More than 20 years ago, the last commercial flight departed from the Stapleton Airport. Over time, what had been the country’s fifth busiest airport has transformed into a bustling neighborhood with more than 19,000 residents. The old concrete runways have been replaced with jogging paths and newly built homes. And, stuck in the middle of all the development stands the rapidly aging 12-story air traffic control tower. Recently, the peeling paint, rust, and, vegetation meant that the tower was starting to look like something out of a post-apocalytpic movie.

For years, rumors have circulated about what could be done to re-purpose the iconic tower, from turning it into a luxe condo or a museum. Today, Denver City Council president Christopher Herndon helped announce the winning plan: Punch Bowl Social will open an eatery in the dilapidated building.

There’s a lot of cleaning up to do, as the interior has deteriorated in the time the building sat vacant. Robert Thompson, Punch Bowl Social founder and CEO, says that the decor will combine mid-century and art deco elements inspired by the existing structure. The space is currently about 15,000 square feet, but will expand to roughly 22,000 square feet, including an outdoor patio space. The bottom two floors will be devoted to food and entertainment (think: bowling, darts, and ping-pong), while the third floor will house Punch Bowl Social’s corporate headquarters (in addition to the South Broadway location, the company has outposts in Texas, Oregon, and Michigan and is expanding to two more markets this year). Thompson says he hopes to open in Stapleton next spring.

As for the tower? Thompson doesn’t know if you’ll be able to access it yet. The building’s elevator doesn’t reach the top, meaning that there are serious concerns about making the space ADA compliant for all customers. Regardless, it looks like the tower will remain Stapleton’s visual trademark—after some much needed sprucing up. “The entire state of Colorado cares what happens here,” Thompson says. “We promise to be good stewards.”

Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner
Natasha Gardner is a Denver-based writer and the former Articles Editor for 5280.