Flight Plan

Sixteen years after the Stapleton Airport’s last flight, its control tower is still empty—for now.

February 2011

Above the perfect lines of the closely choreographed neighborhood, the old control tower of the Stapleton International Airport still stands—chipped paint and all. The last commercial airliner departed from the airport in northeast Denver on February 27, 1995, and since then, Stapleton’s idyllic planned neighborhood has taken shape. While other airport buildings have been transformed into a church, a recreation center, and even a police academy, the old control tower sits empty.

Renovation rumors abound, including an observation deck condo and a museum. Forest City Stapleton Inc. (the master developer tasked with turning the former airport into a neighborhood) holds a contract with the City of Denver’s Department of Aviation to eventually purchase the land the tower is on. The company is quick to discredit any of the renovation plans, saying that repurposing the tower would require massive interior adjustments. The biggest change: A new elevator to reach the top. (The current elevator shaft only reaches the 10th floor, leaving a steep, two-story, winding climb to the observation deck.) But don’t expect the old tower to come down anytime soon. Says Forest City’s Tom Gleason: “Residents believe [the tower] gives their neighborhood a special identity.” After all, not every city neighborhood has an aviation relic.

    The Stats
  • 7’2” Height of the windows in the observation deck
  • 415 Square footage of the observation deck
  • 17,920 Total square footage of the deck and the offices below
  • 12 Number of stories in the tower
  • 250 Number of steps from the ground to the top
    The Ideas 

    We asked architect Jeff Reddy, son of the tower’s original architect, about how easy it would be to convert the tower. Here, he weighs in on three proposals.

  • Condo: The most viable reuse; would require gutting the building
  • Restaurant: Functional, but a new elevator would need to be installed to reach the (tiny) observation deck.
  • Museum: Possible only if designed in the base (not in the tower).