A few days ago, Margaret Jackson at the Denver Post reported that DaVita, a Fortune 500 company that makes medical equipment, is planning on moving their corporate headquarters from California to Denver and is scouting several locations in the Downtown Denver area for their future home. One of those locations is Block 022 in Lower Downtown, the block bounded by 18th, 19th, Wazee, and Blake streets that is owned by developer Grand American, Inc.
Block 022, you may recall, was the site of the late-1990s “Stadium Walk” project proposed by Grand American and partner Arnold Schwarzenegger that was to include a Planet Hollywood, a multi-screen movie theatre, condos, restaurants, and a grocery store. Of course, that project never got off the ground, but now Grand American is pursuing the DaVita headquarters by proposing a mixed-use office development on their LoDo block. While the program and space needs for DaVita’s future headquarters building is still in flux, the company is apparently looking for approximately 150,000 square feet of office space. Grand American is proposing a 7-story office building of about that size at the corner of 19th and Wazee. This morning, that proposal was considered by the Lower Downtown Design Review Board.
The LoDo design guidelines set the maximum building height for most of the historic district, including Block 022, at 55 feet; however, a building can be approved up to 85 feet in height if it includes residential uses. Grand American is proposing to use the full 85 feet for the DaVita headquarters and to defer the required residential component to a future phase elsewhere on the block. Due to the weak housing market, a requirement to build residential at this time would make the project financially unfeasible. This phased concept was the focus of today’s LDDRB meeting, which the Board did approve, with conditions.
Grand American owns the entire block. Most of the Wazee side is surface parking, along with two buildings that are non-contributing structures to the historic district that could be razed. On the Blake Street side, the two one-story buildings in the center of the block (directly above the words “Blake St.” on the aerial photo) are also non-contributing structures to the historic district. Consequently, Grand American’s proposed project in its entirety is the “T-shaped” site formed by the whole Wazee side of the block and the center one-quarter of the Blake Street side.
Phase 1 of Grand American’s plan would include constructing an underground parking garage along the entire length of the Wazee side of the block and the 7-story office building at the 19th Street and Wazee corner. Subsequent phases to the project would include a building at the 18th Street and Wazee corner—either all office, all residential, or a mix of both—as well as a residential building on the Blake Street parcel that would necessitate, at that time, the demolition of the existing non-contributing buildings and the construction of more underground parking that would connect beneath the alley with the underground parking on the Wazee side. All three buildings would have ground-floor commercial uses. There’s even the possibility that DaVita’s space needs may require construction of office buildings on both halves of the Wazee side of the block in Phase 1, leaving only the Blake Street residential building as a future phase. It’s too early to say at this point what the entire project’s final program will be, but the Board’s approval today of the phased residential deferral concept allows Grand American and their design partner, Shears-Adkins Architects, to continue in their pursuit of landing the DaVita headquarters.
I mentioned the Board gave its approval, with conditions. Several of those conditions were technical in nature which I won’t get into, but one that I will mention involved the question of what to do with the 18th and Wazee corner after the underground parking goes in but before a building is constructed on top of it as part of a future phase, which could be years away. The developer proposed putting in a surface parking lot, edged along 18th and Wazee by some type of artistic/interactive urban design element that would serve as an attractive screen to the parking lot. The Board nixed the parking lot idea (except for one row of parking directly off the alley) and required the developer to identify, instead, something else—a park, plaza, garden, pavilion, whatever—that would serve as an engaging, if temporary, use for the site until it is covered with a future structure.
The next step requires Great American/Shears-Adkins to come back with more detailed plans showing the proposed mass, scale, form and program for all three buildings. This project is still very early in the design and approval process and, of course, if DaVita chooses to go to a competing location, all bets are off. But for now at least, this project moves forward.
I’m thrilled that DaVita appears to be focusing on Downtown Denver for its new corporate headquarters, and equally thrilled that an ugly, parking-lot-infested stretch of Wazee may be developed in the near future.