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The Evolution Of Platte Street: From 150K SF To 1M SF In A Few Short Years

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Over the last few years, Platte Street has evolved from a few blocks with no real identity to one of the most desirable places to open an office.

The Circa Building is home to the Denver headquarters of the technology firm Xero.
The Circa Building is home to the Denver headquarters of the technology firm Xero.

Sandwiched between Denver’s trendy LoHi neighborhood and the Central Platte Valley, Platte Street doesn’t belong to any neighborhood, an attribute developers have found attractive.

“That’s a real benefit because we don’t have a BID, so there’s no tax overlay,” said Unico Properties Vice President and Regional Director Austin Kane, who is a panelist for Bisnow’s Denver New Construction & Development event Oct. 30.

Kane estimates that taxes on buildings in a business improvement district are about $14/SF, compared with about $10 for those on Platte Street that are not.

“That’s a difference-maker,” Kane said, noting that the owners on Platte Street are responsible companies whose best interest is in making sure not only their buildings but the street itself is maintained.

The Evolution Of Platte Street: From 150K SF To 1M SF In A Few Short Years
The Big Chief Bottling Co. building is one of three historic buildings owned by Unico Properties.

For example, Grand American Inc. and The Nichols Partnership have formed public-private partnerships with the city of Denver to redevelop the West Side Line, an old railroad spur on the western bank of the Platte River that was vacated. The plan is to create a landscaped pedestrian-only walkway from the 16th Street bridge over the river to the 19th Street bridge. Grand American and Nichols both have recently developed office buildings on the riverfront side of Platte Street. Grand American owns the Boathouse and the historic Platte River Rowing Club building, and Nichols completed The Nichols building a few years ago.

Earlier this year, Nichols agreed to pay $13.5M for a city-owned parking lot. The company’s $20M plan for the site, a project called One Platte, calls for retail and restaurant space on the ground floor of a 246K SF building, with the upper floors devoted to offices. Nichols also agreed to provide 90 public parking spaces. (There are 124 there now.) Half of the proceeds from the sale of the land will go to the city’s Affordable Housing Fund.

The Evolution Of Platte Street: From 150K SF To 1M SF In A Few Short Years
BP Lower 48 has direct access to the Platte River from Riverview at 1700 Platte.

“We think [One Platte] will be the last great project of any scale to get built here,” Newmark Knight Frank Executive Managing Director Jamie Gard said during a recent NAIOP downtown walking tour, which showcased the yet-to-be built property on one of the tour stops. “It’s an active street that’s not as corporate-feeling as downtown. We’re really wanting to attract the next generation of big users we’re seeing come in from San Francisco.”

Unico Properties was one of the early investors in Platte Street, acquiring three historic buildings and a developable parcel in 2013. In addition to the historic Root, Zang and Big Chief Bottling Co. buildings, Unico purchased a parcel of land where it developed the recently opened Circa Building, a 96K SF LEED Platinum-certified structure that is the new Denver headquarters office of technology company Xero.

The Evolution Of Platte Street: From 150K SF To 1M SF In A Few Short Years
The 420 SF green wall at Riverview at 1700 Platte is the largest in Colorado.

“Platte Street is going from what was 150K SF of office space for the past 50 years to what will be nearly 1M SF of office,” Kane said.

Just north of Circa is The Lab, a 78,576 SF office building, two floors of which are occupied by WeWork, the second location the global coworking network opened in Denver. Developed by Confluent Development, The Lab was sold immediately after completion. 

"The street's location as a landing point between the rapidly redeveloping Union Station neighborhood and the magnet of residential and restaurants in the Lower Highlands made it a natural location for new Class-A creative office space," said Confluent Development President and CEO Marshall Burton, whose company will be represented by Executive Vice President of Development Management Dean Barber at the Bisnow event.

Trammell Crow recently completed Riverview at 1700 Platte, a 195K SF building that is 100% leased to the BP Lower 48 headquarters. There also are three retail spaces, one of which has been leased to Maria Empañada restaurant. The building features a 420 SF living green wall — the largest in Colorado — and filters and treats rainwater in its courtyard gardens before it flows back into the river.

At the northeast corner of 15th and Platte, Crescent Real Estate LLC is developing Platte Fifteen, a five-story, 156,915 SF building that will include street-level retail with four stories of office space above.

Part of what defined the neighborhood in the early years was the construction of the Denver Tramway Powerhouse in 1901. The Denver Tramway Co. had an exclusive city franchise to build electric streetcar lines in Denver, and the building housed the boilers and engines used to generate electricity for the rail system. As the automobile gained popularity, the rail lines were removed from Denver’s streets, and the Powerhouse closed in 1950. It was used as a warehouse until the Forney Museum of Transportation bought it in 1969.

The Evolution Of Platte Street: From 150K SF To 1M SF In A Few Short Years
WeWork occupies two floors at The Lab.

REI took over the building in 1998 for redevelopment into its flagship Denver store. The $32M project was considered a catalyst for development in the Central Platte Valley, so the Denver Urban Renewal Authority provided $63.M in tax-increment financing to the developer.

But it was the series of bridges on 16th Street that changed everything. The Millennium Bridge connected the Central Platte Valley to Denver Union Station and the rest of downtown, and the bridge over the Platte River linked Platte Street to the Central Platte Valley.

Then, in 2006, the Highland Bridge completed the chain from the emerging LoHi neighborhood to the rest of the city, a transformative project that leveraged a relatively modest public investment compared to the benefits it has brought to the city.

The Evolution Of Platte Street: From 150K SF To 1M SF In A Few Short Years
Platte Fifteen is under construction at the northeast corner of 15th and Platte streets.

Kane, who was a history major, said the location appeals to him for several reasons. First, there is the history. Then there is the “funkiness” that has been created over the last several decades with businesses like the old Paris on the Platte coffee shop and My Brother’s Bar, the oldest continuously operating bar in Denver.

“This is essentially where Native Americans and the first settlers from the east started trading 150 years ago,” Kane said. “Platte Street became a place of business in Denver before there really was a Denver. Then Platte Street, while it was one of the first streets, languished and was left to fall by the wayside for decades. It was kind of a dicey part of town. We saw the potential, and we thought there was a real opportunity to make something.”

For more on how new construction is changing Denver, join us at Bisnow's Denver New Construction & Development event Oct. 30 at The Ritz-Carlton Denver.