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The Future Of Downtown Denver Is Height

Denver is growing up.

Taller buildings are the future of downtown Denver because they allow the city to achieve the density it needs to solve its affordable housing crisis. 

Larimer Associates wants to enhance the character of historic Larimer Square.

“More density is the key,” Larimer Associates CEO Jeff Hermanson said.

Hermanson recently announced plans to build two new buildings on Larimer Square, including one that will bring affordable housing to the historic block. The buildings will be on the alleyways, not Larimer Street itself. Historic Denver has voiced concerns about what Larimer Associates is proposing, but Hermanson said that the design will be sensitive to the context of the block.

“We want to enhance the character of Larimer Square, not detract from it,” he said. “Our lack of affordable housing is a wake-up call that our success could be challenged if we don’t solve that issue. Cities are always evolving and innovating, and the ones that thrive embrace change the most.”

Another project on the drawing board is transformation of a parking lot at 19th and Wazee streets in the Ballpark neighborhood. The West Lot mixed-use development will span an entire city block and include a Colorado Rockies Hall of Fame and an outdoor gathering plaza. It will include hospitality, office, residential, retail, entertainment and food and beverage spaces.

Colorado Rockies owner, Chairman and CEO Dick Monfort said the 90K SF parking lot is zoned for eight stories, which would make a 750K SF building possible. His development team is committed to the open plaza concept, but still needs to achieve density on the site, so the buildings will need to be taller.

The West Lot mixed-use development will need to go for height to achieve density around an open plaza.

Monfort said he does not see the downtown building boom stopping any time soon. 

“There just isn’t a lot of land left downtown,” he said. “There are parking lots.”

He predicts some of the older buildings in downtown are likely to be demolished to make way for taller new buildings.

“I think you’ll see a prettier skyline and a higher skyline,” he said. 

Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tami Door said Denver’s significant growth has put the city at a pivotal point and that the bigger it becomes, the more complex the challenges are. 

“One big gap in the center city is that we definitely need more parks and public spaces,” she said. “The question is how do we secure land so that as the city builds up that those spaces are reserved? How do we make sure we have a way to manage them, keep them safe and program them?”

City leaders also need to be having tough conversations about how to form policies that address complex issues such as mobility, homelessness, affordable housing and opioid use.

“Look at housing affordability,” Door said. “If that was a challenge five years ago, it’s going to be exponentially bigger in the future. We’re a growing city. As we grow, everything grows — not just the positive development. The challenges grow, too. People are shocked to see these social issues expand from year to year.”

Hear from Hermanson, Monfort, Door and others at Bisnow's Future of Downtown Denver event April 11 at Tabor Center.