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Archive of posts filed under the Parking category.

Goodbye Empty Lots, You Will Not Be Missed

In present day Downtown Denver, there is one thing that is hurting our urban core: parking lots. They are all over the place creating an inconsistency in our urban fabric. But, there is good news! The ‘parkinglotification‘, as Ken likes to put it, is starting to disappear. Today we will be covering most of the sites that are in pre-development status or are going to begin within the year (hopefully). It’s always nice to visualize what is going to soon be built on these lots. Sit back and enjoy the ‘soon to be’ tour of some great developments. (As always, click the pictures to embiggen and the links for project details)

First, we will start with ‘One City Block‘. It does in fact take up an entire city block. Having this parking lot gone is a major start for the continued development of Uptown.

 

2300 Walnut is another project that is taking up an entire block and it looks like basic utility work has begun. Great sign of progress with this development!

 

I have always hated the fact there was an ugly dirt lot directly across Coors Field. Broadstone Blake Street is going to fix this eyesore of a problem.

 

Parking lots in front of a mass transit hub like Union Station are never okay. Luckily the South Wing (Left) and North Wing (Right) buildings are taking up those lots. Notice, a crane base has been set for the North Wing building!

 

Next up we have 16 Wewatta which is on a more pleasing eyesore level, and Cadence / 1601 Wewatta. GE Johnson has their trailers out on the site of Cadence, another hopeful sign of progress.

 

Continuing down the path of the upcoming Union Station neighborhood, you have 16 Chestnut (Left) and Alta City House (Right).

 

A quick skip away, there are the Delgany Apartments (Left). A fence has been put up around the lot, another good sign of progress. Then you have 20th and Chestnut (right) which is approaching groundbreaking.

 

Last but not least, the AMLI Riverfront project which is making a huge leap forward to helping complete the Riverfront Park master plan.

I cannot wait until I can start making updates of these projects individually when they all kick off. Just on this tour alone I covered 12 lots that are planned to be filled. This doesn’t include the developments that are in progress which have already relieved an ugly parking lot of its active duty. We are on the verge of a boom which is great news for our city.


Clyfford Still Museum Groundbreaking

Two weeks ago, the official groundbreaking ceremony was held on the new Clyfford Still Museum in Denver’s Civic Center district.  The $29 million museum is planned for the southeast corner of W. 13th Avenue and Bannock Street on the same block as the Denver Art Museum’s Frederick Hamilton building. The Clyfford Still Museum’s presence in Denver is not only a major coup for the city, but its location in Civic Center will further enhance that district’s cultural and architectural appeal.

The ceremony on December 14 involved not so much the breaking of ground, but more the breaking of old walls. Located on the museum site were a couple of small buildings that were ceremoniously wrecked while fireworks went off to launch the museum’s construction phase. I was unable to attend the event, but I finally had a chance to swing by the site the other day. The old buildings are totally gone and the site awaits excavation.

The buildings that were demolished are the ones closest to the corner of 13th and Bannock in the bird’s eye photo (left) of the site from Bing maps. On the right is a picture of the site I took a few days ago:

2009-12-29_csm_aerial 2009-12-29_csm_site

For a short video clip of the ceremony, check out this website.

The new 30,000 square foot building will be complete in 2011. Renderings of the new museum structure are available here.  Finally, here’s an informative press release from the museum that discusses the building’s exterior and interior design. Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture is the designer.

Having another new museum in the Civic Center/Golden Triangle area is absolutely exciting. But our museum-packed cultural district is still surrounded by ugly surface parking lots that have defied development for several decades, despite their artsy neighbors. As I’ve explained before in a previous post, part of the problem with the ubiquitous parking lots around there is that most of the lots are actually comprised of numerous small parcels owned by different property owners, which makes land assemblage in the area virtually impossible. I’ve heard reports that there is a mid-rise apartment project being planned for around 12th and Cherokee, which is good news, but really… when are we going to do something to break the parking lot log-jam in the Golden Triangle? Something to think about while we celebrate the start of construction for yet another new museum in Downtown Denver.


Baseball Stadium District: We Need More Parking Lots!

Remember back in 2007 when, for a few months, there was a controversy over the old Light Bulb Supply Building site at 21st and Delgany behind Coors Field? The owners at the time, Bill and Paula Leake, wanted to rezone their property to RMU-30, which would have allowed their underutilized property to be developed with a building up to 140 feet in height. A few neighborhood groups and the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District (owner of Coors Field) objected to the plan, saying that it would block the view of the mountains from Coors Field.

In response, a view plane ordinance was proposed that would have originated at a point in Section 222 Club Level of Coors Field, limiting new buildings within the view to a height of 72 feet. The problem with a 72-foot height limit was that, with the elevated I-25 HOV lanes soaring 40 feet above ground past the property, not enough of a 72-foot tall building would rise above the flyover to make the project profitable. Also, there was some debate as to the degree to which a 140-foot tall building at the site would really block mountain views anyway. Here’s a rendering, prepared by Buchanan Yonushewski Group (which represented the Leakes at the time) of the view from Section 222 Club Level with a 140-foot building at 21st and Delgany, as well as the Commons (Central Platte Valley) approved bulk plane behind it:

For more background on the issue, here’s a Rocky Mountain News article and editorial from 2007. Anyway, the view plane issue was put on hold so that it wouldn’t detract from the Rockies’ historic World Series run at the time, and since then there’s been no news on the matter… until now.

Jared Jacang Maher has the latest at Westword: The Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District bought the property from the Leakes for about $2.4 million. You may conclude that this is a win-win for everybody: the Leakes get the value out of their property and Coors Field gets to protect its view. I’m not so sure.

The Stadium District plans to turn the 21st and Delgany site into a surface parking lot after they lose some of their surface parking along upper Blake Street to RTD for a FasTracks transit line. Even that may seem reasonable. But what bothers me is the Stadium District’s viewpoint, as expressed by District director Ray Baker: “There’s just not enough [parking] currently with what we have and what will be taken.”

That’s right, there isn’t enough parking around Coors Field, and that’s a damn good thing. The point of placing Coors Field in a Downtown location without nearly the number of parking spaces that it normally would have if it were in a suburban location, was to force people to either a.) take transit, or b.) park throughout the Downtown area and walk/mall shuttle to the stadium, thereby filling the sidewalks with pedestrians and making Downtown a better, more urban place. A place will never become more urban by making it easier to get there by automobile. Let me repeat that: A place will never become more urban by making it easier to get there by automobile! Until we learn that lesson in Denver, we’ll never have the Downtown we strive to have.

“We can’t simultaneously promote walking and bicycling while continuing to facilitate driving.” – Albert Einstein

And, need I remind the Stadium District that Coors Field is located two blocks from what will be the largest multi-modal transit hub in the entire region?! Why does the District feel that they will need to replace the parking spaces they lose to RTD for transit construction, when those very same transit lines will put millions of people throughout the Denver region within a few miles of a transit line that will conveniently drop them off two blocks away from Coors Field?! Did the Stadium District ever consider that when all the FasTrack lines are up and running that fewer people might, you know, drive to the stadium?

The Stadium District should be working hand in hand with the City and the Downtown Denver Partnership to steadily, strategically, replace the surface parking lots around Coors Field with dense, mixed-use development and, if we must, structured parking. The more Coors Field is surrounded by an intensity of shops, restaurants, housing, hotels, offices, and sidewalks teeming with people, the more exciting it will be to go to a game. We want Coors Field to be in the center of it all, immersed in a pedestrian-scaled urban domain, not surrounded by a sea of asphalt like the Pepsi Center is.

In the Rocky article, Mr. Baker is quoted as saying: “We have an obligation to protect the ambience of the experience of going to Coors Field and protecting that view. I think it would be detrimental to taxpayers not to do so.” You want to protect—enhance—the ambience of the experience of going to Coors Field? Make the experience more urban, more walkable, more engaging. You want to benefit the taxpayers? Make the Coors Field experience more sustainable by discouraging driving to the stadium and by invigorating the streets of Downtown with economy-stimulating pedestrians. Seems to work just fine for Yankee Stadium, Wrigley Field, and Fenway Park.

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” – Fred Kent

So, the Leakes get their money but Downtown gets a new surface parking lot. I’m happy for the Leakes, but I’m disappointed in the Stadium District’s parochial perspective. I expect more enlighted, progressive thinking from the owners of our Downtown ballpark. But, I’ll make the Stadium District a deal: Develop Block C into a dense, mixed-use project, and I’ll support your parking lot at 21st and Delgany.


#1: No More Surface Parking Lots!

Does this #1 come as a surprise to you? I should think not. Really, what could be more anti-urban than surface parking lots? Those of you who have been reading DenverInfill for many years now knew this was going to be #1 in the Top 10 list, right?

As I’ve said many times before, think about the cities that people choose to travel to solely for the urban experience (museums, shopping, culture, history, architecture, etc.): New York, San Francisco, Paris, London, etc.—no surface parking lots! There seems to be a direct correlation between the appeal of a place as an urban destination and the lack of surface parking lots at that place. As a tourist destination, Downtown Denver is doing pretty well considering the number of surface lots we still have. Over the past twenty years, as surface lots have been replaced by shops, hotels, offices, and condos, we’ve seen Downtown Denver’s appeal as a destination in its own right improve commensurately. To reach true urban excellence, we must eliminate all surface parking lots in Downtown Denver.

Unlike some of the other items on the Top 10 list, the city alone cannot accomplish this goal of surface parking lot eradication. Demand for the uses that would occupy new buildings built in place of surface lots must first exist, and the private sector must then respond to that demand by implementing the appropriate supply of vertical development. Consequently, since we’re at the mercy of the free market, it’s going to take a while—many decades—before we get rid of all of our surface lots in Downtown. But one thing that the city can do that it currently isn’t, is proactively readying parking lot sites for eventual development through land assemblage. One of the biggest barriers we have in Downtown to replacing parking lots with new buildings is the fractured ownership of so many parking lot sites. The problem is particularly prevalent in the Arapahoe Square and Civic Center districts. Take, for example, Blocks 045-E and 046-E in Civic Center:


On Block 046-E, the only building on the block that’s new is the 1200 Delaware townhome project, visible in the aerial under construction at the corner of 12th and Delaware. Everything else on the block could be scraped. So, excluding 1200 Delaware, on the west half of the block, there are 10 parcels owned by 8 different owners. On the east half of the block, there are 8 parcels owned by 4 different owners, with only one owner common to both halves. That means that to assemble all of Block 046-E except for the 1200 Delaware project, one would have to negotiate the purchase of land from 11 different owners.

On Block 045-E, the only building on the block that’s not expendable is the relatively new Balustrade Condos at the corner of 12th and Cherokee. Everything else on the block could go. Excluding the Balustrade then, on the west half of the block, there are 7 parcels owned by 6 different owners, and on the east half of the block, there are 8 parcels owned by 5 different owners; once again, only one of those owners common to both halves. For this block, you’d have to negotiate with 10 different owners.

So, here we have two blocks in a prime location, just steps from the Art Museum and the Civic Center’s other cultural amenities, that should be developed into a nice mix of mid-rise housing projects featuring ground-floor retail and restaurant spaces. But what developer in his or her right mind would want to tackle assembling even a portion of these blocks? Several of the parcels are owned by “family trusts” or by families known for their recalcitrance, and once the word got out that developers were trying to assemble the block, everyone would double or triple their asking price, rendering the effort unfeasible. It’s unlikely we’ll see anything of appropriate density built on either of these blocks any time soon unless the city gets serious about land assemblages in the Downtown area.

Anyway, most new Downtown projects typically include structured or underground parking for themselves, and perhaps some parking for the general public. Public parking garages can pick up some of the slack, with transit hopefully serving as the main means of moving people in and out of Downtown. But as surface parking lots are removed, parking your car Downtown will become more difficult–and that’s just fine with me. Time for a few quotes:

Anyplace worth its salt has a “parking problem.” -James Castle, public policy consultant

The car is not the enemy, nor is the elimination of cars the solution. It is our societal bias toward cars that must be questioned. – Anne Vernez Moudon, University of Washington professor of urban design

Anything you do to make a city more friendly to cars makes it less friendly to people. – Enrique Penalosa, New York University urban scholar

And finally, this from Dan Malouff, the mastermind behind BeyondDC and a friend and urban planner who I respect:

Downtowns will never be able to out-suburb the suburbs. It will never be able to play the suburban game of drive-up-and-park better than actual suburbs. Since downtown will never be able to make parking as easy as the suburbs, “easy parking” will never be the reason people choose to go downtown. Instead, people will choose to go downtown based on something downtown has that the suburbs don’t. The one thing downtown has that the suburbs don’t is quality urbanism (i.e. “walkability”). Walkability, therefore, is downtown’s primary competitive advantage over the suburbs. Since walkability suffers when land is used for parking, it stands to reason that more parking would HARM downtown Denver, because more parking would dilute downtown’s walkability, and walkability is the only reason to go downtown instead of to the suburbs. Put simply, easier downtown parking would make downtown more like the suburbs, which would be counterproductive because the reason people go downtown in the first place is because it ISN’T like the suburbs.

Nobody likes to walk next to a surface parking lot. They’re ugly and boring and they diminish the pedestrian experience. Eliminating surface parking lots gives us two bangs for our buck: we remove something that is a deterrent to walkability, and we add something that (hopefully) makes the pedestrian experience engaging and memorable.

Anyway, that’s it, folks! I hope you enjoyed the Top 10 countdown, and thanks for all the great comments—keep them coming. Here’s to a better Downtown Denver!


Worst Parking Lot in Downtown Denver: Block 039!

The vote is in! Thank you to all of you who participated. It was a close battle with Block 001-B, but Block 039, that embarrassing half block of wasteland in the heart of Lower Downtown, has been voted Downtown Denver’s Worst Parking Lot by DenverInfill readers, and a well-deserved title it is. The parking lot on Block 039 is a disgrace. Not only is the lot itself, owned by Blecker LLC and managed by Central Parking Systems, in appalling condition…

but the public right-of-way along Market Street doesn’t even have curb and gutter or a sidewalk:

I’m not sure if that’s ultimately the fault of the city or the property owner (according to city maps, the property line runs right along where the yellow poles are), but the fact that appropriate urban infrastructure, along a key block in the center of our most popular Downtown district, has been conspicuously missing for decades is unacceptable. There is some kind of temporary curb that was installed on top of the asphalt edge a few years ago, but that is now breaking up into big chunks of loose concrete–a pleasant pedestrian enhancement, no?

There are two fundamental, mutually-exclusive problems with parking lots in Downtown Denver: their existence, and their condition. We’re making good progress in removing them from existence through all the urban infill projects that this website purposefully identifies and promotes. But the reality is that even under the most optimistic real estate market scenarios, it will be at least another decade or two before all surface parking lots have been eradicated from the Downtown core. I can live with that as long as we’re making steady progress in getting rid of them. But the woeful condition of the overwhelming majority of these Downtown lots is something we can rectify today, not decades from now. We don’t have to tolerate the deplorable physical state of these parking lots if we don’t want to. As a community, we can–and we must–institute reasonable standards for the phyical and aesthetic quality of existing surface parking lots in Downtown. We already require new parking lots to meet various design requirements, so why not the existing ones too?

We have invested billions of public and private dollars into making Downtown Denver a vibrant and attractive place, yet we allow our existing surface parking lots–which, unfortunately, still permeate all sectors of Downtown–to be maintained in the most egregious of conditions. It doesn’t make any sense. My mission via DenverInfill is to not only celebrate the positive enhancements in Downtown Denver, of which there are many, but also to shine a public light on those areas where we must do better, and to promote effective change. If you feel likewise, please let your voice be heard.

We may be stuck with parking lots for a while longer, but there’s no reason why they can’t be good parking lots–at least in Downtown, where, of all places in our city, we should strive to present our best face to the world.


Before They Were Parking Lots… Block 029-B

The last parking lot of our five “worst parking lot” candidates to be reviewed from an historical perspective is Candidate #5: Block 029-B. This is the parking lot where the foundations of several buildings are still visible, despite the decades passed since the buildings’ demolitions. Let’s take a look at what those building were.

First, at the corner of 16th and Lincoln was the Central Christian Church. The church building was built in 1901 and featured a dome and other neo-classical elements. It was flanked to the north and, across the alley, to the east by single-family Victorian-era homes (photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection):

One of those homes, the one visible in the image above behind the church at the corner of 16th and Sherman was the home of Charles S. Thomas, who served as Colorado Governor from 1899-1901. Here’s a photo of that home from the late 1950s. A small section of the cobblestone retaining wall along the E. 16th Avenue sidewalk is still visible today (photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection):

Here’s a photo (used with permission from the private collection of Robert Winzurk) of the Lincoln side of the block in 1961. Visible is the Central Christian Church building which had undergone a substantial 1940s remodel in which the dome was removed, a traditional steeple was added at the corner, and the front façade was modified. The single-family home to the north (left) of the church had also been replaced with a commercial structure of some type; this being the only known photograph of the front of that building. Also visible behind that building is brick structure across the alley on the Sherman side of the block:

By 1963, the brick building on Sherman had been demolished, but the remodeled church and adjacent commercial building were still intact. The Charles Thomas home is also gone (photo courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection):

At some point after 1963, the church and adjoining commercial building were razed and their foundations left for 21st Century parking lot patrons to contemplate. I doubt one penny’s-worth of improvements have been made to this half of Block 029-B since then.

Today’s the last day to vote, so if you haven’t already… do so now!


Before They Were Parking Lots… Block 003-B

The next Worst Parking Lot block to be reviewed from an historical perspective is Candidate #4: Block 003-B. This parking lot covers less than half of the block, with one of Downtown Denver’s first modernist towers, the I.M. Pei-designed Mile High Center (now Wells Fargo Center) occupying most of the southern half.

What occupied this site before it was a parking lot? The Hotel Metropole, followed by the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which incorporated the Hotel Metropole into a single operation.

The Hotel Metropole opened in 1891, the year this photo was taken. It was located at the southern end of what is now the parking lot portion of Block 003-B:

The Cosmopolitan Hotel was built next door in 1926 (same year as this photo), right at the corner of E. 18th Avenue and Broadway:

Here’s an image of both hotels along with the Brown Palace and the Trinity Methodist Church. This photo is from the 1920s:

On the other side of the Metropole was a Sears & Roebuck store. Here’s a photo that dates from around 1953 or 1954 since the Mile High Center, visible on the right, is still under construction. The Sears store was built in 1918:

Here’s an image from 1957. The Sears had become the “United States National Bank” and the full lineup of Mile High Center, Hotels Metropole/Cosmopolitan and Trinity Methodist Church is visible, with the Brown Palace on the left:

Finally, the Cosmopolitan/Metropole Hotel buildings were imploded in May, 1984. Unlike the other images, which are all from the Denver Public Library, this photo is a scanned image from my copy of the book, Denver: A Pictoral History by William C. Jones and Kenton Forrest:

The old Sears & Roebuck building is still there–part of the Wells Fargo complex–with its long blank wall facing the parking lot. And 23 years after the implosion, we’re still waiting for something to be built on Block 003-B.


Before They Were Parking Lots… Block 176

Today our historical review of the five “worst parking lots” in Downtown Denver focuses on Candidate #3: Block 176. This block is directly across Broadway from yesterday’s block, Block 001-B.

The largest building on Block 176 was the Adams Hotel. The Adams was a handsome four-story structure with a cupola, located at the corner of 18th and Welton where the vacant bank drive-thru structure is today. The small three-story structure next to the Adams on the Welton side was the McCallister Building. Here’s an image of the Adams Hotel taken between 1902 and 1910 (as before, all images are from the Denver Public Library’s Western History and Genealogy website):

Here’s a photo (taken sometime between 1900 and 1915) that is very similar to one that I posted yesterday, looking southwest down Welton. The building on the left edge is the Astor Hotel on Block 001-B. The buildings on the right edge are on Block 158 and, beyond that, Block 159 (which, by the way, is currently all parking lot along Welton). The buildings in the center of the image are of Block 176. Two more hotels, the Trinity and the Congress (along with most likely another dozen or so other businesses) occupied the Broadway, 19th Street, and the rest of the Welton side of Block 176. Clearly visible is the Adams Hotel’s cupola in the background:

On the opposite side of the block, at 18th and Glenarm across the alley from the Adams, was the Empire Hotel. Here’s a photo from the 1920s of the Empire along with a view of the little one-story building that is now the home of Shelby’s Bar and Grill:

Finally, we’ll conclude with two aerial photos from the late 1950s where we can see the beginning of the “parkinglotification” of Downtown Denver. This image, from 1957, shows the Glenarm and Broadway sides of Block 176. The Adams is still visible in the background as well. Of note, however, is Block 001-B in the foreground, where the southern half of the block has become a parking lot:

From a few years later, here’s another aerial showing Block 176 at the bottom with a big chunck of the block along Welton demolished in favor of the automobile. Also note that the church at the corner of E. 19th Avenue and Broadway (Block 002-B), visible in the photo above, has been demolished by the time this photo was taken:

The image above also gives us a preview of our next historical look back, Block 003-B. And, if you haven’t already, please vote for Downtown Denver’s Worst Parking Lot!