Collaboration Elevates Denver From Cowtown To Global City
Collaboration among public officials and the private sector has been the key to downtown Denver’s success and what will keep the region percolating into the future, according to a Bisnow panel discussion on the Future of Downtown at Tabor Center Thursday.
Examples of collaboration highlighted by members of the panel include the development of the West Lot at Coors Field, the redevelopment of the National Western Center and the 2007 Downtown area plan. In each case, various stakeholders worked together to create the vision for those projects.
Colorado Rockies owner, Chairman and CEO Dick Monfort said collaboration has been the key to planning for the transformation of the parking lot at 19th and Wazee streets into a mixed-use development that will span an entire city block and include a Colorado Rockies Hall of Fame and an outdoor gathering plaza. The development team, headed by architectural design firm Stantec, has been working with the Downtown Denver Partnership, Xcel Energy, Panasonic and neighboring property owners to ensure the West Lot project is an asset to the city.
Stantec Senior Principal Daniel Aizenman said the West Lot represents an incredible opportunity to start connecting the dots from the Denver Art Museum to the River North neighborhood via the 16th Street Mall and Coors Field.
“It’s the only piece of land left that’s a full city block in the core of downtown,” Aizenman said. “It was almost a missing tooth.”
That connection will lead to the National Western Center, which Molson Coors Brewing Co. Chairman Pete Coors said would not have remained in Denver without collaboration between the Western Stock Show Association, Colorado State University and History Colorado, which worked on getting the lodging tax extended to help fund the redevelopment of the complex.
Despite all that Denver has going for it, the city is not without its challenges. Crafted Concepts owner Jen Jasinski, a chef who owns five downtown restaurants within six blocks of each other, said hiring employees is a challenge, largely because it is so hard for them to find affordable housing.
“It’s really hard to find people right now," she said. “I would be doing more if I wasn’t struggling to employ more people.”
Swinerton Director of Preconstruction Aaron Townsend echoed Jasinski, saying his company brought in workers from Texas and New Mexico to work on its projects but they quickly left.
“They couldn’t afford to stay because they couldn’t afford the cost of living,” he said.
East West Partners Managing Partner Amy Cara said housing is a complex challenge because of the cost of labor and materials. Colorado’s onerous construction defects laws, which make it easy for homeowners associations to sue developers, have kept many companies from building condominiums, but East West considers housing affordability a priority so it is building The Coloradan, which will have 33 of its 334 condos available to people earning between 50% and 90% of area median income.
“We feel really strongly that people shouldn’t have to rent to live downtown,” she said. “We are committed to affordability.”
Other topics the panels touched on included the connectivity of Denver’s center city neighborhoods through the 5280 Loop, bringing more music to events in the city, Denver’s notoriety for its craft brewing industry and continuing to improve the city’s walkability.
The panelists noted Denver has shed its reputation as a cowtown as it has grown into a global city through investment in the downtown core.
“It’s only recently that Denver became recognized and people started moving here and everything that we wanted for decades all of a sudden has happened,” Larimer Associates CEO Jeff Hermanson said. “Now we have a true opportunity as to how we shape it. We can envision the city of the future. We have to deal with a litany of issues facing the city, but the cities that aggressively address these challenges will the the cities we’ll be talking about a decade from now.”