Skip to content
Archive of posts filed under the Urbanism category.

More Tower Cranes Going Up Around Downtown Denver!

We all love tower cranes! They are a great gauge to show how much a city is developing, and there’s been at least one tower crane up in Downtown Denver at any given point in time for over a decade. Last spring, in our census, there were a total of 10 tower cranes around Downtown Denver. That number has dipped slightly at the start of this year, as projects have started to finish, but fear not! More are on their way. Let’s look at the most recent additions!

Museum Center + Art Hotel

 

EnV 

The tower crane at EnV is not up yet, but the base has been set, so we are still going to count it. We should see the crane up within the next couple of weeks.

 

2100 Delgany 

 

Here is a bonus photo of the tower cranes for 20th and Chestnut, The Platform, and Verve!

Over the next few months we should see tower cranes start to go up for 1601 Wewatta, The Triangle Building, and the Hyatt Place / Hyatt House. The boom keeps on rolling!


DenverInfill Does Denver Diatribe!

I recently had the chance to be the guest on Denver Diatribe, Denver’s most enlightened podcast about… Denver!

In this week’s podcast, I engage in a lively discussion with hosts Joel Warner and Josh Johnson about RTD’s West Line opening, Denver Union Station, all the construction going on in Downtown Denver and the city’s apartment boom, the evolution of cities, automobile dependency, the transit line to DIA, the little-known community of Littlewood, and flying cars. Please check it out and enjoy!


New Downtown Denver Development Map

Over the past five years or so, despite the recent recession, Downtown Denver has seen strong construction activity and investment that only seems to be accelerating in 2013. Whether it’s the big Union Station transit project and its neighboring private-sector developments, the Better Denver Bond improvements, the state’s Ralph Carr Judicial Center and History Colorado Center buildings, or dozens of other public and private projects, Downtown has been growing and getting better every day. Look in just about any direction, and a tower crane or two will be in your view.

As you know, tracking and promoting all that investment in Downtown is at the heart of our mission here at DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism. It is also an important part of the mission of the Downtown Denver Partnership, which works tirelessly publicly and behind the scenes to improve the Downtown environment and promote public and private development in our urban core. Naturally then, I was excited to accept the Partnership’s offer to help them with their new Downtown Development Map. The map turned out great and it does an awesome job of graphically reflecting the tremendous investment that’s taken place in Downtown Denver during these past few years. Even our own DenverInfill man-about-town-with-camera, Ryan Dravitz, has one of his photos on the map. Nice job, Ryan!

Save the map as a PDF and share it with your friends or send them a link to the map’s page on the Partnership’s website. And of course, don’t forget to remind your friends to put DenverInfill, DenverUrbanism, and the Partnership’s new weekly online newsletter, Confluence Denver, on their reading list!


DenverInfill… A 2012 Retrospective

It’s that time of year again! Let’s take a look back at 2012 and reflect upon our accomplishments during the year in making Denver’s urban core the best it can be. For our previous retrospectives, use the link under the Pages section on the right side bar.

The big story in 2012 had to be the magnitude of the multifamily residential construction boom that developed during the year in the Downtown area. I recently posted an extensive overview of this issue in late November, so I won’t repeat all those details here. But the bottom line is that there are over 3,700 residential units within the greater Downtown Denver area under construction right now—and that is profound for two reasons:

First, it was only two years ago in my 2010 Retrospective that I wrote, “Well, what can I say that everyone doesn’t already know: the economy tanked, the boom is over, and we’re in a period of ‘transition’ (that’s a nice way of saying there’s not going to be a lot of private-sector real estate development in the next few years).” Then, just one year later in my 2011 Retrospective, I observed, “We’re on the cusp of a MAJOR housing boom in central Denver… I’ll wait until our 2012 Retrospective to say that the ‘Boom is Back,’ but this is a heads-up that it may be.”

OK, let’s say it: The boom is back!

The intensity with which private-sector investment in central Denver came roaring back in 2012 was amazing. Strong population growth and the lowest apartment rental vacancy rates in a decade will do that for you. But this current residential boom is more than just a function of market supply and demand. It’s reflective of something much bigger, which brings me to the second reason why this construction boom is so profound: it dramatically reflects the reality of the suburbs-to-city cultural and demographic shifts taking place across the United States, and the strong appeal of Denver’s urban core in particular.

Let’s take a look at US Census Bureau data of authorized building permits for privately-owned residential units (i.e. no public housing) for the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield Metropolitan Statistical Area, year-to-date, through November 2012 (the most recent month available as of this posting date). I created the table below using metropolitan-level data from here and county-specific data from here. (Note: the Denver-Aurora-Broomfield MSA does not include Boulder County.)

What are the key points we should take from this table?

  • Almost half (43%) of all permitted residential units in the metro area were in Denver County.
  • Almost two-thirds (61%) of permitted residential units in 5+ Unit multifamily buildings were in Denver County.
  • Within Denver County, four out of five residential building permits were located within a multifamily 5+ Unit building.
  • While some of the roughly 3,700 residential units under construction in the Downtown area were probably issued permits in 2011, most were likely issued in 2012, which means that somewhere around one-third to one-half of all multifamily residential units authorized in 2012 in the entire Denver-Aurora-Broomfield metro area were located within the greater Downtown Denver area.

Twenty years ago, in 1992, Denver County had a total of 506 residential units (of all kinds) authorized, out of a metro total of around 11,000, or about 5% of the metro total. That’s an order of magnitude difference in twenty years. Profound change, indeed.

Downtown-area housing was not the only big news in 2012. Public-sector development continued full-steam ahead. Two big state projects reached completion (the Ralph Carr Colorado Judicial Center and History Colorado Center) as well as two state educational projects on the Auraria Campus were also completed in 2012 (Metro State’s Hotel & Hospitality Learning Center and Metro State’s Student Success Building). The City of Denver finished construction on the Denver Police Crime Lab, as well as the Clyfford Still Museum—a major addition to the city’s cultural scene. The federal government completed a major renovation of the Cesar Chavez Building (plus a new parking garage), and RTD brought construction of the 12-mile long West Line to almost the completion point. Just over three months to go before the West line opens! Major construction also began on the East Line to DIA, the Gold Line to Arvada and Wheat Ridge, and the half-billion-dollar expansion of the terminal at Denver International Airport (with RTD transit center) also started in 2012.

And then there’s that public-sector project that involves the state, the feds, the city, RTD, and the private sector too: Denver Union Station. The project began 2012 with the new light rail station open, half of the underground bus terminal constructed, and a big hole in the ground for the second half of the bus terminal. During 2012, Light Rail Plaza was completed and opened to the public, the reconstruction of 16th Street and Wewatta Street was mostly finished, the second-half of the underground bus terminal was capped and the commuter rail platforms set in place, the 17th Street Garden Plaza was completed (but not yet open) and serious work began on Wynkoop Plaza. One of the most visible aspect of the Union Station project also started taking shape in 2012: the dramatic canopy structure over the commuter rail platforms. Major construction began in 2012 on both the North and South Wing Buildings and Denver Union Station itself closed in late 2012 as it begins its restoration and transformation into a modern/historic transit center with plenty of retail and restaurants and a boutique hotel. Finally, in 2012, I conducted 17 of our DenverInfill walking tours of the Union Station project. Over 500 people attended the tours and we raised over $2,000 in donations for Union Station Advocates and for the students studying in the Master of Urban and Regional Planning program at the University of Colorado Denver. Thank you!!

Downtown investment wasn’t limited to residential and public buildings. In 2012 we started to see activity in the office and hotel sectors as well. In addition to the two new “wing” office buildings at Union Station starting construction, the DaVita headquarters opened in 2012, site work started late in the year on 16M (the mixed-use office/residential building at the corner of 16th & Market), and several new office buildings were proposed in the Union Station area. In addition to the new hotel at Union Station, two additional existing buildings (the Colorado National Bank and Xcel Energy buildings) also continued their conversion into new hotels. More good news for the Downtown office market in 2012: the new United States Patent Office will be located in Downtown Denver!

Finally, 2012 was a good year for DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism. Ryan Dravitz gave his camera a serious workout with a steady stream of construction update posts throughout the year, Ryan Mulligan continued his ongoing series of posts about West Line construction and other RTD news, and we launched a new series about East Line construction thanks to our new contributing blogger, Robert Wilson. I completed a 15-part DenverUrbanism series on Denver’s Single-Family Homes by Decade (which darn near took the whole year for me to finish!) and the rest of our DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism blogging crew (Derek, Dan, Shawn, John, and Rick) contributed great content as always. During the year, almost 600,000 people visited the DenverInfill/DenverUrbanism blogs or the original DenverInfill website.

To conclude: 2012 turned out to be a great year for Denver. More and more people are moving into the Downtown area, more investment dollars are flowing into the city center, and Denver citizens remain committed to improving our city. Hopefully, 2013 will be a year where these trends continue.


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.


DenverInfill… A 2011 Retrospective

As is tradition here at DenverInfill, let’s take a look back at the previous year and review what was going on from an infill/urbanism perspective in Denver’s urban core.

Certainly, the past few years have been difficult for infill development, with the economy and financial markets struggling to recover from the recession. However, it appears that 2011 was the year that the local economy really started picking up. In fact, 2011 was a great year for progress in Downtown Denver, and 2012 promises to be downright boom-like.

In 2011, two trends were evident: 1.) Public-sector development and investment has been keeping Downtown Denver a very busy place; 2.) Central Denver is on the cusp of another major residential building boom.

1. In a way, you’d never know the local economy was still recovering from a recession by the amount of construction activity in Downtown Denver in 2011. Thanks to our knack for launching major public works projects just before or during real estate busts, Denver enjoyed a robust year of construction cranes and cone-zones due to public-sector investments in city, state, and federal facilities and infrastructure. In all four directions, Downtown Denver was busy with construction in 2011:

To the South: In Downtown Denver’s Civic Center area, construction on the state’s History Colorado Center and Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center were in full-swing in 2011. The feds launched the modernization of the Cesar Chavez Building, and the city was busy with tens of millions of dollars of Better Denver Bond investments in Civic Center Park restorations, City & County Building renovations, the new Denver Police Crime Lab building, and a bunch of street/bike/ped projects in and around Civic Center. Add in the Clyfford Still Museum, and the southern end of Downtown was one booming place!

To the East: The Denver Housing Authority continued to work on its Park Avenue redevelopment project in 2011, with the multi-block, multi-year effort nearing completion. Also, Arapahoe Square’s redevelopment is underway with the completion of Solera, the beginning of construction of 2020 Lawrence, and the completion of the Northeast Downtown Neighborhoods Plan. Broadway through Arapahoe Square was completely rebuilt, and East Colfax continued to see new infill projects and momentum towards a future streetcar line.

To the West: The Auraria Campus was undergoing a nice building boom of its own with the concurrent construction of two Metro State projects: the Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center and the Student Success Building. These two projects, along with the Auraria Science Building completed in 2010, are helping to create a more urban edge to Auraria’s boundary with Downtown. Other improvements on the west side of Downtown include the transformative 14th Street project, RTD’s West Corridor light rail construction, and the launch of Denver Housing Authority’s Lincoln Park redevelopment.

To the North: In case you haven’t heard, there’s a lot going on around Denver’s Union Station—about a half-billion-dollar’s worth of goings-on—and that’s not counting the private-sector development that is underway, like the DaVita HQ. A bit further north (or is it west?), Lower Highland continues to sizzle as Downtown’s hottest residential neighborhood. Rick is planning a special Union Station Update to recap that project’s accomplishments in 2011. Stay tuned…

2. We’re on the cusp of a MAJOR housing boom in central Denver, only this time it’s rental and not for-sale residential units that are leading the charge. We’ve reported during 2011 that a number of new residential projects were underway or proposed for the Downtown area, such as Highland Park, Manhattan Phase 2, Prospect on Central, 2020 Lawrence, 19th & Little Raven, 1560 Boulder, 20th & Chestnut, 17th & Chestnut, and 19th & Logan. These are all great projects and evidence of economic recovery and the continued confidence in our urban core.

Here’s the thing: this is just the beginning. In the past few months, for every project I’ve reported on DenverInfill, there are about three to four projects that I haven’t reported. I haven’t mentioned them because they represent projects that are only rumored or otherwise unsubstantiated, or projects that have been revealed to me in confidence. Nevertheless, I have on my project-tracking list about 20 multi-family rental projects within a mile-or-so radius of Downtown that haven’t been reported on this blog. As is always the case with real estate development, a few will happen, many will not. But even if only half of these unannounced projects make it out of the ground in 2012, Downtown Denver will have several thousand housing units under construction in 2012. Is that too much? Well, the rental vacancy rate is as low as it’s been in a decade, and urban core areas continue to have strong appeal throughout the nation, so we’ll see. Nevertheless, I suggest you get ready for a very busy 2012 for central Denver infill development. I’ll wait until our 2012 Retrospective to say that the “Boom is Back,” but this is a heads-up that it may be.

We live in a fantastic city, with an urban core that features an amazing mix of 19th Century homes and storefronts, 20th Century buildings of every imaginable shape, size, and style, and a significant infusion of new 21st Century developments that are filling the gaps in our urban fabric that resulted from tragic decisions that nearly destroyed our downtown area in an effort to make life as easy as possible for people driving cars. As we shed that automobile-centric perspective and shift toward emphasizing pedestrians, bicycles, and transit, Downtown will only get better. We saw that transformation advance in 2011 and it will continue to gain steam in 2012.

2011 was a very good year for central Denver. I’m confident 2012 will be even better.


Upcoming ULI-Colorado Event: TOD Marketplace November 17

Colorado’s first national conference on Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is being presented by ULI-Colorado on November 17, 2011.

The ULI-Colorado TOD Marketplace is a full-day conference of national and local speakers, workshops and a Great Sites Trading Floor that will be held at the Embassy Suites in downtown Denver (14th & Stout) on November 17, 2011, from 7:30 am – 6 pm.

The TOD Marketplace breaks into four program sections:

  • National speakers including Emerick Corsi of Forest City Enterprises and Steven Goldin of Washington Metro, the two most successful and prolific TOD developers in the U.S.
  • Panels featuring national and local experts on innovative finance, parking, redevelopment, housing, and public-private partnerships,
  • Workshops on key sites including Lakewood Federal Center and Five Points
  • A Great Sites Trading Floor where 30 developers present data and opportunities on the region’s best development sites within a half-mile of transit.

Title sponsors are RTD, Forest City Enterprises, and Snell & Wilmer. Other major sponsors include AECOM, Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, (EDC), Xcel, G.K. Baum, Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA), Arvada Urban Renewal Authority (AURA), Beck, Urban Land Conservancy, Medici, IBI Group, Saunders Construction, First Bank, PCL, and the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA).

Registration is open to members and non-members. For a lot more detail on the conference and registration information, please visit the event’s page at the ULI website here.


If You Seek a Downtown Development Site, Look Around You!

We agree with Joanne Ditmer’s column in today’s Denver Post calling for Denver’s mayoral candidates to focus more on the smaller issues that define everyday life in the city (available here). In fact, we usually find common ground with Ms. Ditmer’s columns on environmental and urban issues facing Colorado. But she made some points today that we find very concerning.

First, Ms. Ditmer criticizes Chris Romer’s call for more big box retailers in Denver because they “devour landscapes” and “could destroy a neighborhood.” But this is hardly inevitable. Most big box retailers have now developed urban format stores. And while the anti-urban big box template is alive and well in Denver (see Stapleton’s Quebec Square), we do not have to look far to see better examples. Lakewood’s Belmar is a good start. Other cities outside of Colorado have done even better. Central Denver is ripe for the introduction of urban-scaled large-format retailers; anyone who has lived in or near downtown has, at one time or another, complained about driving to Glendale for life’s essentials. As Ms. Ditmer surely knows, Denver’s planners already possess all the land use tools they need to address her concerns.

More concerning is this part of Ms. Ditmer’s column:

“[Romer] said, ‘If we can make it easier for developers to do business, we could accomplish the mission of building 5,000 new rooftops in downtown Denver.’ Where? Razing existing buildings? Covering open space or parking lots? And why?”

Since when is covering parking lots downtown a bad thing? Ms. Ditmer seems to view surface parking lots as a legitimate downtown land use in their own right. They are not. Surface parking lots are vacant land with an interim use waiting to be developed, and wholly incompatible with a vibrant urban environment. New surface parking lots are not even an allowable land use downtown under the existing zoning code. And perhaps most importantly, they are a terrible eyesore and they greatly diminish the pedestrian experience.

We feel compelled to point out that surface parking is not necessary for downtown to prosper. As planners often remark, “any place worth its salt has a parking problem.” But even that is only half the story. There are far less disruptive means available to the city to provide adequate parking, without leaving whole swaths of prime downtown land dedicated to surface lots.

On to Ms. Ditmer’s next point regarding Chris Romer’s call for 5,000 new rooftops downtown.  5,000 is actually too few; Mr. Romer should be calling for many more! The 2007 Downtown Area Plan specifically calls for adding 18,000 new housing units to Downtown Denver by 2027. New downtown housing has been a goal of every Denver plan (and the plan of nearly every major U.S. city) for decades. Who would deny that downtown’s residential growth over the past decade has added a palpable energy to the city’s streets? DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism are dedicated to increasing Denver’s urban vitality and livability. The growth of downtown housing is the linchpin of that effort.

Finally, to Ms. Ditmer’s question—where to put all of this downtown housing? Suffice it to say, it will be a long time before we are forced to entertain the notion of “razing existing buildings” or “covering open space” to accommodate new downtown growth. Does Ms. Ditmer live in the same city we do—the one littered with undeveloped lots?

Take a look at the map below we’ve prepared, showing undeveloped land in the Central Business District. The yellow line represents the boundary of the CBD’s B-5 zoning, now labeled under the new zoning code as D-C (Downtown Core) and D-TD (Downtown Theater District):

2011-05-27_downtown_parking_lots

Surface parking lots/vacant lots are outlined in red, with over 50 just in the CBD alone. If LoDo, Arapahoe Square, Uptown, the Golden Triangle and other CBD-adjacent districts are included, the surface parking lot count exceeds 200.

In 2005, shortly before the last Downtown Area Plan update, twelve teams of graduate planning students in Ken’s Planning Methods I course at the University of Colorado Denver prepared build-out scenarios for Downtown Denver. It was a Special Feature at the original DenverInfill.com, and is still available here. The averages were telling: the students found that Downtown Denver’s undeveloped lots can accommodate over 9,000 residential units, 800,000 square feet of new retail, almost 4.8 million square feet of new office space, and over 5,000 new hotel rooms, all while still providing over 28,000 structured parking spaces.  If a higher percentage of land is assigned to housing, the number of new residential units that could be accommodated could top 15,000. And the students were only considering the CBD. LoDo, the Union Station/Riverfront Park area, Uptown, Prospect, the Golden Triangle, and Arapahoe Square were not even included. Needless to say, we have more than sufficient land available in the downtown area to accommodate tens of thousands of new residential units without razing a single structure or building on open space.

Ms. Ditmer’s column fires a shot directly through the heart of urbanism in Denver. We genuinely hope it was merely an oversight on her part and not representative of her true feelings.

~~~

This post has been co-authored by Ken Schroeppel and Brent Butzin. Brent is an attorney practicing in Denver. He graduated from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, where in 2007 he was awarded the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute’s annual award for excellence in land use planning law. Before law school, he worked as a consultant providing planning and civil engineering services to municipalities, special districts, and developers across Colorado. He holds a Master of Science in Civil Engineering and a Bachelor of Environmental Design from the University of Colorado at Boulder.