Today we’ll review the other major public space planned for Denver Union Station: Wynkoop Plaza.
Wynkoop Plaza is proposed for the east side of the historic station along Wynkoop Street. It’s hard to not call that side the front of the station, since that has effectively been the case for decades. But with the new transit elements going in to the west and with all the new vertical development in the Central Platte Valley, both sides will now be the “front”. Fortunately, the historic station was designed with equally attractive east and west facades.
Currently, ugly surface parking lots occupy the key corners of 16th and Wynkoop and 18th and Wynkoop. Both of these will be replaced with “wing” buildings as they’ve been called, given their location at the end of the historic station’s two wings. The north wing building at 18th and Wynkoop will be the new home of IMA Financial and will look something like this. The design of the south wing building hasn’t been completed yet but it will be of similar scale and quality. Both buildings are critical to the success of Wynkoop Plaza for two reasons: they define the plaza edges and help visually enclose the space to make it feel more intimate, and they provide the ground-floor retail and restaurant uses that will help enliven the plaza with people and activity.
Wynkoop Plaza consists of north and south sections, with each having a different programmatic and design emphasis. Here’s an overview:
The south (left) plaza will be more open and sunny than the north (right) plaza. Given the south plaza’s proximity to the 16th Street Mall and the end of the commuter rail platforms, it will experience more pedestrian traffic, which the open design facilitates.
The south plaza will also include an area with pop-up fountains that, during the warmer months, will engage the senses and draw more people into the plaza. The fountain will be computer programmed to allow for a variety of effects, such as the jets of water popping up in different shape and timing patterns. The height of the water jets can also be adjusted depending on wind speed and other factors, and up-lighting can make for dramatic nighttime displays. Of course, during the colder months and during larger events in the plaza, the fountain can be turned off entirely to create an unobstructed hardscaped area. A row of trees closer to the historic station will provide shade to restaurant patios. Movable chairs will be used throughout the plaza along with a few permanent seat walls that will help delineate the primary pedestrian paths.
While the south plaza is the sunnier, more open and active section, the north plaza will be a bit more quiet and shady, although still a great people place.
The north plaza will feature a bosque of trees that provides plenty of shade for both permanent seat walls/planters and movable tables and chairs. The far north end of the plaza closest to the IMA Financial Building will remain open to provide a sunny space and clear sight lines to the pedestrian bridge/plaza spanning over the commuter rail tracks.
Like the 17th Street Gardens, the Wynkoop Plaza has been designed for both passive use as well as programmed events, such as stage performances, festivals, vending carts, games, etc. The diagrams below show two of the many ways different events can be configured into the space.
Regarding Wynkoop Street itself, many people have suggested that the street be rebuilt between 16th and 18th so that the Wynkoop Plaza’s paving surface and streetscape elements can extend across to the storefronts on the other side of the street, thereby making the street itself part of the public space. Everyone thinks this is a great idea, but currently there is no money in very-tight project and city budgets for this to occur at this time. However, nothing in the Wynkoop Plaza design would preclude that from occurring in the future when funding is available, so it’s just something we have to keep on the front burner and eventually we’ll find a way to get it done.
About the revival of the Welcome/Mizpah Arch: You may recall Union Station Advocates held a big gala event in the historic station to start raising money for the return of the arch. Currently, there’s no consensus among the Downtown community as to the arch’s design or location. Some people feel it should be an exact replica of the original arch (at the same scale or perhaps at a smaller scale) and some people feel it should be a contemporary arch inspired by the original. Some people favor the original location at 17th and Wynkoop, while others favor a new location on the west side where there are more potential sites available. Regardless of the ultimate design and location, it would be several years at the earliest before the arch could be constructed and installed anyway, given the funds that will need to be raised to pay for it. So for now, a healthy debate over the arch continues while a longer-term fundraising plan and decision-making process is devised.
Finally, it is the hope and goal of Union Station Advocates and many of us throughout Denver that Union Station becomes much more than a transportation hub. The station’s location between our beloved Lower Downtown historic district and the exciting contemporary developments in the Central Platte Valley, along with the infusion of masses of people every day, creates the opportunity for Union Station and its surrounding public spaces to become a nearly perfect urban nexus for Downtown. It can become the place where, when asking what not to miss when in Downtown Denver, first-time visitors are told “go to Union Station”. It can become the place where locals hang out even if they have no plans to travel by transit. Paired with its likely-to-be-very-dramatic Calatrava-designed sister station at Denver International Airport, Union Station will be the gateway to Denver for millions of people every year and may become Downtown’s most important single place.
Some patience will be required for Union Station to achieve its full potential. While the basic layout and urban design elements of the public spaces are being constructed now, the area will evolve and improve over time as the trees and plantings mature, public art is added, the private-sector developments are built out, and other enhancements (like the Mizpah Arch or extending the plaza across Wynkoop) are implemented. Union Station won’t be perfect on opening day, but the planning and design framework is in place for it to get off to a great start.