To celebrate the amazing progress we made this past decade in improving Denver’s parking lot-riddled urban core, we have a big post today featuring un montón of “before and after” aerial photos for your enjoyment. Using Google Earth aerial imagery from June 2010 and September 2019 (the closest available to the start and end of the 2010s), we can compare the “before” and “after” condition of over a dozen downtown-area districts and visualize those parking lots disappearing. Use the little slider thingy to see the 2010 image on the left and the 2019 image on the right.
Union Station District
No part of Downtown Denver experienced more change in the 2010s than the Union Station district. At the start of the decade there was Lower Downtown and there was the Riverfront Park area and, in between, a dozen blocks of weedy vacant parcels and surface parking lots created a big void in the urban fabric. But after 20 infill developments worth several billion dollars and a half-billion dollars of public investment, we now have a thriving, mixed-use, transit-anchored hub that knits Lower Downtown with Riverfront Park and makes the entire area a seamless extension of the downtown core.
Speaking of Riverfront Park, the 20-year build-out of the Central Platte Valley’s first new neighborhood came to a close in the 2010s with the completion of five major projects. Add in the 34-story Confluence tower, and the Union Station district is now largely complete. Only three undeveloped parcels remain in the entire 150 acres bounded by Cherry Creek, Wynkoop Street, 20th Street, and the South Platte River.
Historic Denver Union Station
One of the most iconic structures in Denver and probably the most important building in Denver’s first century of existence as the city’s gateway to the world, Denver Union Station entered the decade as a tired building suffering the indignity of being flanked by ugly surface parking lots. It finished the decade as a restored jewel of a building surrounded by lively public spaces and transit facilities full of people, and it is now the go-to place in downtown for… well, just about everything.
LoDo was already the trendiest part of Downtown Denver in 2010, but during this past decade the district gained several new buildings and lost several parking lots in the process, making what was, perhaps, the most walkable part of downtown even better. And in the first year of this new decade, two big projects—Market Station and McGregor Square—will open and elevate Lower Downtown to the next level.
Changes to look for… Lower left: Market Street Station transforming into the Market Station development, the old Office Depot building replaced by 16M, and the Thompson Hotel Denver under construction at 16th and Market. Lower right: the half-block of parking at 18th and Market replaced with the Fitzgerald construction site. Upper right: the completed Dairy Block and the under-construction McGregor Square development remove acres of ugly asphalt.
Central Downtown, Larimer to Champa
The part of central downtown between Larimer and Champa didn’t see a large number of new projects during the decade, but the development that did occur was significant in its contribution to the Denver skyline and removal of three big parking lots.
Changes to look for… Upper left: the 22-story 1401 Lawrence and 40-story 1144 Fifteenth towers added bulk and architectural interest to the downtown skyline. Lower right: the Quincy and Prism buildings replaced a full half-block of asphalt.
Central Downtown, Champa to Glenarm
In the heart of Central Downtown between Champa and Glenarm, the infill action this past decade was focused near the Colorado Convention center, with three hotels and a big office tower filling voids in downtown’s urban fabric.
Changes to look for… Upper left: the Aloft Denver City Center, Home2 Suites/Tru Hotel, and LeMeridian/AC Hotel developments create a much-improved pedestrian experience along 15th. Lower left: the 30-story Block 162 office tower under construction removed one of downtown’s largest parking lots and, once it is finished, will complete the corner of 15th and California.
Upper Downtown, from Glenarm to Colfax and east of Broadway, saw a modest amount of infill development in the 2010s. But the recently completed Upper Downtown Plan prepared by the city and the Downtown Denver Partnership will hopefully spark additional investment in this parking lot-heavy section of downtown.
Changes to look for… Upper left: the 21-story Hyatt Place/Hyatt House greatly improved the corner of 14th and Glenarm. Upper right: the 26-story SkyHouse tower at 18th Avenue and Broadway removed a big parking lot and gave the venerable Brown Palace Hotel a nice new neighbor.
Civic Center Cultural District
The cluster of cultural and government facilities south of Civic Center Park continued to evolve in the 2010s, with eight major projects making a significant improvement in the quality of the district’s architecture and urban form.
Changes to look for… Upper left: upgrades to the Denver Art Museum campus include the construction of the Sie Welcome Center and a new outdoor courtyard next to the under-renovation Martin building. Lower left: the Clyfford Still Museum, Kirkland Museum, Denver Art Museum Office Building, and the Eviva Cherokee apartment tower replace parking lots and greatly enhance the pedestrian environment. Lower right: The Museum Center/Art Hotel project completed the wrap of the Cultural Complex Parking Garage and eliminated a big blank wall and parking lot facing Broadway, while the History Colorado Center at 12th and Broadway also eradicated a big parking lot. Upper right: the Ralph Carr Colorado Judicial Center replaced the 1970s-era Supreme Court and Colorado History Museum buildings.
In the 2010s, the Golden Triangle continued its transformation from a parking lot-infested, low-density annex to the central business district into a walkable, high-density, mixed-use downtown district.
Changes to look for… Upper left: the 16-story Joule residential tower at Speer and Cherokee. Lower left: the 16-story Parq on Speer tower wipes out a huge parking lot. Lower right: an existing building that was removed—the 1980s-era office building at the southeast corner of 10th and Bannock—that will be the future home of a new apartment tower, a companion to the 10th and Acoma project that broke ground on the parking lot next door since the 2019 aerial was taken.
The Auraria Campus came a long way in the 2010s, with numerous new buildings that helped the campus in its transition from a cluster of buildings surrounded by a sea of parking into an integrated downtown district.
Changes to look for… Upper left: Two new MSU Denver buildings, the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building and the Student Success Building, create an urban edge along Auraria Parkway, while the 5th Street Parking Garage prepared the way for the eventual removal of all surface parking lots on the campus. Lower left: No new buildings, but the relocation of the Auraria West Campus light rail station and the path of the W Line are clearly visible in the before-and-after images. Upper right: three new buildings, the MSU Denver Hotel and Hospitality Learning Center (featuring a Springhill Suites by Marriott), the CU Denver Student Commons and the CU Denver Student Wellness Center, provide an urban edge to the Speer/Auraria Parkway area, while the new Tivoli Green gives the campus a signature public space.
The Uptown district was hit hard by the proliferation of parking lots in the latter half of the 20th century and, like the Golden Triangle, it is evolving into an increasingly walkable and highly desirable downtown neighborhood. While there is still a long way to go, a number of parking lots gave way to the construction of new buildings in Uptown in the 2010s.
Changes to look for… Upper left: Together, One City Block, SOVA, Alexan Uptown, and the Colorado Health Foundation eliminated two full city blocks of ugly parking lots. Lower left: the 5280 Senior Residences and the under-construction 17th and Pearl Apartments development are filling in gaps in the urban fabric. Lower right: the most notable project in this area is Park 17, nearing completion at the corner of Park Avenue and 17th Avenue. Upper right: the biggest visual change from 2010 to 2019 is the reconstruction of the new St. Joseph Hospital building and the general reorganization of the entire St. Joseph Hospital campus, including the straightening of Downing Street between 18th and 21st avenues. Construction sites for the St. Joseph Medical Pavilion and the Broadstone Uptown East and West projects are also visible in the 2019 image.
Arapahoe Square/Five Points, Blake to Curtis
Uptown and the Golden Triangle were significantly impacted by post-war parkinglotification, but Arapahoe Square was downright decimated. Transforming an asphalt wasteland into a thriving urban district will take time, but that process gained momentum for Arapahoe Square in the 2010s. And east of Park Avenue in the [Five Points/Curtis Park/Ballpark/River North… choose a name] area, obsolete industrial properties, vacant parcels, and parking lots gave way to higher-density mixed-use developments.
Changes to look for… Upper left: new developments Broadstone Blake Street and the Douglas eliminated almost 1.5 city blocks of parking lots. Lower left: Point 21, 2020 Lawrence, and the Buell Public Media Center replaced a mix of parking lots and small nondescript buildings. Lower right: S*Park filled in a vacant city block with condos, townhomes and a greenhouse.
Arapahoe Square/Five Points, Curtis to Glenarm
The southern half of Arapahoe Square and the Five Points business district along Welton experienced significant infill development this past decade, with almost four full city blocks of parking lots eradicated in the process. Welton Street alone saw a half-dozen new projects get underway in the 2010s, putting over 1,200 new homes adjacent to the L light rail line.
Changes to look for… Upper left: Renaissance Stout Street Lofts, Renaissance Downtown Lofts, Harbor Light Center, and the Mile High United Way headquarters brought hundreds of affordable homes and/or homeless support services to the area. Lower left: three big developments, Alexan 20th Street Station, Radiant, and Alexan Arapahoe Square, added market-rate housing to Arapahoe Square while removing one and a half city blocks of parking lots. Lower right: Along Welton Street near Five Points, 2300 Welton, the Wheatley, the Lydian, and the Hooper (under construction) add a mix of housing and office uses to the transit corridor.
While the Union Station area saw its build-out as a dense urban district largely completed in the 2010s, the River North’s transformation is still very much a work in progress. A significant number of new infill projects were completed in RiNo this past decade, but most of the larger planned developments in terms of land area, building heights, and/or square footage are still to come. Depending on who you ask, River North consists of several subareas: RiNo West (on the west side of the river) features mostly the TAXI campus, RiNo Central (between the river and the railroad tracks) features a rebuilt multi-modal Brighton Boulevard with new developments along its length, and RiNo East (on the east side of the tracks) features a revitalized mix of new construction and adaptive reuse projects along Blake, Walnut, and Larimer. What to call this “RiNo East” area in particular is the subject of great debate these days. Nevertheless, change has come to this popular downtown-edge district that has become more walkable with the addition of the 38th and Blake transit station and two pedestrian bridges spanning the tracks.
Changes to look for… There’s just too many to itemize, with about 30 projects visible in the after photo. Using the River North location tag to query DenverInfill for these projects is a good place to start and, stay tuned—we have about a dozen new RiNo projects that we haven’t covered yet that will be the subject of an upcoming post or two.
Union Station North
Starting the decade as the Prospect area, the recently renamed Union Station North district is nearly built out. Featuring mostly residential developments, Union Station North is just a short distance from Union Station, Coors Field, and City of Cuernavaca Park, but it is hemmed in by major streets, viaducts, and railroads making the area a bit hard to get to on foot. Maybe in the 2020s, the city can focus on giving the people living in the 2,100-plus homes in the district better connections to the rest of downtown. Anyway, five infill projects were developed in Union Station North this past decade, leaving only a couple of developable sites left.
Changes to look for… Upper left: the biggest—and longest—project in this area is the Huron, with X Denver (and X Denver II) under construction up the street. Lower left: the Casey filled in the empty lot at 21st and Delgany and a storage facility was built along Fox Street. Lower and upper right: clearly visible in the 2019 image is the rail bridge to the right of the Park Avenue viaduct for the B and G transit lines, and the rail bridge left of the viaduct for the soon-to-open N transit line.
In the 2010s, Platte Street became one of the hottest micro-districts in the downtown area. Only a few blocks long and sandwiched between the South Platte River and Interstate 25, Platte Street really blossomed in the last ten years. Its appeal is driven by a combination of factors: its proximity to Union Station, the South Platte River, and Lower Highland; its mix of pedestrian-scaled historic and modern buildings, and its connection to the 16th Street pedestrian axis made possible by the trio of ped bridges completed in the 2000s. This prompted quite a bit of infilling, with six projects completed and several more in the planning stages.
Changes to look for… Left: the Circa Building next to the Highland Bridge and Platte Fifteen, Denver’s first cross-laminated timber office building. Right: the Nichols Building, the Lab on Platte, Riverview at 1700 Platte, and the Boathouse.
Lower Highland, the section of the Highland neighborhood closest to downtown and featuring a piece of the downtown street grid, transformed in the 2010s from a quiet low-scale neighborhood into a bustling higher-density, mixed-use district, thanks to the three pedestrian bridges along 16th Street that puts Lower Highland an easy 10-minute walk away from Denver Union Station.
Changes to look for… Upper left: 2930 Umatilla isn’t big but has some sweet views of downtown. Lower left: Line 28, Modera LoHi, and Prospect on Central filled in vacant and underutilized lots. Lower right: Edge LoHi, Studio LoHi, B-Street LoHi, and Centric LoHi added over 500 new homes to the area. Upper right: the Kasserman replaced a small office building and parking lot.
Cherry Creek North
A few miles to the southeast of downtown, the Cherry Creek North neighborhood saw significant infill development in the 2010s due to the district’s long-standing appeal and a new neighborhood plan and rezoning that accommodates developments in places up to 12 stories in height between 1st and 3rd Avenues and east of Steele. The boom in Cherry Creek this past decade was impressive and more development is in the pipeline that will continue the district’s transition from low-rise to mid-rise.
Changes to look for… Too many to list here, but use our Cherry Creek tag to see some of the 20 or so projects that contributed to the district’s evolution over the past ten years.
That’s all folks! We hope you enjoyed our recap of infill development in the 2010s in Denver’s urban core using “Before and After” aerial photos. Thank you, Google Earth, for the imagery!