Come spring, when the renovated Colorado Saddlery building at 15th and Wynkoop streets opens, LoDo will have a new-old addition to the real estate market. It’s the kind of building that will please urbanists by featuring the holy trinity of modern, mixed-use construction—retail, office, and residential—in a coveted location, just a block from Union Station (which is in the midst of its own $480 million update). The overhaul of the 110-year-old building, though, represents something more important to Denver: It’s the last great LoDo warehouse to be remodeled.
It wasn’t that long ago that the historic heart of Denver was empty as businesses and residents headed to the suburbs. Landlords practically gave away space. To wit, in 1988, John Hickenlooper and his partners leased space for the Wynkoop Brewing Company for a paltry $1-per-square-foot a year. Wynkoop was just the start: Owners began converting downtown’s warehouses into modern buildings that could house offices, restaurants, and residents.
More than two decades after Hickenlooper’s prescient move, nearly every historic building—there are more than 100 in the neighborhood—has been renovated. Commercial real estate now runs $17 to $35 a square foot. “That it took only 22 years or so is nothing short of remarkable,” says Ken Schroeppel, an urban planner at Matrix Design and the founder of Denverinfill.com, a blog that chronicles urban development. “It’s one of the reasons that LoDo is cited as one of the greatest revitalization stories in the country.”
There are still empty surface parking lots aching to be built out in LoDo—but the revitalization of Denver’s core is largely complete. “Most of us who built businesses in LoDo 20 years ago never dreamed it would grow to become a national model,” Hickenlooper says. “We just loved being there and introducing it to others. But most of us hoped that if we got to a critical mass of residents, it would act as a catalyst for the entire downtown. It did.”