Now that we find ourselves in 2008, let’s take a look back at 2007 and see what kind of a year we had in our effort to intensify Downtown Denver’s vitality and replace Downtown’s ugly surface parking lots with quality infill development.
I hereby declare that 2007 was a great year for Downtown Denver! In my 2006 Retrospective, I stated that in 2006, more office projects were proposed for Downtown Denver than at any time since the skyscraper boom of the early 1980s. I then pondered… “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?” Well, that question was answered loud and clear in 2007. Of the five major Downtown office projects announced in 2006 (1515 Wynkoop, 1400 Wewatta, 1755 Blake, 1900 Sixteenth, and 1800 Larimer), all broke ground in 2007 except for 1800 Larimer, which has a cleared site and should be under construction soon.
The strength of the Downtown office market prompted several new office projects to be proposed in 2007. The biggest by far was the proposal by Callahan Capital Partners to build the long-planned Two Tabor Center tower at 17th and Larimer. Callahan originally hoped to be under construction by the end of the year. While that didn’t quite happen, the word on the street is that the project is a definite “go” for Spring 2008. The project’s scale and design also evolved during 2007. The first design came in around 30 stories and, as the year progressed, climbed to 38 and then 40 stories, then was rumored to be as high as 43, with the Callahan website currently saying 38 stories. Regardless of the project’s final floor count, the start of construction of Two Tabor Center will hopefully be a major headline in 2008.
Two other Downtown office projects announced in 2007 are located in the booming Central Platte Valley district. These include the 180,000 SF Wewatta Plaza office condominium project at 18th and Wewatta, and 450,000 SF of office space in Sunshine Development’s proposed mixed-use project at 16th and Wewatta. Another major project announced for the CPV that could include an office component is the Nichols Partnership’s project planned for 19th and Chestnut that will feature a full-sized King Soopers grocery store and possibly hotel and residential uses too.
One new Downtown office project announced in 2007 that I’m not particularly fond of is 1450 5th Street, the 300,000 SF office development planned by Kroenke Sports immediately adjacent to the Invesco Field light rail station. The project features two horizontal suburbanesque buildings of only five floors in height that fail to incorporate any other uses, such as retail or residential. The project doesn’t even include structured or underground parking but simply takes advantage of Kroenke’s sprawling Pepsi Center surface parking lots next door. Again, the site is immediately adjacent to a light rail station. This is a prime transit-oriented development site in a Downtown setting. This project should include a mix of uses (like what Kroenke originally proposed a few years ago when he purchased the site from RTD) and feature a higher-density design that maximizes its proximity to public transit. Let’s hope this project is redesigned as a true urban transit-oriented development that becomes the first of many similar projects to eventually transform the Pepsi Center’s surface parking lots into an urban mixed-use village that includes structured parking for the arena.
One of the year’s top achievements was the start of construction of the 45-story Four Seasons Hotel and Residences project. It took 34 months from the project’s announcement in November 2004 to its groundbreaking in September, but it was worth the wait. Currently just a big hole in the ground, in 2008 we’ll witness the tower climb upward and alter the balance of the Downtown skyline. Across the street from the Four Seasons, the sales office for Great Gulf Group’s proposed 51-story 1401 Lawrence project opened in 2007 and, hopefully, will meet its planned December 2008 groundbreaking. Elsewhere in Downtown, two other major residential projects made news in 2007. At 20th and Welton, the One Lincoln Park project started the year at ground level and has since climbed to almost its full 32-story extent to become the first residential high-rise of that height to join the skyline in 25 years.
The other major residential high-rise story of 2007 has to be the start of construction of Spire, the Nichols Partnership’s 41-story condo tower at 14th and Champa. Spire broke ground in May and reached about three floors in height by August. Then the project’s lender, Hypo Real Estate Capital, sucker-punched Nichols by yanking its $160 million construction loan. Hypo’s decision had nothing to do with the Spire project itself or the strength of the Downtown Denver market but was, rather, a corporate reaction to uncertainties in the international credit market that affected many projects across the US. Construction on Spire came to a halt and the site has been quiet ever since. Nichols immediately began working with new lenders to line up financing for the project, and rumor has it that some good news should be announced soon. By the Democratic National Convention in August, I predict the Spire will have already climbed half way to its ultimate height.
One of the biggest stories in Downtown urban planning and development in 2007 was the affairs involving Block 162 and the historic Fontius building. For nearly 20 years, the Fontius and most of the rest of prominent Block 162 had languished in disrepair and no one had been able to find a way to convince the block’s property owners—which included Denver’s notoriously recalcitrant Cook and Dikeou families—to either spruce up their run-down properties or sell their properties to someone else. Finally, in 2007, thanks to the combined efforts of the Downtown Denver Partnership, the City, and nice-guy-developer Evan Makovsky, Block 162 is now on course for a remarkable transformation. The historic Fontius is currently undergoing a complete restoration, two other dilapidated buildings on the block have been razed, and Mr. Makovsky is actively planning the block’s exciting future. Along the way, I was happy to have played a small role in the whole affair by fanning the flames of public discontent with the status quo. Yes, 2007 will go down as the year that the sad Fontius saga came to a happy end, and that is big news indeed.
In the hotel sector, 2007 proved to be another positive year for Downtown Denver. The Hilton Garden Inn at 14th and Welton opened, the old Embassy Suites tower underwent a multimillion dollar renovation into a new Ritz Carlton and, of course, the Four Seasons broke ground. Also, two major hotel proposals for Downtown Denver were announced last year. In March, Central Development revealed plans to build a 17-story hotel tower incorporated into the historic Cable Railway building at 18th and Lawrence and, in July, Sage Hospitality announced its acquisition of the Office Depot building at 16th and Market and plans to construct a 12-story W Hotel and Residences on the site. On the down side, the proposed new Embassy Suites project at 14th and Stout failed to break ground in 2007—significant because it was originally supposed to break ground in 2006—although the old Motor Hotel Garage on the site did meet its demise last year. Also, there didn’t seem to be much news or activity on some of the other hotel proposed in the Downtown area including the Best Western, the hotel component of the Museum Residence second phase, or the proposed Inn at the Denver Athletic Club.
The various districts that surround the core Downtown continued to chug along nicely in their ongoing revitalization and infilling with new projects. In 2007, the Central Platte Valley saw the completion of the Glass House, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and the first phase of One Riverfront Park. In the Uptown district, several big projects were announced in 2007, including the Uptown Apartments at 19th Avenue and Washington, and the 13-story 1915 Logan condominium project. In Northeast Downtown (Arapahoe Square), the 2020 Lawrence and 22nd and Lawrence projects were revealed in 2007, and work got underway on the 8-story 2101 Market project, which includes the renovation of the historic Piggly Wiggly building. The Ballpark district continued to boom with major projects breaking ground in 2007 such as the Zi Lofts, the final phase of Fire Clay, and an additional phase of Blake 27.
The Curtis Park-Five Points district continued to see strong investment in 2007. The Welton Place project by Century Real Estate started its first phase, and the Cornerstone project was announced for the corner of Park Avenue and Curtis Street. Throughout the district, Talus Development continued its successful Urbans townhome projects, and Village Flats finished its 2999 Lawrence building. The Denver Housing Authority also completed the first block in its big redevelopment of the former East Village housing project. In Capitol Hill, the Strata Flats made good progress during 2007, and the City Park West district saw several smaller-scale condo and townhome projects announced or break ground last year.
In River North, the first phase of new construction at TAXI was completed, and the huge 2,000-unit Denargo Market project began development review with the City. In the Prospect district, the ambitious Prospect Place project came to an end after completing only one building, but in its place, Trammell Crow Residential announced an apartment project of similar size. In the Highland and Jefferson Park districts, strong infill activity continued in 2007. Work got underway on Highland Bridge Lofts, RiverClay, and the Clay Street Apartments. The Metroview townhomes were completed in July, and several smaller infill projects were announced in both districts. The biggest project moving forward was the controversial Pinnacle Station development planned by the Spanos Company. Despite significant neighborhood opposition to the project’s suburban design and minimal mixed-use elements, the City granted the developer’s rezoning request in May and the old Chile Pepper and Baby Doe restaurant buildings on the site were razed in October. Last but not least, the Golden Triangle district saw several developments make progress in 2007. The 16-story 816 Acoma project and the 10-story 1200 Elati project both topped off in late 2007, the Piranesi finished construction, and work got underway on 1200 Delaware.
On the public-sector side, there was a lot to talk about in 2007. The first phase (parking garage/post office) of the new Denver Justice Center project was completed, and major construction began on the two-block Courthouse and Detention Center phase of the project. The revitalization of Civic Center Park and the relocation of the Colorado History Museum issues became one and the same during 2007, as the favored site for the new museum became a site within Civic Center Park itself. Meanwhile, at the other end of Downtown, planning and design work for the transit hub at Union Station zigzagged during the year as the plans presented in late 2006 by winning-developer team East West Partners/Continuum Partners were tweaked, and then tweaked again as the developers and their public-sector partners attempted to find a design solution that would meet RTD’s operational needs and the spirit of the master plan while overcoming a significant funding shortfall. A final solution should be forthcoming in early 2008 if the entire Union Station portion of the FasTracks program is to stay on track. Other notable civic achievements in 2007 include the completion and adoption of the Downtown Area Plan, the passage by Denver voters of a huge bond issue that includes tens of millions of dollars for Downtown improvements, and the selection of Denver to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
Yeah, it was a good year for Downtown Denver.
Site traffic at DenverInfill continued to climb in 2007, averaging 40,000 visits a month, and I was honored to receive a Downtown Denver Award from the Downtown Denver Partnership and a “Best of Denver” Award from Westword. I consider myself fortunate to have launched DenverInfill at just the right time to ride the wave of our first Downtown boom in many years, and keeping up with all that is happening is both a lot of fun and, at times, very challenging. I wish I had had more time to blog over the past couple of months, but that’s the way it goes. Fortunately, your many comments keep the conversation going even when I’m not around, and I greatly appreciate your participation and interest in DenverInfill. More importantly, I appreciate your dedication in making Downtown Denver the best place it can be. We need everyone in Denver to join together to make Downtown excel at every level, as the quality of our Downtown is a direct reflection to the rest of the world of who we are as a community.
Here’s to a great 2008 for Downtown Denver!