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Denver Union Station Update #128: The Historic Station Opens!

As we near our final update on the Denver Union Station redevelopment, there is one final milestone in the project that has been reached: the historic station is now open to the public! On Saturday July 12th, Union Station had a soft opening, meaning only a portion of the ground floor retail and amenities inside the building are open. The grand opening and block party will be on July 26th!

To sum it up in a few words, the inside of the historic station looks absolutely incredible. Everything from the new benches and couches, to the historically accurate chandeliers, this building has gone through a complete transformation. I encourage you to head to our post from December 2012 to see the before photos!

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There will be two bars in the station. One on the ground floor and the other on the mezzanine level. The ‘Terminal Bar’ on the ground floor will feature benches on the outside as well as a seating room inside the bar.

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The second level bar will feature multiple couches and chairs along the eastern portion of the mezzanine. Bar seating is also available with a great view of 17th Street!

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The ground floor retail outside the station is done incredibly well. The patios hug the station closely with entrances scattered throughout the wing buildings.

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Last but not least, here are two views I was able to capture from the mezzanine level; one from a hotel room looking towards the Union Station neighborhood and the other from the mezzanine bar!

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This project will be complete by July 26th! We will see you at the grand opening! As the date nears, we will provide you with more information and details about the event.

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54 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    Denver should be proud, most cities will never have a chance to have a great project like this. On a side note I would like to thank Ken and everyone else at Denver Infill. I have been keeping my 79 year old Mother and 104 year old grandmother up to date with this project through your web site. They can’t wait to go down there to see all the changes. They both use to ride in and out of Denver on the trains dating back to the 1920′s.

  2. Charles Wingerter says:

    I believe we are witnessing the birth of a brand new destination in Denver. The cool factor of the renovated depot combined with transit accessibility certain guarantee high usage of this vital piece of civic infrastructure.
    However, the retail and restaurant choices, as well as the programming for the plaza, need to be well executed and closely mirror market demand in order for the area to flourish and develop a strong market identity.
    Obviously, time will tell if the current mix of tenants will add or detract from the vibrancy of the Union Station.
    Regardless, this project is something we can be proud of, it restores a classic piece of architecture to its former glory, and creates a stream of revenue and draws visitors that may not have been capitalized on.
    We are lucky that our populace is still willing to make investments in projects like these, and I think we’ll reap a 10 fold return over time.

  3. Rob says:

    I’m so glad the station is now open. I love the bright white interior – it makes the main hall seem so much bigger, though it might be nice to see some sort of colorful artwork installed to counterbalance the stark white – murals or even some prominent framed pieces. Other than that, I found myself wondering what purpose the 12 white columns serve, aside from being secondary light sources – it seems they will ultimately hinder movement in the space. Of course, most train stations have open central spaces to facilitate movement – and the day may come when there are so many commuters and travelers using the facility freedom of movement will be necessary. I also liked the new benches, the espresso color compliments the bright paint and the high backs are a nice nod to the original benches. But I do wonder how long those fabric chairs and sofas will last – while they may be appropriate for a hotel lobby, they don’t seem very appropriate for a public train hall. Lastly, does anyone know if the floors will be cleaned and polished to further enhance the brilliance of the space? They seemed awfully dull and worn when I visited this morning.

  4. Jc says:

    Hi Ryan – I am so glad I found these photos posted today. Thank you. These photos look really great. I feel better seeing these, but, I was there staying at the Crawford last night and I saw our train hall in person and unfortunately does not look as nice as the wide lens and color enhancement feature of the camera allow. Seeing it with my own eyes, the hall is cluttered with WAY too much furniture that appears clumsily placed. Some of the couches look to be of lesser quality with gaps in between the modular pieces. The whole seating area is roped off so I don’t know what is the design for use? Also, I really noticed that although they look good in the photos above, the floors are not polished or refinished at all (yet?) They were dirty and dull and I even saw tape residue. Please, can you offer any insight to what is left to be completed in our train hall? I thought this historic space was going to be preserved as it was – open and spacious like all beautiful historic train halls are preserved – (Grand Central Station). I must admit right now I am disappointed and others I was speaking with felt the same.

  5. Ron Ariba says:

    Overall a great job by all involved in preserving Union Station. However, I am saddened that the old benches were not utilized as promised. I heard two excuses: 1) they were contaminated with asbestos. IMHO that is lame. Surely they could have found a way to clean and encapsulate the asbestos, and 2) they were uncomfortable. The second disappointment was model Rail Road club not returning to the basement. This would have been a great attraction for grownup and kids.

    • Michael In Denver says:

      I agree. In the spectacular renovation of the amazing Seattle train station the original lighted benches (almost identical to Denver’s) were kept. I think the excuses that were given for them not being used is lame.

  6. Lance Newcomb says:

    Looks really nice but I have three huge disappointments:
    Model Railroad club was not invited back.
    A bar in the main hall.
    None of the old benches were reused.

  7. Ron Ariba says:

    Really like the photo’s with the special effect. Would you share the camera used and the settings. They look like drawings. Very nice, specially the one from the bar looking out at 17th street.

    • Ryan Dravitz says:

      There weren’t any ‘special effects’ applied to the photos. All of the photos were processed through lightroom with exposure / highlight / shadow adjustments. With the bar view, I stacked a light and dark exposed photo so you could see what was out the window along with the well lit bar! Doing that gave the photo a more ‘HDR’, painting effect. :)

      • Excellent photographs and use of Lightroom. The bar shot feels like an illustration with the light on 17th street looking like after noon at the same time that morning shadows are coming in the wonderful windows. That’s going to be a very stylish spot to enjoy Marcel’s special cocktails.

  8. CN says:

    Are those really shuffleboard tables serving as the lobby centerpiece?

  9. TakeFive says:

    All I gotta say is those aren’t iPhone pics.
    Wonderful photo work.

  10. Bruce says:

    It is definitely more hotel bar and lobby than train waiting room, which changes the feel of it but keeps much more activity for more hours in the hall. I understand this was the intent as our train traffic through the hall will be small for many years.

    Shuffleboard is an odd choice. I’ll be interested to hear how management of the hall progresses given train passengers, bar patrons and hotel guests?!

    Bruce

  11. Ted says:

    Keep in mind that the entire mid-section of the great hall is still roped off, which may make it feel more cluttered since you cannot pass through that central space yet. Having spent MANY hours sitting in this lobby waiting for Amtrak trains, I must also point out that the benches were neither historic (they were about as historic as those ugly old chandeliers), nor was the space ever “open.” It used to be horribly cluttered with those ugly, uncomfortable old benches save for a single center aisle. I was in there on Saturday and was nothing but impressed with what I saw.

    I think it will begin to feel much more “public” once the soft open is over and the entire space becomes accessible. Right now the only accessible parts of the entire room are the edges and the black train benches toward the back doors, and this absolutely affects the way the space feels. If I were still an Amtrak rider, or a commuter line rider for that matter, I would MUCH prefer sitting in this new great hall to the old one. Keep in mind that this is NOT the only way to pass from the train platforms to the surrounding neighborhood, and will primarily function as a place to sit/wait for a train (or have a drink before heading to the airport, say); so it doesn’t need to allow for as much foot traffic as a station like Grand Central. Daily commuters will likely just walk around the bldg and not go inside.

  12. Jay says:

    I love that this is update #128. Denverinfill.com has done a great job of covering Union Station. Thanks to you all!

  13. BallPark resident says:

    Whoever painted the ceilings at the Venetian in Las Vegas could do a great job on this large white ceiling of the Union Station. Something to make it pleasing to the eye. It just seems so blank right now..

  14. Mark B. says:

    I agree generally that the furniture arrangement looks scattershot, but I’m assuming it has to do with the aftermath of Friday’s party–drunk people will move things around a lot. What I find most surprising is that there are seating areas at all, since the hotel was advertised as being without a lobby–and what is a lobby in a hotel but a busy public area with seating areas? In reality, while there is no traditional front desk for check-in, clearly, this hotel has a lobby.

    While I will reserve judgment until everything is open and filled with people, I will express concern that the benches and tables in front of the Terminal Bar look cheap and temporary–and I hope they’re merely rentals left over from the party. When I first saw them before enlarging the pictures, I thought they were risers for a choir to stand on. Then I realized they were seating with tables. If they stay, the Terminal Bar will look no better than the Denver Beer Company. That aesthetic is fine for outdoor beer drinking on Platte Street, but hardly befits this room. I think the new Amtrak seating looks great, however.

    • Jim Nash says:

      Agree Mark B, the benches and tables in front of the Terminal Bar are very low-grade — but the neo-retro benches are very nice. Looks like over-all, several people got involved in “designing” his terminal/hotel lobby. It’s a mess. The old saying comes to mind, that A camel is a horse, designed by a committee.

      • Bryan says:

        Agreed….I expect by 7/26 we’ll see more high-back benches, less clutter, no more high school benches, and an information kiosk / ticket sales in the middle….has anybody noticed a “big-board” yet?

        • Rob says:

          I have a feeling the two Amtrak boards situated on the west side of the hall are the only arrival/departure boards which will be present in the hall – and they seem sufficient to convey applicable Amtrak information. But, better signage directing commuters to other transit locations also seems warranted.

          We can only hope that the low grade bleacher seating in front of Terminal Bar is replaced with more appropriate tables and chairs and that the cluttered cheap looking mismatched sofas, chairs and tables in the center are either entirely removed (or if deemed absolutely necessary to have an adjunct hotel lobby in the center of the public space) replaced with more stylish and complimentary seating – how about black or espresso colored leather chairs. Right now, the eclectic styles, colors and designs of those furnishings look like used furniture bought at several different garage sales. I do hope the current items and arrangements were just the leftover result of the gala fundraiser and not an actual design plan. Otherwise, I seriously question exactly who the ‘designer’ was because they must have no real design experience – my dentist’s office is more appealing.

          And one last décor gripe – I hope those threadbare rugs will be removed, not only do they look like they’ve seen better days – many, many years ago, they also pose a trip hazard. And, again, clean and polish the floors – the average supermarket has cleaner and brighter floors.

          While the planners, designers and developers have done a lot of work, they must remember that this is a public space and therefore needs to serve the needs of all the people using it, not just the hotel owners. And don’t forget in just a few years, this room will also serve as the first stop for many visitors from around the world, do we really want them to think the best Denver can offer is a mismatched jumble of used old furniture and rugs?

        • Ron Ariba says:

          You will not see an information kiosk/ticket sales in the middle of the terminal.

  15. Earl T says:

    Mark B hits it on the head. Clutter and low quality furniture. Apart from that the paint and freshness of it looks great, though. I am not sure how they did so well on the building and so poorly on the furniture. Odd….

  16. Jc says:

    My biggest question is the status on the floor. When I was there it clearly had not been restored yet. Does anyone know what is being done?

    • Ron Ariba says:

      There is nothing wrong with the floors. What would you have them do, replace them? This is not new built but restoration, big difference.

      • Paul says:

        A coat of wax and some polishing would be nice. While they obviously have had some restoration work done, they do look rather dingy and dull. Nothing that a buffer can’t take care of.

      • Buffalobirdie says:

        Absolutely keep the floors! But I agree that these are definitely not shining and not restored. I was there and they were extremely dull. They were obviously not polished and I even saw thick tape residue. There are areas of wear that have not been repaired. I know others have commented to this point as well. One woman said “are these linoleum?” Don’t get me wrong, most of the restoration is really lovely. But if you walk in to see the restoration completed at the old Colorado Bank you’ll see the difference! Those floors have been restored and are absolutely shimmering and stunning. That is not the case with our Great Hall.

      • Jc says:

        I just Googled the renovation done with Seattle’s King Street Station. Wow! Look at the restoration job done on those floors. That is what I am talking about.

        • Rob says:

          Wow! Seattle wins! That’s a gorgeous restoration. The great hall is clean, bright, spacious and open, great lighting and beautiful floors too. And, it looks like they kept their original high backed benches or installed very close replicas. This is a class act restoration across the board.

          Though I’m so glad our union station building wasn’t destroyed, I’m sorry to say that it was never in this league. And, while I’m impressed by and grateful for the efforts that have been put forth so far to re-energize our station, the ‘living room’ concept with the questionable attempt at shabby chic décor for the hall (which sadly is or is intended to serve only the hotel guests) is woefully misguided in my opinion. I hope that the design and décor plan is reconsidered – if not in the near future, at least by the time the DIA opens.

          • Jc says:

            Yep. **Sigh** That is what I think everyone had envisioned for our Hall. Seattle won several architectural and historic preservation awards. Most of our hall was done impeccably well.. but whoever was in charge of the floor restoration and overall staging of that space… the furniture… shuffleboards… I don’t know how that happened.

          • Paul says:

            Seattle’s looks amazing, but where are the people? It’s a great renovation but there didn’t seem to be any attempt to activate the station by bringing in retail or other uses. It is true that King’s Station does see more use simply because the Amtrak routes through Seattle are utilized to a greater degree than the route through Denver because you have more population along the corridors, but it still looks like it’s going to remain a somewhat empty, but beautiful station.

            That they reused to old benches is a nice touch, but it’s a completely different situation that at Union Station. You can see that the King Station benches are just that: plain benches. The old benches at Union Station had integrated lighting and heating with the heating ducts, laden with asbestos, venting directly into the benches. These integrated ducts were the benches ultimate downfall.

  17. Ron Ariba says:

    One thing I did recently notice is that they have made no accommodations for bicycles. Bicycles are locked to every tree, parking meter, and patio fence in the development. I did not see any bicycle rack or locker. Hopefully they will address this issue soon.

  18. Mike Schalk says:

    Having been around the depot many times in the past 25 years – I’d have to say the place looks no better – only cleaner. The atmosphere looks like a flea market inside and can’t for the life of me understand why they did not replicate the original colors of the room. About 15 years ago, someone put posters on the walls with duct tape (!) – when they pulled it off, all the paint came off with it and the most beautiful prairie style stencilwork in multiple colors was exposed for a few weeks until painted over again. It was THAT which I was hoping to see…

    • Buffalobirdie says:

      Well, personally, I think it looks infinitely better. I have before and after pics and I have to say, for the most part, the transformation is absolutely beautiful. In my opinion, as far as the paint; comparing the brown walls and trim that is now painted soft white, the soft white allows the detail of the carved columbines to be really stand out. Before when they were brown you could not see the intricate detail at all. Anyway. I would like to see a photo of that original stencil work you are referring to!

  19. Downtown Resident says:

    I am also disappointed by the conflicting demands on the lobby. I am most disappointed however by the back of house feel of the corridors off of the main train hall and kitchen exhausts greeting passengers getting off of the air train. The whole flow is very clumsy and awkward. This is no ferry building.

  20. Jc says:

    I went down last night to get some pictures and to see how they cleaned it up after the gala last weekend. It looks a hundred times better and I felt somewhat relieved. All the furniture (which is actually very good quality) was rearranged appropriately and did not look ‘scatter shot.’ That said, the floors are still beat up and dull. I can only hope they do an excellent wax and buffing job on them before the 26th. And as for the whole concept of “Denver’s living room” I do understand that, but our Great Hall should shine as the iconic monument to the city of Denver. It is going to be the first thing people see when they get off that train from the airport or where ever. Instead of walking into a soaring and elegant introduction to the city of Denver, people will be merely walking into a very nice hotel lobby. All that said, I am amazed at the transformation of what was a sad parking lot and an empty Great Hall with peeling paint and florescent garage light boxes overhead. For the most part – this is an amazing transformation and I am proud to have seen it from the very beginning!

  21. RonAriba says:

    It would be in RDT interest to hire a reputable public relation firm. Here are the top ten items that need to be addressed:

    1) Why is the interior still roped off and limited to hotel guests only?
    2) Why is there a sign on the north main door saying Hotel Guest only?
    3) Why is the following sign posted on one of the door “During Rockies Game BACK GATES CLOSED. NO TRUWAY TO WEWATTA STREET”? This in it self would not be so bad if the bridge over the tracks would be open to access Wewatta Street.\
    4) Why is the bridge over the track still not open? It was completed months ago.
    5) Why is the Clock not working and one pane a different color? On the bright side at lease it is right twice a day.
    6) Why still all the construction fences prohibiting access to the bridge and platforms?
    7) Why no bicycle racks around the station?
    8) Why is there no WiFi in the under ground bus terminal?
    9) Why the limited restroom facilities for all the thousands of traveling public in the terminal?
    10)Why is the upstairs bar still limited to hotel guest, since the stairs are roped off?

    Bottom line I am sure it will all get worked out in the end and it is a welcome addition to LODO. However, the general public at this time has certainly not been made to feel welcome to the terminal. They could have done a much better job managing the situation.

    ps. Not a RDT issue, but why is AMTRACK always 2-8 hours late?

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      1) Why is the interior still roped off and limited to hotel guests only?
      That’s only until the 26th. They’re still doing some minor work in that area.

      2) Why is there a sign on the north main door saying Hotel Guest only?
      I assume it’s because since they’re still doing a lot of final finishing touches, they want to limit the crowds inside the station until the 26th.
      3) Why is the following sign posted on one of the door “During Rockies Game BACK GATES CLOSED. NO TRUWAY TO WEWATTA STREET”? This in it self would not be so bad if the bridge over the tracks would be open to access Wewatta Street.
      That will go away when the bridge opens.
      4) Why is the bridge over the track still not open? It was completed months ago.
      I think it’s because they are getting ready to install the large piece of public art up on the bridge. There may be other reasons–not sure.
      5) Why is the Clock not working and one pane a different color? On the bright side at lease it is right twice a day.
      They are finishing up the punch-list items. That is probably one of them.
      6) Why still all the construction fences prohibiting access to the bridge and platforms?
      Final finishing touches are still in progress.
      7) Why no bicycle racks around the station?
      They haven’t installed them yet. They are finalizing the number and location. Shouldn’t be too much longer.
      8) Why is there no WiFi in the under ground bus terminal?
      There was an article in the Post about that recently. It’s coming.
      9) Why the limited restroom facilities for all the thousands of traveling public in the terminal?
      Not sure.
      10)Why is the upstairs bar still limited to hotel guest, since the stairs are roped off?
      After the 26th, the upstairs bar will be limited to hotel guests until 4:00 PM, after which it will be open to the public. Similar to the Cruise Room in the Oxford.

      Patience! There will probably be tweaks and minor additions/revisions to the project’s many facets over the coming months.

  22. Jim Nash says:

    We all love this grand old terminal. In 1948, starting age four, I sat many times on those strange, tall, uncomfortable benches, waiting to board the California Zephur, eastbound to Mom’s small Nebraska hometown, Minden. Made the trip a dozen times, and watched the decline of Union Station even then.

    In later years, we boarded from a kind of cellar under the northeast wing, downstairs from the restaurant, a greasy spoon. We had to drag our suitcases up a flight of concrete stairs to the platform. Rail travel was dying, and air travel expanding fast.

    Now we come full circle. Rail roars back. Denver is in its second airport. Air passengers will take the train downtown, to step off into… what?

    We thank Dana Crawford for re-claiming the terminal as a hotel. Ideal for travelers. As airport passengers begin arriving, we know she will make it flow. More trains, more room to walk inside. With all the additional heavy rail lines will come many more passengers, who will walk through the terminal hall. A hall. Maybe less and less lobby, as the travel circle closes.

    So this keystone project is what makes infill happen. Larimer Square kicked off LoDo, and Union Station drives dense development.

  23. Bennett says:

    Someone needs to paint that ceiling…

  24. Ted says:

    I don’t mean to complain about complaining here, but overall I’m rather shocked how overwhelmingly negative the comments have been so far. How many people have actually been inside the hall and not just looked at these pictures? When I was in there I was absolutely blown away by what I saw. The space felt incredibly public and inviting… on the scale of a national caliber attraction like Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I was actually impressed with how well hidden the hotel elements really are, and it didn’t feel AT ALL like a “hotel lobby” to me. Just because they used traditional furniture like leather couches doesn’t make it “unfriendly to public use” or even “cluttered” for that matter… at least not in my opinion. What’s wrong with putting furniture, or restaurants in a waiting area anyway? Isn’t that exactly what the space is supposed to be used for?

    I think many people here are projecting their own personal design judgements rather than thinking about this objectively, and are focusing way too much on the little details rather than the big picture. 99% of users are not architecture buffs and will approach the space with no preconceived notions of what a train station “should be,” and thank god for that! Not every train station has to be a replica of Grand Central, and not every “great hall” is meant to function as a pass-through indoor plaza. Personally, I couldn’t even imagine the space without ample, comfortable seating and plenty of choices of restaurants and bars. That would be like having an airport terminal with no retail… ridiculous.

    • Rob says:

      Ted, I don’t mean to be contradictory, but if you really read over most of the above comments, you will note that the majority of the comments entered by myself and many others are not categorically negative, rather, the vast majority of those comments express gratitude and enthusiasm for most of the work completed on DUS thus far, but, also contain points of constructive criticism for elements that in the personal opinion of the commentators miss the high points that so many of us had hoped to see executed during the renovation. This in itself is not inherently negative, just mildly critical and perhaps hopeful of what might yet be achieved. I for one have actually visited the station since it’s reveal and have entered my various comments with full knowledge of what I have observed with my own eyes. And, I’m not ashamed to say that I do hope that the floors will be cleaned and polished and made to gleam as they should and likely once did and I also hope that the furnishings and light columns currently clustered in the central space are reconsidered and either removed or upgraded to a style that I feel is befitting of the grandness of the station. But I completely understand that not everyone has the same taste, so I have no problem with saying “to each their own”. You may feel that the décor and layout of the space as it currently is meets your full expectation, but many others don’t, that doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong, nor does it mean that the great majority of us are not actually very pleased with the tremendous efforts that have been expended on the grand old station thus far, we just hope for a bit more enhancement to the décor and appearance of this rare public space. I for one love this building and always have – some of my earliest memories revolve around this structure and I just want the very best for it and want it to be seen as impressive by both area residents and visitors.

  25. Jeffrey says:

    While I’m concerned about public spaces being turned into shopping centers, I do like the “high school” benches in front of the bar. These are likely to promote social interaction among patrons.

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