station. I’m not concerned about the hotel lobby-like furnishings, but I do think they signal expectations poorly. As a daily bus rider, can I sit in the Amtrak waiting area? Almost certainly. Can I sit in the couches adjacent to the Amtrak seats? Maybe. Can I play shuffleboard while I wait for my bus without buying anything at the bar? Presumably not. There needs to be a clearer delineation between the terminal bar and the totally public spaces. Maybe this distinction is coming once the opening parties die down? It could just be some low partition walls dividing the space much more clearly, rather than just relying in furniture.

    2. There is not enough space for people waiting for the Amtrak. If you have seen people waiting for the train in the last few weeks, you may have seen them sprawled out across the floor because there are not enough benches already. I love that the terminal bar has a lot of presence in the room, but it’s crazy that it is coming completely at the expense of the room’s most basic purpose. Especially once more train lines open, the configuration of 75% terminal bar and 25% waiting area is going to get unsustainable very quickly. I’d rather see that ratio at more like 50/50, or even less.

    3. The bridge over the tracks should really be open by now. I’m a daily user of Union Station and access over the tracks is really necessary for a functional station, even if the commuter rail lines have not yet opened. Presumably, having this bridge open would cost more money in security and maintenance (e.g. graffiti removal), but I hope they’re not waiting until the airport line is completed to open up the bridge, because it would benefit all pedestrians in the area, not just train riders.

    4. I like the jazzy background music within the historic station, and I would love to see some of that extended to the underground bus terminal. It sounds like a funeral is about to happen down there.

    5. I think RTD, Amtrak, and Grayhound need to get their digital signage coordinated so people can figure out where different modes of transportation are going next. Currently Amtrak, Commuter Rail, Light Rail, and Bus are being treated as totally separate entities because they are in separate physical spaces. If I’m at any part of the station, it seems like I should have visibility into any vehicles traveling anywhere: a Grayhound to Dallas, a bus to Boulder, the light rail to Golden, the train to the airport, the Amtrak to Chicago, or the MallRide up the street.

    The great news is that all of these issues could be solved with a few benches, walls, signage, and a Muzak subscription. I’m excited to see how the station grows and shifts in the next few months as it responds to real-life usage. Regardless, I feel like these are minor quibbles in what has overall been a spectacular project, and a huge shift in the right direction for our city. Thanks for all the updates over the years Ken, Ryan, and the rest of the DenverInfill crew!

    • SPR8364 says:

      I hope that in item number 1, the public / private part of the station is most definitely not delineated. They should allow people to mingle and not worry about policing who sits where. I can maybe see that for the tables in the “beer garden” which is already quite clear. But as a traveler I would like to sit in the comfy chairs and as a hotel patron, I would might like to sit in the benches and watch the train. I think this lobby is more like a food court with lots of options for sitting. I don’t really think there is intended to be any public vs private space.

    • Ron Ariba says:

      3) “The bridge over the tracks should really be open by now”.

      I believe that they are having yet another Grand, Grand opening for the bridge. LOL Seriously, I have been told that they are waiting for a sculpture to arrive and placed on the bridge. Lame excuse IMHO. The Rookies fans would surely benefit by having the bridge open at this time.

      Also, several of the platforms are still blocked off to the public and fences are still up in the back. In addition, you never know when the fountains will be on or off. They have installed an a few bicycle racks, but none in the back.

      Still a work in process.

      • Ron Ariba says:

        Good news; the fences in the back of the station have been removed. Bad news; from what I have been able to gather, the Bar on the Mezzanine level is still off limit for the next 2-weeks or longer to the general public. The stairs to the Mezzanine are blocked off, “authorized personnel only”. There is security guard to move you along.

      • Marc W says:

        You can walk around the station on the southern side, which is great – better access from the Riverfront area to Wynkoop Street – but it is odd that the bridge isn’t open yet. It’s clearly completed on both sides.

        I do agree the delineation of public and private space in the station itself is confusing. It looks a bit mismatched. But the beautiful bar and the cool new restaurants, as well as the beautifully refurbished space itself, make up for things that can be easily fixed.

    • Nathanael says:

      #2 especially. The space delineated for people waiting for trains & buses needs to be at least doubled. A waiting room needs to be a waiting room.

      #5 as well. It should be possible to see a complete departures list somewhere! Even if it has to be done with multiple screens, the screens should be adjacent!

  2. Michael says:

    Did you notice if there were any outlets in the lounge area? If so, it would be a nice place to do work if you had the flexibility to do so.

  3. Mark says:

    Thanks for all the coverage of the Union Station restoration.

    One of the major features of the Great Hall that I thought would be present (and was part of the initial renderings published earlier this year) were the historic wooden benches. I read in a Westword article that the old benches had to be scrapped because they discovered asbestos in most of them. This was due to the heating system. Has anyone else heard about the fate of those benches?

    • Ted says:

      I’ve heard several people express this sentiment, but I have to wonder… how historic were those benches really? Does anybody have it on authority that they were actually historic? The benches were outfitted with florescent lighting, power outlets, and a built-in ventilation system. I suppose these all could have theoretically been retrofits, but if it’s true the benches had asbestos, then I would guess that these were in fact from the mid-20th century… I certainly never got warm, fuzzy, “historic” vibes from them.

      I suppose “historic” is in the eye of the beholder; mid-century is historic in one context of the word. But I highly doubt that they were as historic as the rest of the station that was preserved. I presume that the ORIGINAL historic benches had more of the kind of Victorian ornamentation that characterizes the rest of the station; not the austere look that those benches had. They were probably closer to the brand new black benches actually. Keep in mind that those hideous mid-century chandeliers could also be considered “historic”; but that doesn’t make them original. And it seems that this renovation was actually an attempt to wipe away those mid-century modernist elements.

      • Nathanael says:

        Even if they were “historic”, that type of bench (with the embedded heating system) was a dime-a-dozen. There are better preserved examples in other train stations, particularly Sacramento.

  4. Dan B says:

    Thank you for all the updates of the station. I was there on Saturday and loved the energy, the number of people enjoying the station and the place looks outstanding. The Terminal Bar looks incredible and I love the furniture. I also was wondering about the delineation of space….what is considered public and what is private space, and how can the Station be a place that is welcoming to all but it doesn’t become a homeless shelter.

  5. Kyle Dobbins says:

    Ryan, you hit the nail on the head with the waiting area. I stopped by just before the grand opening, and the one thing that struck me is how little the depot seems to function like a train station anymore. Don’t get me wrong, its gorgeous, and I think once the neighborhood is built up the neighborhood and the station itself will thrive, but in the meantime the focus seems to be more on “can I sit and have a drink” rather than “can I catch a train or bus.” Until the trains arrive in 2016, this may be more beneficial though.

  6. Alejandro De La Vega says:

    I disagree with a stronger delineation of public and private space. It’s a station after all so I think if possible most space should be “public” except that you have the bonus of being able to get a drink from the Terminal Bar and drink it in that public space. I hate how in the US we need to build little fencer to separate bars from public space. I think the space would be more welcoming for everyone if we took a hint from Europe here. I definitely felt like I could play shuffleboard while waiting for a bus. It’s a station first and foremost.

  7. Jim Nash says:

    We walked around, had drinks and snacks in the Caboose Lounge, sat on the couches in Denver’s living room, loved it! People watching, even during the rain, fun. It just gets better, when the trains arrive…

  8. Clark says:

    Beautiful renovation overall, but I did I miss the “transit” in Union Station lobby itself? Aside from and Amtrak office stuffed in a corner, this is nothing more than another shopping mall/food court. Likely what the public desires, and as a shopping mall/food court it’s nicer than most and likely will tire faster than most. And the lobby is overcrowded with stuff, it feels small rather than spacious with the overcrowded and mismatched decor. We also overheard a guard tell a group waiting for an Amtrak train that they needed to move to the benches as they were in one of the bars seating area. Yes, really, not so public friendly a space as the media spin. If the entire lobby is a public space, then any public member should be allowed to sit anywhere they want.

    Plus, didn’t the Union Station Alliance, when they made their proposal to the public agencies awarding the renovation, state the model train displays would have a home in the new station? And where are those displays? Found out they were kicked to the curb by the alliance. I hope the Alliances’s public subsidies got kicked to the curb too. Developers duping the taxpayers again.

    Its a beautifully executed renovation overall. Media spin calls it Denver’s living room. I’d like to correct them and say if you consider the Cherry Creek Mall another of Denver’s living rooms, then okay you could be right. Personally, it’s just another place of commerce, and you can sit and relax in this living room if your wallet is open and cash exiting. Otherwise, you’ll be asked to move over to the Amtrak benches……until they ask to see your ticket.

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      Clark, thanks for your comment. The seating area in the great hall is open to anyone, but the benches were place there along the west wall specifically with Amtrak and other transit customers in mind. Also, the Union Station Alliance wanted the model railroad clubs to be in the basement. However, they needed to move out while renovations were taking place and, from what I understand, the clubs were not capable of signing a lease.

  9. Richard says:

    I had a chance to check out the new interior of Denver Union Station this weekend. It looks fantastic. It felt a bit cluttered, though, with all of the furniture and a shuffleboard table right in the middle of the hall. Other than that, the place looks amazing. Here is short video clip from this weekend:

    http://youtu.be/rPmTwqo5_IY