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Lower Downtown: Z Block Update #1

In January 2014, we reported on Z Block, a new mixed-use development in Lower Downtown that would remove nearly a half block of ugly surface parking from the historic Windsor Dairy block. Z Block was proposed by McWhinney in cooperation with the brokerage team at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank and property owner Grand American.

The original Z Block concept included a new office building along the entire Wazee Street side of the block, and multifamily residential in a new building fronting a portion of the Blake Street side, with the two components connected by spanning over the alley and forming a T-shaped project site.

With this update, there are two major changes to the project. First, Denver-based Sage Hospitality, operators of the historic Oxford Hotel and the newly opened Crawford Hotel at Denver Union Station, have joined the development team. Consequently, the second major change: the residential component of the project has been dropped, a hotel component added, and the uses rearranged on the block.

The new eight-story Z Block Hotel will occupy the corner of 19th and Wazee and offer 170 rooms. The 6-story office component will now have an L-shaped footprint, fronting most of the Wazee side of the block and spanning across the alley to the Blake Street side.

We have a bunch of brand-new renderings to share with you, courtesy of the nice people at McWhinney, Dovetail Solutions, Shears Adkins Rockmore (designers of the office component) and JG Johnson Architects (designers of the hotel component):

The corner of 18th and Wazee showing the office component that extends for about two-thirds along the Wazee Street frontage:

2014-08-19_z-block-wazee-office1

A close-up of the center part of the Wazee side showing the main office entry:

2014-08-19_z-block-wazee-office2

The Z Block Hotel anchoring the corner of 19th and Wazee:

2014-08-19_z-block-wazee-hotel1

Closer view of the hotel at 19th and Wazee:

2014-08-19_z-block-wazee-hotel2

From the corner of 19th and Blake, the view of the hotel on the right and, on the left, the portion of the office space that spans across the alley to the Blake Street side:

2014-08-19_z-block-19th-hotel

View from 18th and Blake showing the office component in the center of the block and the alley side of the Wazee building:

2014-08-19_z-block-blake-office2

Finally, a close-up of the offices facing Blake Street:

2014-08-19_z-block-blake-office1

The project also includes 400 underground parking spaces and 30,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

In my opinion, this is a wise move by Sage Hospitality and McWhinney. With Sage already operating what are arguably two of Downtown Denver’s most prestigious boutique hotels in amazing historic structures with the Oxford and the Crawford, the addition of the Z Block Hotel gives Sage a third property—in this case a modern facility in a sleek new building—and over 360 rooms within three blocks of each other all between Union Station and Coors Field in the heart of Lower Downtown. Smart.

Z Block is scheduled to be completed by September 2016.

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29 Comments

  1. TakeFive says:

    Awesome!.!

    “Z Block Hotel” – If that is the actual name, I like it.

    • Ken Schroeppel says:

      I don’t know if that’s the official name, but it’s as good of a name to go with for now.

  2. Bryan says:

    BEAUTIFUL…love how the facade is broken up to look like various smaller buildings.

    • TakeFive says:

      I don’t recall the previous discussion or what they own along Blake Street, but it appears that they will scrape the two one-story buildings but keep the rest. That has to please those that much prefer to preserve. Very satisfying.

      • Ken Schroeppel says:

        Those two one-story buildings in the middle of the Blake Street side of the block are non-contributing structures to the LoDo Historic District and can be demolished with approval. The other Blake Street buildings are contributing, so they’re definitely staying. Grand American owns the whole block I believe.

    • Freddie says:

      I agree! The way it’s broken up makes it. It really helps it fit in with the neighborhood. But even if it didn’t need to fit in with any particularly charming neighborhood because it was way out on Brighton Blvd or something, I think it would still be of great benefit to break up the facade. It just gives the block so much more character.

      There are some very plain filler projects that people like to complain about. And then there are some really nice ones. This is a nice one!

  3. Nathanael says:

    Nicest frontage in the block in the modeling is the one with the curved window tops. Maybe it really is that simple to make buildings look nice…

    http://www.fastcodesign.com/3020075/why-our-brains-love-curvy-architecture

    But nobody does it. Throw in a few curves, it doesn’t cost that much…

  4. Ryan Nee says:

    This project is fantastic. Plus, those little alternating window frame things on the right side of the last two renderings are totally delightful.

  5. Tyler says:

    While I certainly applaud any effort towards infill in Denver, I must admit that I find this project to be awful in so many different ways, with very few positives.

    Firstly, the demolition of what appears to be four buildings on the whole block (two on Blake, one on 18th, and one on Wazee) is saddening. The fact that these buildings are “non-contributing” to the LoDo Historic District means nothing. None of the four are grand buildings whose history and architecture alone merit their saving and/or adaptive reuse, such as Union Station or the Colorado National Bank building. However, each building is still unique and interesting. I’m not sure if the buildings are “non-contributing” because they are not quite as old as the “contributing” buildings of LoDo, but they are still older buildings. Why tear them down when they can still serve a purpose? Aren’t charming brick buildings like these part of the reason people enjoy and treasure LoDo so much? Because they and hundreds of others were spared from the wrecking ball in the 70’s, Denver now has a beautiful and historic asset to its downtown. What made us save these buildings by implementing the Historic District in the first place if we only intended to tear them down 50 years later? Why is it that with so many disgusting surface parking lots in Denver’s urban core, I continually log-on to DenverInfill to read about another building demolished when there is often a parking lot across the street whose development could more greatly improve the urban fabric of the city (i.e. The Lab on Platte)? And the apathy of DenverInfill readers, and indeed Denver Citizens alike, is astounding. After all, this is “DenverInfill” not “DenverReplacement”.

    This leads to my next point. Why do developers continue to throw up (pun intended) buildings that look boring and ugly in this uninteresting modern-box architectural trend we are experiencing? New buildings that actually stray from this path seem to be the most heralded. So why do these blasé buildings keep popping up everywhere? Beside the fact that the architecture of Z Block is awful and uninspired, its modern aesthetic truly does not fit next to LoDo’s historic brick facades. If this building were being built in Arapahoe Square, or even the Golden Triangle, I probably wouldn’t even flinch (though that’s assuming the developers are tearing up parking lots instead of old buildings), but in the middle of LoDo and next to the historic Windsor Dairy building? Come on! All four buildings that will be torn down may not be as large as the planned Z Block, but at least they fit, architecturally as well as in size, with the surrounding buildings in LoDo.

    I do happen to like the idea of making the building a hotel. But I do have to wonder if the desired effect could be just as easily achieved by building it only on the existing parking lot at 19th and Wazee. In fact, I would argue that in keeping the older buildings they intend to tear down and perhaps fitting the architecture more appropriately with the building’s surroundings, the desired effect could not only be achieved but greatly improved upon.

    • Jason says:

      I hear what you’re saying, but I disagree. I think those four existing structures are unremarkable and functionally obsolete. The garage/warehouse on Wazee is a total eyesore and a poor use of space. The 3-story brick building on 18th appears to have been built in the 1940s or 1950s based on the simple brick work, the windows, and the retail entrances — that’s not the era which typifies LoDo and evokes our nostalgia. Finally, the two 1-story structures on Blake Street are somewhat attractive but altogether forgettable, and they don’t offer much in the way of a retail front. Plus, the lack of density is tough…

      I find the renderings to be really attractive. I think they’re a neat mix of old and new. I think they look a little edgy and industrial, which will fit the area nicely.

      If you think the old buildings are worth saving, my response is this: Would we really lose any history by replacing these guys with a new building that has first floor masonry? Maybe just require some soldiering around the windows and doors and I think you’ve replaced what you’ve lost.

      • Bryan says:

        On top of that…if we are to save one-story buildings, would you support allowing additional height in other areas to make up for the lost income? keep in mind that much of what you consider bland is driven by the LDRD review.

        that said, the three-story building is a tweener…but what is replacing it is really nice on that side with the two facades.

        also, this is replacing THREE surface lots..that’s pretty damn good.

      • Tyler says:

        I’m certainly not trying to be argumentative, but I think your mentality lacks imagination. A building that is currently “functionally obsolete” is really just a building waiting for someone with vision to find it a new and improved function. I think the warehouse on Wazee is a unique building that has so much potential to become something awesome and interesting. Just look at many similar warehouse/garages in LoDo, Ballpark, and even RiNo that have been transformed into great spaces that really contribute to the community. The building on 18th may have been built in the 40’s or 50’s but that’s is still a 60+ year old building. In another few decades it would be a century old. And it still serves a function. The two buildings on Blake are certainly even older and look charming. Why tear them down? As far as density is concerned, if we would like to create a more dense urban area, should we not first concern ourselves with the endless surface parking lots before tearing down buildings that already contribute to density.

        I do think these buildings are worth saving and I think the history lost, as minimal as it may be, would be regrettable. So instead of tearing these buildings down, perhaps someone with a bit of creativity could figure out how to incorporate these buildings into the Z Block building. Building around or even above these buildings and making them a continued part of LoDo would be fascinating both historically and architecturally. Just an idea.

        I maintain my dislike for the renderings of the new building though. The building is boring and out of place and looks like every other new building being constructed. I see no mix of old and new; just new and modern looking (and not edgy or industrial at all). I suppose that is just opinion though.

    • Peter says:

      Tyler – While I heavily disagree with your criticism of this project itself, I am right with you when it comes to the demolition of these historic buildings.

      Denver’s downtown neighborhoods lack the type of character you find in other major US cities, and our willingness to tear down older buildings when there are perfectly developable surface parking lots right next door is a major contributor.

      • Jerry G says:

        Unfortunately, picking and choosing which parking lots to eliminate at will is just not possible. Denver is still paying the price of 70’s era urban renewal and those parking lots are not developed unless the owner is willing to sell. This is especially hard with large, profitable lots. The reason why this block is being developed is plain and simple. It’s because, whoever owned those lots before, was willing to sell them to someone who wanted to develop them.

      • Tyler says:

        Peter, you have hit the nail on the head. These older buildings provide character that many new buildings completely lack. In a place like Denver, which is not that old to begin with, even moderately old buildings can provide the character that people enjoy.

        • Brandon says:

          As a current resident of the 3 story brick building on Wazee that you are discussing, I 100% agree with Tyler. I am the only one truly affected by these demolition plans, not the people leaving comments here. One look at the inside of the 4 lofts in this building and no one in their right mind would tear it down. I could go on for days about this project but I’ll wrap it up now…

          • Brandon says:

            Also…The building is 84 years old and has an amazing history (fyi)

          • Tyler says:

            Thank you Brandon for bringing a bit of humanity to this discussion. 84 years is nothing to scoff at. This building should be saved! “Non-contributing”? Ha. That building has been contributing to LoDo for longer than almost any of us talking about it has been alive.

            Thanks for the insiders perspective, Brandon!

    • Dan says:

      Thank you Tyler! That is the most eloquent description of the banana (build absolutely nothing anywhere not anytime – extreme NIMBY) mentality I have ever encountered. You stated this philosophy completely and without reserve. Your candor is admirable – can’t say the same for your way of thinking. As you can see from other commentary, the value, in any way you want to measure it, of the structures to be demolished is rock bottom and they are a blight and they don’t offer any appreciable potential. Your disdain for current architecture is also in line with your way of thinking – we should not respect today’s architecture, only yesteryears. Hmmm.

      • Tyler says:

        Dan, thinking these structures are a blight with no potential is extremely shortsighted.

        Take for instance the Avanti Building at 32nd and Pecos in Lower Highland that Ken posted about a couple weeks ago on DenverUrbanism. That building is arguably a much larger blight on the neighborhood and was of similar age to the buildings that are intended to be demolished for Z Block. But the owners did not look at it and see it as an eyesore; they saw the potential for a unique restaurant concept space. No building is not worth saving or adapting for a new use. And as Ken referenced about Avanti, it is a more environmentally friendly approach.

        My “disdain for current architecture,” however, is not entirely a factual statement. I rather enjoy a lot of current and/or modern architectures. I don’t even think the Z Block building is that bad. My disdain is for the lack of originality in current architectural trends that leaves buildings like Z Block looking rather ho-hum. And in an architecturally interesting and unique district like LoDo, I don’t think it belongs. I respect today’s architecture, but I think it belongs alongside buildings of similar style. Like I mentioned above, put that building many other places in Denver and I think it would look wonderful. Respecting the architecture of yesteryear is essential, though. Because it is that architecture that makes LoDo wonderful.

  6. Jeffrey says:

    I think this project could have a substantial positive influence on downtown. I also like the the way the building look. The previous version of this proposal envisioned a sort of pedestrianization of the alleyway, which I found odd and possibly misguided. Alleys are needed, for backdoor deliveries to restaurants, for maintenance trucks, for garbage. Turning them into pedestrian zones wouldn’t, in my opinion, work. So has this idea changed with this revised plan (which otherwise looks great)?

    • Bryan says:

      totally, totally agree…pedestrians belong on sidewalks, not hidden away in alleys – leave them for the dirty, functional side of life.

      • Ted says:

        I partially agree, but partially disagree. In much of Europe, and “alley” simply refers to a narrow medieval street where cars, pedestrians, and service vehicles share the space. It works just fine, and they oftentimes are the most charming streets I’ve ever been on. http://www.red-bean.com/~xlou/europe2005/4-Venice%20&%20Rome%20-%20Italy/slides/25-Roman%20Alley.JPG is a great example of what I’m talking about.

        I think the United States is SORELY missing intimate urban spaces such as this one, and I have no problem with a developer getting creative with reusing an American-style alley. It could actually become a true gem of a space, and I’m extremely excited to see it. San Francisco has tried a few of these and they have been successful. We now know in Urban Design that there are many good reasons for narrow, intimate urban streets as well as spacious, sunny ones. They are full of human elements like the smells of restaurants, sounds of talking and laughter (and sometimes music), visual proximity to other humans, and other sensual experiences that get lost in larger spaces. Our standard 65-80′ urban streets may in fact be too wide and too busy, and a contributing factor to the inescapable hustle and bustle that turns many Americans away from cities.

        That said, I wish we could actually strive to design BOTH kinds of alleys in modern urban design, because I agree that it is nice to separate service traffic from pedestrian traffic (nice, though certainly not necessary). But in a historic context like LoDo, a retrofit of an existing alley may be the only practical way to insert this kind of a street.

        • Bryan says:

          agree with you when it comes to europe and SF…both have great mini alleys, and streets that are typically narrower than denver. the width of our streets, especially given our relatively short city, is a drag on our urban design. wider sidewalks and losing a lane would be a good start in DT.

          that said…we have sooo many other issues to address (street width, transit, density, retail, HQs, homeless, affordability, lack of ped traffic…) prior to tackling the non-problem of needing more charming alleys, that we should embrace alleys for what they are NOW – a smart approach to keeping loading and garbage hidden from the masses.

          • Ted says:

            I don’t necessarily think it should be a planning priority… just that it is something that urban designers and the developers they work for should be aware of. This alley conversion, so far as I can tell, is purely the result of private development; not civic initiated “alley beautification” as other cities have attempted. But since this blog is intended for urbanist nerds and thinkers, I think its appropriate to discuss the merits and function of this kind of an alley and the qualities of space it creates.

            Opportunities like this, where the developer owns the whole block and may even be able to consolidate service functions to a single point, I’d imagine are few and far between. It may be that a bustling, 19th century downtown grid like Denver’s will never have a network of Euro-style alleys. They may be more appropriate in all-new developments (TOD’s, etc) where the street grid can be built from scratch (and include secondary service alleys). But there’s certainly nothing wrong with a developer getting creative with an individual block… between the Pavilions, Writer’s Square, The Tabor Center, and numerous others, experimenting with alternate city block layouts is part of what makes downtown fun.

  7. Jim Nash says:

    Ted! This is a blind alley! Don’t go there!

  8. Richard says:

    I had a friend who was visiting Denver ask where to stay “in Lodo” and “by Coors Field” since he was planning on taking in a night game. The only options were the Crawford, Oxford and Jet hotels, with the Westin at 17th & Lawrence the only non-boutique option. I imagine this will be a boutique hotel too but at least there will be more options in Lodo.

    Speaking of hotels, are you planning on doing an update on the Kimpton hotel project at 16th & Wewatta? I’ve noticed some heavy equipment on site and imagine they are getting close to excavating.