Historic Station Reuse: Denver Union Station Redevelopment Team

This is one of two special DenverUrbanism blog posts looking at the preliminary plans by two development teams competing for the opportunity to renovate and redevelop Denver’s historic Union Station building. You can view the post about the other team’s plan here.

A group named the Denver Union Station Redevelopment Team has been formed to pursue the renovation and reuse opportunity at Denver’s historic train station. The team is planning to formally submit their plan as part of RTD’s process to solicit proposals from the development community later this year. However, the Denver Union Station Redevelopment Team (DUSRT) recently revealed their ideas for the historic station.

DUSRT is comprised of  the following firms: Urban Neighborhoods Inc., Oxford Hotel, Sage Hospitality, Larimer Associates, Tryba Architects, JG Johnson Architects, and Milender White Construction. The main concept behind the DURST proposal is to incorporate a hotel use into the mix.  Here are a few paragraphs I received from the DURST describing their proposal:

A Denver based team hopes to revitalize the property with a combination of destination retail and boutique hotel.  The group includes Sage Hospitality, Larimer Associates and Dana Crawford, preservationist.  Architects are David Tryba and Jim Johnson, both veterans of multiple historic building hotel conversions.

Sage Hospitality operates 63 hotels nationally, eight of which are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Larimer Associates owns Larimer Square which was originally developed by Dana Crawford.

The adaptive reuse plan for DUS features the 11,000 sq. ft. great hall as “the city’s living room” open to travelers, visitors and hotel guests at all hours of day and night, 365 days a year.  The hotel will include 100 rooms, each with a story from Colorado’s railroad memories.

Approximately 30,000 sq.ft. of restaurants and retail establishments would open onto the plaza and interact with the great hall.  Architecture details will preserve the character of the landmark.

Contractor Milender White under the direction of Scott Conrad had estimated development costs at approximately $40 million.  Walter Isenberg, president of Sage Hospitality says his company’s studies of project feasibility predict success particularly because of proximity and synergistic uses with the Oxford Hotel, its parking, spa, and meeting rooms.

“If our team is selected by RTD, we hope to create a new threshold of hospitality for Denver and the West, bringing a lot of pride to this community” Dana Crawford said.

Here are a few images the Denver Union Station Redevelopment Team has shared with DenverUrbanism. First, the ground-floor plan (left) and the basement plan (right):

and here are a couple more images showing a concept of the Wynkoop entrance and some historic images of the station:

My appreciation to Dana Crawford for the images and information!

By | 2011-05-05T15:50:31+00:00 May 5, 2011|Categories: Historic Preservation, Transit-Oriented|20 Comments


  1. Edward Brennan May 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Both teams I think have proven track records towards making Denver a better place, and both plans have lots of merit. If anything, this is a plethora of riches problem- which is a great position for those who love Union Station.
    1. There is a worry in the boutique hotel plan that the main hall would be just another hotel lobby, when this living room will be the first thing many people see of the downtown core with the rail to the airport coming in. Also it is the centerpiece spot in the entire multimodal station for RTD. The Brown Palace Atrium is a great space, but intimidating to many.
    2. I have seen a lot of Market ideas fail. It seems so much about execution. Is it more like a farmers market? more like tony’s on broadway? In an area which has had a hard time getting a grocery- I wonder about a market for a market.
    3. It seems like there is a lot of space in each defined as restaurant/retail. Who is managing this space, are they actively going after tenants like many malls? Or is it just a for lease sign up in the window? It does make one worry that the Union station ends up with spaces that remain empty for eons. The Virgin Space or the ESPN Zone for instance. It seems that maybe either group would be better off having more ideas on content for those areas.

  2. David May 5, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    This plan seems awfully unfriendly to transit passengers….. the bathrooms are a long way from the waiting area for instance….. and the space allocated for an Amtrak ticket office seems like it would be difficult to find. The Amtrak space doesn’t seem to have had any thought given to the logistics of handling checked baggage either.

  3. jeff May 6, 2011 at 9:10 am

    I really like the idea of having it a market…

    Hotel??? Not so much

  4. Asseenontv May 6, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    This is by far the superior plan. Too many people impressed by pretty pictures of the market. Include one here in place of the restaurant if you must, but this plan is fantastic. They have opened up the great room with twin grand staircases on opposite ends – very cool. A bar right beside the trainshed and the hotel frontdesk on the other end will really generate a 24 hour energy to the place – while at the same time discouraging the great room from becoming another ‘homeless’ hotel. A hotel here will do well no doubt.

  5. tim May 7, 2011 at 5:34 am

    Whatever is done should maintain the open expanse feeling of the great room.
    Additionally, I am concerned that the long wooden benches that give the room so much character
    and history would be lost in almost any renovation unless plans are made to incorporate them.

  6. Rob May 7, 2011 at 10:50 am

    There’s another hotel just recently announced that’s planned behind the station.

  7. Matt Pizzuti May 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    Hotels are very private and limited uses of space…I suppose there may not be a lot of options for the upstairs portions of the historic building, and there may good reasons that we’re resorting to putting a hotel there, but I would like to explore other options or hear why they aren’t better uses of such a high-profile location.

    How about some convention rooms or meeting rooms upstairs? A little more retail maybe – a large bookstore, or a second restaurant?

    Also… what is this model railroad club and why is something that is (or sounds to me to be) very obscure, in this spot?

    • Kio May 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      The model railroad club has been located in the basement of Union Station for quite some time already. I believe the area is open to the public on various nights so you can check out their setup. I’ve never seen it but it sounds pretty impressive, and its been on my Denver bucket list for awhile now…just haven’t ever had the time to pick a date and go. Here is some more info:


      DUSRT must be wanting to show how they would plan to work their hotel design around the club’s basement setup. Does anybody know if the club gets to stay in Union Station, regardless of what design is picked?

  8. Matt Pizzuti May 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Some principles that I would want considered:

    1) Great photo opportunity for Denver of the interior as much as the exterior.

    2) Chance for 24/7 activity (which also means 24/7 jobs): passengers will be coming from the airport at all hours and not just during the day. If it can’t be open 24/7 I want at least 6am to midnight.

    3) Attractions that appeal to people in a mix of incomes; not all fancy or expensive, just maybe ONE really high-class restaurant. Also, attractions that appeal to LoDo and Denver residents and not just tourists.

    4) A PUBLIC SPACE: essentially an indoor plaza, where people could walk around freely as if they were outside, not a “lobby.” This plan seems like there might be too much furniture.

    5) As much of the building activated to high numbers of human traffic as possible; that means favoring meeting rooms over hotel rooms — has anybody thought of maybe partnering with the Colorado Convention Center to have them run a portion of the Union Station structure? I would love to see that kind of cooperation and it gets the convention center people more hooked into transit.

  9. Paul May 7, 2011 at 12:54 pm


    The hotel was envisioned as a great way to activate the station. You say a hotel private and limited, but how so? A hotel has people coming and going at all hours and has a lobby that never shuts down. In the interest of activating the station lobby, a hotel w/ some meeting space would do more than a limited number of meeting rooms. The layout of Union Station prohibits any kind of large-scale meeting space unless it’s on the main level and it seems that no one wants to wall off a portion of the station.

    The model railroad club has been in Union Station for over fifty years and is the oldest model railroad layout in the country. It’s actually a pretty interesting place to visit and has public nights at least once a month, if not once a week. If any entity has kept the people coming to the station, it’s these guys. Here’s a link to their site: http://denveroscaleclub.org/.

    However, I agree the the market idea by the Union Station Neighborhood Company is a fantastic idea that should be incorporated in whatever proposal ends up winning the bid. It would certainly be

    • Matt Pizzuti May 9, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      There is nothing wrong with hotels – hotels are great. Hotels naturally pop up around any central attraction. Hotels should not, however, be the central attraction itself!

      If an investor bought half of the Denver Pavilions in order to turn those stores into hotel rooms, you’d probably say they were reducing the total human traffic of the site, right?

      If an investor bought half of the Colorado Convention Center in order to turn it into hotel rooms, you’d probably also say it is diminishing human traffic and the usefulness of the site.

      There, I just thought of two uses…conventions and shopping… that are of higher profile than a hotel would be on this site which is easily in the top-five list for most prominent public buildings in Denver.

      If you have an existing central attraction, developers will build their own hotels outside. Developers CAN and WILL build hotel rooms in the Union Station neighborhood, around it, and in LoDo.

      Hotel rooms are of private and limited use because you can only put 1-3 people into a room at a time, while convention rooms can receive dozens and up to hundreds of visitors per day. Stores and restaurants receive hundreds of visitors per day as well.

      Also…I do not know of very many hotel lobbies of very small hotels that stay highly active at all hours of the night.

      Lets build an attraction that is part of why people would want to come and stay in this neighborhood, and when the demand is there lets let developers build the places for them to stay in. That’s win-win. Putting the hotel in the building itself seems to be a waste.

      • Paul May 9, 2011 at 8:03 pm

        No one is saying that the whole station should be a hotel and I find you attempts to use the Pavillions and Convention Center as comparisons as a false analogy. You’re taking facilities that are massive in comparison to Union Station and trying to say that you could match that type of impact and that’s simply not the case. Union Station has roughly 14K sq ft of space on the main floor for retail purposes. That’s the same amount of space as one of the medium-sized retail slots at the Pavillions or one of the small conference rooms in the convention center.

        14K sq ft of space is what is available to activate Union Station. That’s not much at all. There’s also the 11k sq ft of the train hall, but that is required to remain open to the public and can’t serve much in the way of activation space. Anything else outside of the main floor is not going to activate the building unless you ensure a steady stream of pedestrian traffic. A hotel on the second floor would do so, maybe you could gut the second floor and turn it into a couple of event halls, but I don’t think they would have the kind of impact you envision.

        Now you may argue that if this is the case then maybe the second floor should be brought into the equation as well with retail up there. While that could work I believe that the layout of the second floor would make this prohibitive. That both proposals assume this as well (one putting hotel rooms up there, the other putting a couple of office suites) lends me to believe that I’m not the only one who has come to this conclusion.

        I think that no matter which proposal wins that the market should be included. This idea is the one thing that could make Union Station an attraction beyond some people using it as a shortcut to get to the commuter platform. The other part, whether it be office space or hotel, merely ensures that there is a handful of additional people hanging around and at least the hotel ensures that people will be hanging around at the hotel bar or whatever.

      • Andrew May 17, 2011 at 10:51 am

        I agree. The transit element and support for all types of travelers (not just overnight ones) seems to be missing. The Station is just a pass-through to get to the light rail and commuter rail trains.

  10. David May 8, 2011 at 6:19 am

    Another observation – Just what is TSA going to be doing here and why do they need more than twice the office space Amtrak is getting (1500 sq. ft. vs. 700 sq. ft.)? I’m concerned that Amtrak’s waiting space seems to be shoved over into the entrance to the old passenger tunnel instead of the traditional main train hall.

    Bottom line, this plan does not provide adequate space for Amtrak’s needs in serving a city Denver’s size. I don’t know if that’s intentional or merely oversight.

    • Aaron May 10, 2011 at 8:31 am

      I believe the DIA/TSA space is related to a Kim Day desire to be able to go through security and check bags at Union Station but that’s just speculation.

      If that’s the case I am not sure how far along they are in determining the feasibility of that so it may be premature to be allocating space for security and check in at Union Station.

  11. What/s Up? May 8, 2011 at 6:10 pm

    I am sure studies exist on this, but, how many people are going to walk through the space enroute to commuter lines? What is the connection going to be between the lobby and the buried bus station?

    For the next 5 to 10 years, only the DIA train and Amtrak are going to use the rail tracks. The true center is going to be underground within a block or so of the Light Rail Station.

    Until the Boulder commuter line comes on line, the grand old building is going not going to be used very much.

    Maybe these plans are an admission of the fact that until about 2030, Union Station is going to be almost vacant.

    • Aaron May 10, 2011 at 8:12 am

      The gold line to Arvada will also be using the commuter line platforms as well as the first stop or stub lines of the north and northwest corridor (2015 or 2016 are expected completion dates for all of these).

      The Boulder train is actually expected to be less frequent and have lower ridership than the other EMU/DMU/Commuter train lines upon completion. The Boulder BRT system will carry more people and have a higher frequency so it will handle most of the demand on that corridor.

      As to the walking through aspect I am not an expert on that but every mock-up I have seen has the main exit from the bus terminal coming up just outside (track side) the main waiting hall. I believe the dotted three sided square on top of the bar represents the bus terminal exit in the image.

  12. BeyondDC May 9, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I’d really like to see the best aspects of these two plans combined.

    If the idea is to give Denverites a reason to use the old depot building, then the market idea is *vastly* superior to the hotel idea. People don’t visit hotel lobbies unless they’re staying in the hotel, but public markets are major centers of community in many cities. All you have to do to know which idea would bring more people into the building is to compare the activity level of other stations turned hotels (low, mostly out-of-towners) with a good public market (high, mostly locals).

    But that having been said, a hotel would be a better use for the upper floors than office space since it would provide customers 24 hours a day rather than just 9-5, and the “grand stair” idea has real merit from a placemaking standpoint.

    • UrbanZen May 9, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Agreed. It seams that the two biggest flaws of the DUSRT plan are (1) placing the historic pews in some dingy side-hall, and (2) the lack of a good, active civic function like a public market. I would redo the entire right side – place the pews along the windows at the back of the station to extend the “open livingroom” feel and swap out the retail w/ a public market across from the pews. I do like the lobby, bar and grand stairs, and have no problem with hotel rooms on the 2nd floor.

  13. Kyle May 19, 2011 at 9:35 am

    I like the idea of a market and retail/restaurants on the first floor and a small hotel on the second floor. I am not sure if that would satisfy size requirements and what all that would take but it seems to combine the best parts of both proposals. Maybe another design team is working on this and hasn’t released anything yet.

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