Looking back, 2006 was a fantastic year for Downtown Denver infill development… but it was not without a few disappointments.
In 2006 we saw the return of speculative office development to Downtown. Not that a lot of spec office buildings actually broke ground in 2006, but many were proposed. In fact, more office projects were proposed for Downtown in 2006 than at any time since the great skyscraper boom of the early 1980s. In the late 1990s/early 2000s, there was the 42-story 1100 15th Street project by Hines that was proposed, as well as the 425 15th Street office project planned by Brookfield, but neither project made it out of the ground before the economy tanked. Together, those two projects would have totaled about 850,000 SF.
In 2006, we had the announcement of the 1400 Wewatta project by Opus (100,000 SF office component), the 300,000 SF 1515 Wynkoop office project by Hines, the 500,000 SF 1800 Larimer office tower by Westfield Development, the 335,000 SF 1900 16th Street office project by Trammell Crow, and the 125,000 SF 1755 Blake Street office project by First Century Development. That’s 1.36 million SF of speculative office space proposed for Downtown in 2006. That doesn’t include the 190,000 SF office building planned for the corner of Lincoln and Colfax by the State of Colorado, the 500,000 SF of office space planned in the long-rumored second Tabor Center tower, or the 730,000 SF of commercial office space included in the Continuum/East-West Partners‘ master plan for Union Station. In 2006 we also saw the completion of the 318,000 SF Denver Newspaper Agency building and the 250,000 SF EPA Region 8 Headquarters building, and construction began on the new Sugar building, which includes a 50,000 SF office component. Wow!
So, the obvious question is… how many of these projects will be under construction come January 1, 2008? Will this be another Downtown office boom that busts before it gets started, or will we see a new generation of office buildings added to our not-so-new-anymore 1980s skyline? I guess 2007 will give us the answer (maybe). With the opening of the Southeast light rail line and the continuing draw of Downtown as a vibrant and attractive place, perhaps with this round of new office construction Downtown can begin to compete effectively against the suburban office parks for its rightful share of new office construction in the metro Denver area.
On the lodging front, most of the hotel projects on the drawing board for Downtown were actually announced in 2005, such as the Embassy Suites and the Denver Athletic Club Hotel, and only one hotel project, the Hilton Garden Inn, actually broke ground in 2006. A few new hotel projects were announced in 2006: the 20-story Homewood Suites project was revealed in 2006 as a companion to the 27-story Embassy Suites tower at 14th and Stout, a 10-story(ish) upscale hotel project was announced by Barron Development for the corner of Sherman and E. 18th Avenue, and a boutique hotel component was proposed for Phase 2 of the Museum Residences next to the Denver Art Museum. Also in 2006, the Trump Tower, which would have included both residences and hotel rooms, was announced for the parking lot next to the El Jebel Temple on Sherman, but later in the year we learned that the developers were scouting for sites elsewhere in Downtown for the project as the El Jebel site could not be acquired.
Then there was the W Hotel, rumored during much of 2006 to be built by East West Partners on a site behind Union Station in the Central Platte Valley. The project never broke ground in 2006 but, then again, it was never officially announced either. We probably haven’t heard the last of the W Hotel project, but nothing may happen on it in the near-term. There’s the possibility that the project may be going through a restructuring of some type, given East West’s recent selection as the master developer for the Union Station transit project. Perhaps we’ll find out this year. Finally, there’s the new Ritz Carlton hotel being created in the former Embassy Suites tower, the transformation of the old Executive Tower building at 15th and Curtis into a new hotel called The Curtis, and the opening of the new 14-story Residence Inn by Marriott at 18th and Champa.
Residential development continued to boom throughout the greater Downtown Denver area in 2006. Dozens of residential projects were announced or broke ground in the Center City districts in 2006 that spanned the spectrum from smaller townhome and flats projects to mid- and high-rise condo towers. The hot neighborhoods in terms of the number of new residential projects were Jefferson Park, Highland, Ballpark, and Curtis Park-Five Points, with River North bursting onto the scene with the TAXI project and the announcement of a 2,000-unit project at Denargo Market. The other hot neighborhood was, of course, the Central Platte Valley, with the twin 23-story Glass House towers topping off in 2006 and plenty of other projects announced or under construction in the area. Other Downtown districts like Golden Triangle, City Park West, and Uptown saw continued infill development as well. There was also the announcement in 2006 of the 51-story Great Gulf condo tower at 14th and Lawrence. There’s no sales office/showroom for this project yet and no announced groundbreaking date, but the design has been evolving since the original announcement, and they do have a website up and running, so maybe we’ll see some action on this project in 2007. Also worth mentioning is the conversion of the long-vacant office tower at 16th and Glenarm into the sharp 1600 Glenarm apartment building by Red Peak Properties. A job well done!
But the biggest disappointment of 2006, in my opinion, was the lack of progress made on the tallest of the proposed projects Downtown. From my retrospective blog on January 1, 2006, I wrote:
“Shortly before 2005 began, the massive expansion of the Colorado Convention Center opened and, a month earlier, the 50-story Four Seasons project was announced to great fanfare. While it was disappointing that the Four Seasons didn’t break ground in 2005 as originally promised, little did we know when January 1, 2005 rolled around that SEVEN more towers over 20 stories would be announced for Downtown Denver during the coming year! One Lincoln Park, The Spire, Embassy Suites Hotel, 14th & Stout Condo Tower (St. Charles Town Company), Denver Athletic Club Hotel, Speer & Market Condo Tower (Geller), and North Broadway Tower all were revealed during 2005.”
If you add in the Four Seasons project, that’s eight towers, and only one of those eight, the 31-story One Lincoln Park at 20th and Welton, is currently under construction. However, to be fair, a couple of those projects, such as the St. Charles Town Company’s condo tower, Buzz Geller’s Speer & Market tower, and the Denver Athletic Club tower, were announced in 2005 as longer-term efforts that were not necessarily supposed to break ground in 2006 anyway. We also learned in 2006 that the North Broadway Tower was never really a valid project in the first place. But the failure of the Four Seasons, The Spire, and the Embassy Suites to break ground in 2006 was disappointing.
The 50-story Four Seasons/Teatro Tower was originally announced in November 2004 with a groundbreaking planned for Spring 2005… but no groundbreaking. Then the developers closed on the land, launched a website, and rescheduled the groundbreaking for later in 2005… but no groundbreaking. Then in 2006 the developers leased space and completed construction of an expansive and well-appointed sales office and showroom… only to have it sit, unopened, to this day. Then the developers sold their historic Teatro Hotel for big bucks to a firm that specializes in developing Four Seasons projects! The roller-coaster saga of the Four Seasons/Teatro Tower project continues into 2007.
The 41-story Spire project was supposed to break ground in May 2006, then it was pushed back to August (or maybe it was September), and now it’s reportedly scheduled for early 2007. Meanwhile, the historic Davis and Shaw Building was demolished in anticipation of the Spire’s construction. The latest word is that the developer, the Nichols Partnership, had to shop around for a new general contractor, which set the schedule back. I am still very optomistic, however, that we will see a Spring 2007 groundbreaking for The Spire. Cross your fingers.
The Embassy Suites/Homewood Suites project is looking good for a Spring 2007 groundbreaking too. The Motor Hotel parking garage at the site is due to be demolished starting January 15 and the Embassy/Homewood project is in final development review with the city. If Hilton Hotels, which owns both the Embassy and Homewood brands, plans on having these properties open by late 2008 as they say, they’d better get on with it.
Of course, what’s driving the delay in moving forward on many infill projects, big and small, is the cost of construction. The price of copper, concrete, steel, and other building materials skyrocketed in 2006, making it extremely difficult for developers to nail down a construction budget that works with their pro forma and allows their project to stay in line with their target market. Let’s hope that in 2007 we see a stabilization of commodity prices that will allow developers to proceed with projects with some degree of certainty about the cost of construction.
In addition to all the infill developments in 2006, there were plenty of other exciting or significant events that occurred in Downtown Denver during the year. We saw the grand opening of the Libeskind-designed wing of the Denver Art Museum, the groundbreaking for the new Museum of Contemporary Art/Denver, and the selection of an architect for the Clyfford Still Museum. Construction got underway on the first phase of the new Denver Justice Center and we had the grand opening of the Highland Bridge over I-25 to connect the historic Highland district with Downtown. The competing development plans for Union Station were presented and the winning plan by Continuum/East West Partners was selected. We also saw Civic Center Park in the news a lot in 2006, with the unveiling of a controversial makeover plan designed by architect Daniel Libeskind. Historic preservation was also a hot topic in 2006, with the debate focused not only on Civic Center Park, but also on the pending approval of Mr. Geller’s 30-story modern condo tower on the edge of the low-rise historic Lower Downtown district (more on that in a future blog), and the possible destruction of the historic “Duffy’s” building to make way for, of all things, a parking garage. The Downtown Area Plan project also made good progress during the year, with its completion and approval expected for later in 2007.
Finally, 2006 was a good year for DenverInfill. In June, I went on a little rant in my blog about the blighted Fontius Building at 16th and Welton, which subsequently got picked up by the mainstream press. It was gratifying to learn that so many of you are as fed up as I am with how long that building has been allowed to remain vacant and in disrepair in the heart of our Downtown. But that media exposure has since resulted in yours truly/DenverInfill getting quoted in the papers on a regular basis. In fact, since June 2006, DenverInfill has been mentioned in the Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, ColoradoBiz Magazine, the Colorado Real Estate Journal, Westword, and the Urban Land Institute’s national Urban Land publication. In August 2006, I switched the blog over to the current Blogger format, which has certainly improved the look and user-friendliness of the blog. Then, in December 2006, DenverInfill received a great honor by being selected as one of the recipients of this year’s Mayor’s Design Awards.
Site traffic at DenverInfill also continued to grow steadily in 2006. I began the year averaging about 6,000 visits a month, and now I’m averaging about 25,000 visits a month. In October, several national websites picked up my blog entry of September 1 on “Guide to Suburban Denver Subdivision Names,” which then got reposted on dozens of other websites, and resulted in over 10,000 visits to DenverInfill in just three days. Thank you to all of you who visit DenverInfill on a regular basis and have helped make it such a popular website, and to the many of you who send me emails with your comments and suggestions. I greatly appreciate your interest, feedback, and participation!
It’s tough keeping up with all the infill projects around Downtown, so I also appreciate many of you (including a number of developers) who send me information on new projects and construction photos! Because there are so many infill projects to track, and with limited time outside of my job at Matrix Design Group and my other commitments to devote to DenverInfill, it is difficult to keep the main project sections of this website updated in a timely manner. To help with that, my good friend Rob is now helping me out by taking over many of the computer/design aspects of the website, as well as helping me track projects, take site photos, etc. Thank you Rob for your efforts!
So, here’s to a successful 2007 to all of you, and to a very productive year in our mission to restore central Denver’s built environment through the eradication of surface parking lots and the construction of high-density urban development of quality design!