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  • Building a Newer (Cooler) Denver

    The 20 commercial real estate projects you need to know about.

     •  

    Forget the mountains. The most inspiring view in Denver right now may come courtesy of the towering cranes filling the skyline. Dynamic commercial projects are transforming the city into a denser, more functional, and (arguably) more compelling place to live. How? Let us introduce you to some of the new buildings next door (organized by neighborhood).


    Union Station

    Build it, and the private sector will come.

    More than one expert we spoke with called the $500 million renovation of downtown’s Union Station a “once-in-a-generation” project. They were talking about the quality of the work, sure, but also about the fact that the long underused station presented an opportunity to create a city-defining landmark. Open for a little less than two years, the refurbished depot has a hotel, restaurants, bars, and retail outlets, not to mention a bustling transit center. The hope was the project would spur investment—and it has done just that. “The developments happening in LoDo prove an axiom that there needs to be a there there,” says Chris Frampton, one of the master developers of the Union Station project. With Union Station serving as a people magnet, developers are blending millions of square feet of cubicle-ready office space with residences, shops, eateries, and hotels—rather than constructing single-use towers that would leave our streets stagnant at night.

    Platform At Union Station

    Courtesy of Markus Bryon/MBR Studios

    1650 Wewatta St.

    Developer: Holland Partner Group (Vancouver, Washington)
    Size: 21 stories; 240,000 square feet
    Completion Date: March 2015
    Cost: Not available


    The Triangle Building

    Courtesy of Anderson Mason Dale Architects

    1550 Wewatta St.

    Developer: East West Partners (Denver)
    Size: 10 stories; 225,000 square feet
    Completion Date: December 2015
    Cost: $85 million


    The A Block At Union Station

    Courtesy of Semple Brown Design

    1881 16th St.

    Developer:  Continuum Partners (Denver)
    Size: 310,055 square feet
    Completion Date: Fourth quarter of 2016
    Cost: $120 million


    1601 Wewatta

    Courtesy of Hines

    Developer: Jordon Perlmutter & Co. (Denver) and Hines (Houston)
    Size: 10 stories; 300,000 square feet
    Completion Date: November 2015
    Cost: $300 million


    Blessed Union

    Mark Falcone of Continuum Partners and Chris Frampton of East West Partners, Union Station’s masterminds, provide perspective as the huge venture winds down.

    Left: Chris Frampton (photo courtesy of East West Partners), Right: Mark Falcone (photo courtesy of Continuum Partners)

    5280: What were you worried about when you began?

    Mark Falcone: What was there not to worry about in 2008? The writing was on the wall that the market was in for a long struggle.

    Chris Frampton: It was four years before anything got going again.

    MF: My father has a great little saying he shared with me: “Son, for a good piece of real estate there is no problem that time can’t heal. If you don’t run out of money first.”

    What was your goal for Union Station?

    CF: I always talk about the virtuous cycle. Maybe you start with residential, maybe office, maybe retail. But one helps the other. CEOs want their employees to walk downstairs to 300 restaurants and bars and for them to have breakout sessions at baseball games.

    Are you worried about developers ruining what you’ve started?

    CF: We’re not because we know everyone who’s coming in. And it’s not just our project that’s wrapping up. The entire Union Station neighborhood will be under construction by December 2016.

    What aspect of Union Station are you most pleased with?

    MF: I’ll admit I didn’t want the interactive fountains. Frampton regularly sends me photos of kids in their wet, hanging diapers, which is what I was concerned about. But I think we got that right. I feel personally very proud of that.


    RiNo

    Where empty lots and abandoned warehouses are reborn as hipster bait.

    If Union Station is the product of public investment spurring private development, the River North neighborhood—or RiNo, its New York City–esque, super-hip nickname—is the opposite. “All the early, key catalytic infrastructure wasn’t there,” says Kyle Zeppelin of Denver-based Zeppelin Development, who finished his first RiNo project in 2007. The roads were crumbling; sidewalks, streetlights, and parking lots didn’t exist; and junk littered…well…most everything. However, the industrial area did possess a burgeoning, grassroots arts scene, proximity to other hip neighborhoods, and (underneath graffiti and grime) buildings that could inspire some really unique redevelopment. As a result, the projects driven by RiNo’s pioneering developers over the past decade—from Zeppelin’s artisan market, the Source, to Industry Denver, a new 153,000-square-foot facility with shared working space and restaurants—feel authentic because they pay homage to RiNo’s history and creative culture. Now the city is installing much-needed infrastructure, such as sidewalks, bike lanes, and streetlights, along Brighton Boulevard, RiNo’s main thoroughfare, and in doing so constructing a pathway for further commercial projects.

    Backyard On Blake

    Courtesy of Backyard on Blake, LLC

    3040 Blake St.

    Developer: River North Investment Co. (Denver)
    Size: 29,000 square feet
    Completion Date: March 2016
    Cost: $8.3 million


    Bindery on Blake

    Courtesy of Davis Partnership Architects

    2875 and 2901 Blake St.

    Developer: Danielsen Investments (Denver)
    Size: 71,000 square feet
    Completion Date: December 2015
    Cost: $6.2 million


    The Source Hotel

    Courtesy of Dynia Architects

    3330 Brighton Blvd.

    Developer: Zeppelin Development, River North Investment Partners, and the Union Hotel Company River North (all Denver)
    Size: Eight stories; 101,000 square feet
    Completion Date: First quarter of 2017
    Cost: $42 million


    Valuable Assets

    Our booming real estate scene might make the desperate days of 2010, when Denver was still slogging through the end of the Great Recession, seem like a distant nightmare. We ran the numbers on commercial real estate—then versus now.

    $651.3 million: The estimated cost of construction materials and labor for commercial real estate built in 2014 in Denver, compared with $171.6 million in 2010

    320: Permits issued for commercial projects in 2014 in Denver, compared with 210 in 2010

    12.6%: Current vacancy rate for office space in Denver, compared with 16 percent in 2010

    2.4 million: Square feet of office space under construction in Denver, compared with 540,000 square feet in 2010

    6.1%: Current vacancy rate for retail space in Denver, compared with 9.3 percent in 2010

    846,000: Square feet of retail space currently under construction in Denver, compared with 650,000 in 2010


    Cherry Creek

    Denver’s toniest neighborhood remakes itself. Again.

    Nestled just four miles outside Denver’s Central Business District, Cherry Creek’s trendy boutiques, chic residences, and upscale restaurants set the standard for local luxury. But it wasn’t until 1990—when Cherry Creek Shopping Center opened—that the urban enclave could lay claim to being the center of Denver retail. Having a sprawling and exclusive shopping center did not make the area immune to economic downturns and fickle consumer tastes; however, Cherry Creek has learned to rebound, and right now, that means crafting a curated urban village. “We want our residents to be able to live, work, shop, and eat without having to leave,” says Julie Underdahl, president and CEO of Cherry Creek North Business Improvement District. So, while the neighborhood has always been loaded with retail outlets and (expensive) single-family residential options, recent developments have focused on increasing multifamily residential options and building more hotel rooms. “Office and retail during the day, residential and restaurants at night,” says Ken Schroeppel, an urban planning instructor at the University of Colorado Denver. “That’s what makes for a 24-hour town.”

    250 Columbine

    Courtesy of PCL

    200 and 250 Columbine St.

    Developer: Western Development Group (Denver)
    Size: 272,900 square feet
    Completion Date: February 2016
    Cost: $100 million


    Halcyon—A Hotel In Cherry Creek

    Courtesy of GKK Works

    245 Columbine St.

    Developers: BMC Investments and Sage Hospitality (both Denver)
    Size: 144,000 square feet
    Completion Date: Spring 2016
    Cost: $70 million


    Steele Creek

    Courtesy of Ed Lacasse

    3222 E. First Ave.

    Developer: BMC Investments (Denver)
    Size: 450,000 square feet
    Completion Date: April 2015
    Cost: $108 million

    (Read about how Cherry Creek is addressing its parking problem)


    The Best of the Rest

    Choosing the most exciting new commercial developments in Denver is like selecting the best new craft breweries: Worthy places can get overlooked. That’s why we compiled this grid of 10 projects that deserve attention—but might reside outside of the Mile High City’s most coveted neighborhoods, lack advanced detail, or have far-off completion dates.

    The Dairy Block

    Courtesy of Shears Adkins Rockmore

    18th and Blake streets to 19th and Wazee streets


    Steam On The Platte

    Courtesy of Wenk Associates

    14th Avenue and Zuni Street


    Union Square Denver

    1780 Chestnut Place


    Union Tower West

    Courtesy of Portman Holdings

    1801 Wewatta St.


    The Wheatley At Five Points

    Courtesy of Craine Architecture

    2460 Welton St.


    1144 Fifteenth

    Courtesy of Hines

    1144 15th St.


    Stanley Marketplace

    Courtesy of Workshop8

    2501 Dallas St., Aurora


    Sloans

    Courtesy of Oz Architecture

    From Stuart Street to Perry Street and West 17th Avenue to West Colfax Avenue


    Glendale 180

    Courtesy of Gensler Architects LA

    Colorado Boulevard and Cherry Creek South Drive to East Virginia Avenue and South Cherry Street


    Coda Cherry Creek

    100 Steele St.


    When Boom Becomes Bust

    iStock

    Remember the 1980s, when downtown Denver had more empty office space than any other city in the country? Is that going to happen again? 

    No. Er…well…probably not. With Denver’s economy growing even faster than its skyline, supply for office space has a ways to go before it catches up with demand. “The office vacancy rate in Denver is under 10 percent,” says Patty Silverstein, chief consulting economist for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “And most of the projects going up have significant amounts of pre-leasing.” Which is good. With tenants already in place for most commercial developments, there’s little chance of office buildings standing vacant (and developers going bankrupt). Silverstein’s ever-so-slight hedge comes from the other side of the construction business: residential. “There is concern,” Silverstein says, “that housing prices are growing so rapidly that people who’d like to move here can no longer do so.” That could put a strain on employers (who have to offer higher salaries to cover their employees’ costs of living) and/or simply curtail the mass migration into the Mile High City, meaning all those shiny new offices could eventually have a shortage of bodies to fill them. —Sarah Cahalan

    ELECTION 2020

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