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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).
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
1650 Wewatta St.
Developer: Holland Partner Group (Vancouver, Washington)
Size: 21 stories; 240,000 square feet
Completion Date: March 2015
Cost: Not available
- Project Summary: East West Partners’ Chris Frampton calls the Platform “the holy grail of urban development”: a bevy of moneyed consumers…er…residents in the middle of a busy commercial district.
- Design: One of the first 20-plus-story residential buildings in the Union
- Station neighborhood, the Platform offers postcard-worthy views of the Rockies and Union Station’s iconic electric orange sign.
- Eat: Tupelo Honey Café—a North Carolina–based chain famous for Southern brunches, including fried chicken and handmade biscuits that will bring back memories of playing up in the holler, even if you have never actually played in one—is slated to open in the Platform’s first-floor retail level during the fourth quarter of this year.
- Live: Residents of the 287 apartments (rents start at $1,585 for a one-bedroom unit and top out at $7,000 for two bedrooms) can relax in the 14th-floor pool and Jacuzzi or untangle during instructor-led classes in the on-site fitness studio.
The Triangle Building
1550 Wewatta St.
Developer: East West Partners (Denver)
Size: 10 stories; 225,000 square feet
Completion Date: December 2015
Cost: $85 million
- Project Summary: The Triangle Building turned an ideally located but ill-shaped plot of land into a hub for LoDo workers and commuters.
- Shop: A Capital One Cafe, where bank customers can lounge in a Starbucks-like setting, will fill part of its 6,500 square feet of ground-floor retail. The baristas double as bank tellers. (Seriously.)
- Work: New York City–based WeWork, a co-working chain, snapped up 72,000 square feet of office space to open its first Denver location, while Liberty Global, a cable provider, grabbed 70,000 on the top three floors.
- Ride: The city will put the Bike Hub at Union Station—160 two-wheeler parking spots that can be leased daily, monthly, or annually—inside a key-card protected structure in an adjacent plaza.
The A Block At Union Station
1881 16th St.
Developer: Continuum Partners (Denver)
Size: 310,055 square feet
Completion Date: Fourth quarter of 2016
Cost: $120 million
- Project Summary: A 12-story boutique hotel, one of the project’s two structures, will be located a short shuffle from the station for the new RTD rail line to and from the airport. Tenants of the second building (a five-story, 53,000-square-foot office building with retail on the ground floor) probably won’t mind the convenience, either.
- Eat: Two restaurants—one is being developed by the duo behind Boulder’s Frasca Food and Wine; the other dining tenant hasn’t been signed yet—will move into the hotel.
- Stay: The Kimpton Group, managers of Denver’s Hotel Monaco on Champa Street, will operate a 200-room hotel here. The interior designer says the aesthetic will convey a “modern alpine lodge”—which, we’re assuming, means bearded bellhops wearing flannel uniforms.
- Work: Bank of America has leased 3,500 square feet on the first floor for a retail branch, while Antero Resources, an oil and gas company, will take floors two through four. Continuum Partners, the project’s developer, will assume residence in the penthouse.
Developer: Jordon Perlmutter & Co. (Denver) and Hines (Houston)
Size: 10 stories; 300,000 square feet
Completion Date: November 2015
Cost: $300 million
- Project Summary: The amenities at 1601 Wewatta—from distinctive dining options to five bucolic terraces—exemplify the lengths to which developers are going to lure office tenants.
- Eat: The California-based Grill Concepts restaurant group will locate its eighth Public School on Tap on the ground floor. With 24 craft brews on draft, the classroom-inspired eatery will serve upscale pub grub like shrimp and cheddar grits. Grill Concepts will also operate Wewatta Point, a seafood restaurant, on the first floor.
- Play: Colorado Athletic Club’s eighth facility will occupy the second floor. As usual, the club will offer unlimited fitness classes, strength and cardio equipment, and smoothies at its Energy Bar Café.
- Work: 1601 Wewatta’s anchor tenant is Hogan Lovells (an international law firm with more than 2,500 attorneys spread across 46 offices), which will set up shop on the top two-and-a-half floors.
Mark Falcone of Continuum Partners and Chris Frampton of East West Partners, Union Station’s masterminds, provide perspective as the huge venture winds down.
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.
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
3040 Blake St.
Developer: River North Investment Co. (Denver)
Size: 29,000 square feet
Completion Date: March 2016
Cost: $8.3 million
- Project Summary: River North Investment Co. erected a two-story building to complement a 12,500-square-foot truss-roofed warehouse built in 1932. Both structures, filled mostly with retail tenants, surround what will serve as a communal backyard with a stage for live music—an ideal neighborhood hangout.
- Shop: Retail tenants were curated so that four of the six would be opening their maiden brick-and-mortar locations. They include: River North Workshop Co. (Colorado-made housewares); Spinster Sisters Co. (small-batch soaps and lotions made from Colorado ingredients); Meraki Moon (women’s clothing); and Judith & Joe and La Lovely Vintage (both started as fashion/decor trucks), which will share a space.
- Eat: An eatery from first-time restaurateurs (and married couple) Obe and Whitney Ariss, called the Preservery, will cater to RiNo’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner crowds with sandwiches and wraps made from seasonal, local ingredients. Bonus: The developer plans to add an ice cream shop in the near future.
- Work: A monthly membership grants access to a 3,000-square-foot co-working space with 18 designated desks ($350 per month), four private offices ($1,000 per month), a lounge, and a conference room. You can score an unassigned desk for $175 a month.
Bindery on Blake
2875 and 2901 Blake St.
Developer: Danielsen Investments (Denver)
Size: 71,000 square feet
Completion Date: December 2015
Cost: $6.2 million
- Project Summary: The 46,300-square-foot Sandbox (constructed in 1927) houses cubes, while the 25,000-square-foot Juicebox (built in 1998) is where cube dwellers unwind with after-work cocktails.
- Drink: In December, the Rackhouse Pub opened in the Juicebox, where it sits on a raised mezzanine over-looking the production facilities of C Squared Ciders and Bierstadt Lagerhaus, a German-style brewer.
- Work: Davis Partnership, an architecture firm, and Motive, an ad agency, lease 38,000 square feet. The developers devoted 4,400 square feet to artist studios.
- Shop: The Sandbox includes showrooms for Spazio Prego—which installs Italian-style kitchens, closets, and bathrooms—and Metropolitan Hardwood Floors.
The Source Hotel
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
- Project Summary: A cottonwood-lined bridge will connect the Source Hotel, a new-build lodge, to the Source, an 1880s former foundry full of restaurants, bars, and shops.
- Shop: The Source Hotel’s 20,000-square-foot market hall will have 12 to 15 tenants, including a locally sourced barbecue restaurant from Western Daughters Butcher Shoppe, a kitchen goods outlet, and a tattoo parlor.
- Design: The hotel’s corrugated, stacked-metal facade is meant to honor RiNo’s industrial past. The Source Hotel’s market hall will be flooded with natural light from skylights and garage doors.
- Stay: The group behind Boulder’s upscale St Julien Hotel & Spa will manage the lodging operation. All 100 hotel rooms will showcase work from local artists.
- Drink: New Belgium Brewing Company will open a 10-barrel, 2,000-square-foot brewery on the ground floor to showcase its sour beers. Try one of the new brews at the Woods at the Source Hotel, a beer garden that will live on the eighth-floor pool deck.
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
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.”
200 and 250 Columbine St.
Developer: Western Development Group (Denver)
Size: 272,900 square feet
Completion Date: February 2016
Cost: $100 million
- Project Summary: Western Development’s peers gush about this huge office, retail, and condo development. Not only because it blended all of those uses and ample square footage so gracefully into one structure, but also (and mostly) because it did so without dominating the neighborhood’s sightlines.
- Design: So how do you make a block-long building look dainty? By gradually raising the roof from three stories along East Third Avenue to seven stories along East Second Avenue.
- Work: Cambiar Investors, a Denver-based investment-management firm, leases almost a third of the 92,000 square feet of office space.
- Live: The building’s 71 condos start at around $450,000—a hefty price tag, yes, but one that comes with access to the sixth-floor amenity deck’s plunge pool and gas fire pit.
- Shop: 250 Columbine’s ground-level retail includes Canada-based Arc’teryx, a high-end outdoor gear company; Denver-based jeweler Gnat Original Design; and Evereve, a Minnesota-based women’s clothing store.
- Eat: Blue Island Oyster Bar—from the creators of Rialto Cafe and Humboldt Farm Fish Wine—serves shellfish harvested in the Long Island Sound, and Sol Cocina, which started in California, will cook up Baja cuisine (read: traditional Mexican with a heavy helping of seafood) in a casual setting.
Halcyon—A Hotel In Cherry Creek
245 Columbine St.
Developers: BMC Investments and Sage Hospitality (both Denver)
Size: 144,000 square feet
Completion Date: Spring 2016
Cost: $70 million
- Project Summary: The developers replaced a post office with something much more compelling: a 154-room, high-end hotel.
- Stay: The rooms will feature functioning turntables with classic records, books good for lazy afternoon reading sessions, and oversize windows.
- Play: Hotel guests will be able to raid the Halcyon’s “garage,” which will be stocked with complimentary gear such as bicycles, Vespas, and skis.
- Eat: Departure Restaurant & Lounge Cherry Creek, a Portland-born Pan-Asian eatery from Top Chef finalist Gregory Gourdet, will open a Denver outpost here. Go coast to coast with a stroll across the lobby: A New York group will replicate its Italian steak-house concept, Quality Italian, at Halcyon.
- Drink: Rumors that a subterranean speakeasy will find its way under the property are flying—but Sage Hospitality is downplaying the gossip with a wink and a wry smile.
3222 E. First Ave.
Developer: BMC Investments (Denver)
Size: 450,000 square feet
Completion Date: April 2015
Cost: $108 million
- Project Summary: Steele Creek forsook millennials in favor of their parents: baby boomers with empty nests and substantial spending power. That demo flocked to the complex, with 95 percent of the building’s 218 apartments occupied as of early December.
- Shop: Turning heads in well-heeled Cherry Creek requires more than a fabulous scrunchie. Drybar, a California chain, performs $40 blowouts—and only blowouts—on Steele Creek’s ground floor. Your options run from the Manhattan (sleek and smooth) to the Dirty Martini (tousled and textured).
- Eat: Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, famous for his Nobu and Matsuhisa restaurants in LA, is opening the third Matsuhisa Colorado location on the ground floor of Steele Creek this month. Like the Aspen and Vail spots, Denver’s Matsuhisa fuses Peruvian, Argentine, and Japanese fare. Plus, Matsuhisa delivers room service to Steele Creek residents, which beats calling out for pizza, no matter how much cheese is stuffed inside the crust.
- Live: The apartments come with plenty of perks: a 24-hour concierge who will arrange dog-walking services from nearby Charlie’s Walkers; an on-call doctor; a sports lounge with golf, soccer, and football simulators; and a rooftop infinity pool that seems to melt into the Rockies. In return, all you have to shell out is $1,800 (for a 604-square-foot studio; a two-bedroom unit runs up to $7,500) a month.
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
18th and Blake streets to 19th and Wazee streets
- Project Summary: The Dairy Block will take over an entire city block, including the Windsor Farm Dairy building erected in 1918. There will be 185,600 square feet of office space and ground-floor retail, as well as a Sage Hospitality hotel—with about 170 rooms—and Sage Hospitality’s second Kachina Southwestern Grill (the first is in Westminster).
- Developers: McWhinney (Loveland); Sage Hospitality and Grand American Inc. (both Denver)
- Size: 600,000 square feet
- Completion Date: 2017
- Cost: Not available
Steam On The Platte
14th Avenue and Zuni Street
- Project summary: The old Johnson and Bremer Soap Factory, built in 1910, will become 65,000 square feet of offices. Nimbl, a local software consulting company, has dibs on most of the space. In an adjacent 6,000-square-foot structure replete with an old-school truss roof, a restaurant will offer patrons views of the South Platte River.
- Developer: Urban Ventures (Denver) and White Construction Group (Castle Rock)
- Size: 71,000 square feet
- Completion Date: Fourth quarter of 2016
- Cost: $15 million (for phase one)
Union Square Denver
1780 Chestnut Place
- Project summary: Our favorite amenity of this two-acre, three-tower apartment complex is the ground-floor, two-story, 56,000-square-foot Whole Foods, the chain’s largest outlet in Denver. Downtown residents not fortunate enough to snag one of the 580 apartments shouldn’t panic: This Whole Foods will deliver asparagus water to your door.
- Developer: Holland Partner Group (Vancouver, Washington)
- Size: 13 stories; 535,000 square feet
- Completion Date: Spring 2018
- Cost: Not available
Union Tower West
1801 Wewatta St.
- Project Summary: This glassy design will house 100,000 square feet of office space atop Denver’s first Hotel Indigo, a boutique hotel chain. The 180-room Mile High City outpost will incorporate local ingredients into the cocktails and fare served at its bar and restaurant.
- Developer: Portman Holdings (Atlanta)
- Size: 12 stories; 200,000 square feet
- Completion Date: Fourth quarter of 2016
- Cost: $92 million
The Wheatley At Five Points
2460 Welton St.
- Project summary: The first new development in the Welton corridor in a decade, the Wheatley will sit on land formerly occupied by the Wheatley YWCA. Although the complex has 14 townhomes that start in the low $400,000s and 3,800 square feet of space for either a restaurant or (this being RiNo-adjacent) an artisan market, 18 of the 82 apartments are designated as affordable.
- Developer: Palisade Partners (Denver)
- Size: Five stories; 135,000 square feet
- Completion Date: Second quarter of 2016
- Cost: $21.5 million
1144 15th St.
- Project Summary: In what is perhaps the most optimistic commercial project in town, Hines execs are building the first tower of 40-plus stories in Denver in nearly three decades—and it’s being built on spec (i.e., without tenants already committed to moving in).
- Developer: Hines (Houston)
- Size: 40 stories; 662,900 square feet
- Completion Date: January 2018
- Cost: Not available
2501 Dallas St., Aurora
- Project Summary: The refurbishment of the 1954 Stanley Aviation headquarters into a food and retail paradise is one of the metro area’s most anticipated new developments. To wit: The Stanley’s space has been 100 percent leased since December 2014—and the lineup of vendors could easily be described as all-star. The Stanley Beer Hall, from noted local chef Kevin Taylor, will take a front-and-center position, but Rosenberg’s Bagels & Delicatessen, Denver Biscuit Co., and Sazza Pizza & Salads should draw just as many hungry mouths. Stanley Marketplace visitors will be able to burn off the beer and biscuits with a class at the on-site Endorphin gym or extend a day of indulgences with a mani-pedi at Tootsies the Nail Shoppe.
- Developer: Flightline Ventures (Stapleton)
- Size: 100,000 square feet
- Completion Date: Summer 2016
- Cost: $30 million
From Stuart Street to Perry Street and West 17th Avenue to West Colfax Avenue
- Project Summary: The companies redeveloping the former St. Anthony’s Hospital campus at the southeast edge of Sloan’s Lake are operating on the idea that dense dwellings will heal what ails West Colfax by luring cool retail tenants (not more fast-food joints) to the area. The prognosis is positive: Phase one includes a 12-story condo building and townhomes; a five-story, 370-apartment development with a Highland Tap & Burger on the bottom floor; and the second Alamo Drafthouse Cinema location in Colorado (plus 55,000 square feet of office and retail space).
- Developers: EnviroFinance Group (Denver) is the master developer
- Size: Seven city blocks
- Completion Date: Late 2017
- Cost: $300 million
Colorado Boulevard and Cherry Creek South Drive to East Virginia Avenue and South Cherry Street
- Project summary: Remember when throwing strikes at Disney’s Celebrity Sports Center was the coolest thing you could do in the metro area? (Hint: John F. Kennedy was president.) Yes, the area near where Shotgun Willie’s is today was once the spot to be. The city of Glendale’s yearslong attempt to recapture that heyday has been besieged by lawsuits and stalled by land owners and business owners reluctant to part with their properties in favor of what planners are hoping will be an outdoor, creekside shopping and dining district that will re-energize the area. Developers scaled back the size of their original plan for a version that is expected to have dozens of restaurants, bars, shops, and a hotel.
- Developer: Wulfe & Co. (Houston) and City of Glendale
- Size: 270,000 square feet
- Completion Date: Fall 2017
- Cost: $150 million
Coda Cherry Creek
100 Steele St.
- Project Summary: Residents of the 182 studio, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments (from $1,550 to more than $6,000 a month) will be treated to a heated rooftop pool, a pet spa (yes, really), and a workshop where they can tinker with their skis, snowboards, and bicycles. Soon after Coda opens, they’ll be able to feast at a ground-floor eatery from a “prominent Boulder restaurateur,” according to the developer.
- Developer: Zocalo Community Development (Denver)
- Size: 12 stories; 168,422 square feet
- Completion Date: Spring 2016
- Cost: Not available
When Boom Becomes Bust
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