Let’s Plan Around the Pepsi Center

A defining mission of the DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism blogs has been to report on infill development in and around Downtown Denver. Most of this infill development has come to fruition by replacing surface parking lots with residential, commercial and/or institutional buildings. In recent years, many parking lots in Downtown Denver have thankfully been put to higher and better use through infill development. While there are still many more parking lots that have yet to be filled, I want to suggest that the city begin planning for some of the biggest parking lots in the area: those around the Pepsi Center.

4-25-14_Pepsi Center Lots

Recently the city undertook planning efforts in the Sun Valley Neighborhood south of Mile-High Stadium and suggested conversion of some of the parking lots (especially those south of Colfax closest to the light rail station) to residential and commercial uses. Doing so would activate a highly blighted and underutilized area with good public transit access and proximity to the South Platte River Greenway and help create a more viable and sustainable community in the area. Unfortunately, given the large amount of undesirable infrastructure in the area (e.g. a power plant, electrical substation and massive fuel tanks) and the fact that it is extremely difficult to create economic development around a football stadium with less than 20 large events per year, the goal of redevelopment in the area seems extremely lofty.

Now if the City can plan for such a lofty and questionably obtainable goal, then I have to ask why we aren’t planning for what I consider to be a much lower hanging fruit: the lots around the Pepsi Center. With over 40 Nuggets games, 40 Avalanche games, and numerous other concert and sporting events each year, the Pepsi Center brings a huge number of people into the area on a regular basis. Add to this existing activity the site’s extreme proximity to Downtown and the Auraria Campus and there’s a lot of potential for residential and commercial development on this site. When you consider that the site is flat, has excellent vehicular infrastructure around it and has access to two (very underutilized) light-rail stations, redevelopment here seems very feasible with little added investment. We just need to plan for it.

By my rough calculations there are nearly 50 acres of parking lots immediately surrounding the Pepsi Center (between the railroad, Speer Boulevard and the Auraria Parkway). There is an additional 15 acres of parking shared with Elitch Gardens just north and west of the arena. This represents an area that is equal to or possibly greater than all the infill development between Union Station and the South Platte River and could be a huge economic boon for the city if developed right. What might this redevelopment look like? The following are my thoughts on a plan for the area.

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First I would consolidate a large amount of the surface parking into a few large parking structures (cyan) that are wrapped with residential (yellow) and commercial (blue) structures that form walkable city blocks. Preserving the few existing mixed-use buildings (red) and providing some additional commercial office space in the district would help increase use the parking structures by day while the arena utilizes them at night and on weekends. Second, I would intersperse some green promenades that could be designed to handle and clean storm water runoff before running into the South Platte. These green spaces might be designed so as to provide view corridors to the arena from the major arterial streets for visual wayfinding. The promenades would also provide pedestrian access to and from the Arena, Downtown, the Auraria Campus and the light rail stations on the edges of the site.

As long as were making big plans, let’s also talk about combining the “Sports Authority Field at Mile High” and the “Auraria West” light rail stations into one station along Fifth Street under the Auraria Parkway viaduct (orange above). The two stations are way too close together and extremely redundant; eliminating one station and straightening out the track would speed up the trip into Union Station from points south and west. The city could then use the rest of the property between the tracks for a small park with recreational amenities for the new residents. Finally, I propose that we connect the new development to the South Platte River trail via a bike/pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks, and thus provide even more recreational access to and from the new neighborhood.

As Denver continues to grow and expand and urban living becomes increasingly more popular, we need to take a serious look at the opportunity for creating a new downtown adjacent neighborhood around the Pepsi Center rather than leave it an asphalt wasteland. If designed and developed right, this corner of the Auraria Neighborhood could become the hottest new address in town.

By | 2016-12-27T20:45:21+00:00 April 27, 2014|Categories: Parks & Public Spaces, Transit, Transit-Oriented, Urban Planning|Tags: |25 Comments

25 Comments

  1. Ryan Nee April 27, 2014 at 9:46 am

    This is so awesome!

    Whether justified or not, I think one of the biggest things holding this typo of plan back at the moment is people freaking out about any kind of consolidation of parking lots into structured garages because it creates an unknown parking situation versus what we have now.

    However, I think that fear will subside as each train line of FastTracks opens. As there become more visible transit spokes out into the suburbs, I suspect that the psychological desire for massive surface parking lots will subside. (Hopefully the same will be true of the mind-boggling number of lots stretching north from Coors Field too as Blake Street continues to gain density and a pedestrian connection over to Brighton Boulevard.)

    Anyway, this is a terrific idea I hope I get to see in my lifetime. Do you know how these lots are zoned and who owns them now? Are they all owned by the Pepsi Center itself? What are other barriers to making this a reality? It this type of change typically led by changes to zoning or developers recognizing the possibilities for the land?

    • Ryan Nee April 27, 2014 at 9:49 am

      Also, I should win some kind of award for having a typo in this comment that is actually the word “typo.”

    • TakeFive April 28, 2014 at 3:00 am

      Ryan… you certainly have my kudos for “typo.”

      I seem to recall that the land, like the Pepsi Center, is owned by KSE or (Stan) Kroenke in whatever name they used. But I could be wrong so hopefully someone who knows for certain can clarify.

    • jeffrey miller May 1, 2014 at 11:13 pm

      Just look across the street. Every single day, Auraria houses thousands of cars in several large parking garages with many former lots filled now by buildings of real value.

  2. Chad April 27, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    Its my understanding that Kroenke Sports owns much of the land around the Pepsi Center. The single ownership is both a blessing and a curse. Unless the owner is convinced that redevelopment makes financial sense, it won’t get developed, on the other hand because its a single owner, that makes planning for its development easier in many ways.

    The City of Denver did some planning work south of the arena when they created the Auraria West Station Area Plan in 2009. It can be found here:
    http://www.denvergov.org/cpd/CommunityPlanningandDevelopment/PlanningandDesign/CompletedPlans/AurariaWestStationAreaPlan/tabid/437119/Default.aspx
    The plan suggests a “mixed use entertainment district” in the area with building heights from 4-12 stories (based on some view plane ordinances that must be maintained), but I wonder if given the fact that LoDO is already a vibrant “mixed use entertainment district” that we really need another one. Perhaps it needs to be more residential mixed use in nature with some more localized commercial so as to provide more residents in close proximity to Downtown offices and the Auraria Campus. Also I think the site should be addressed more comprehensively so that it includes the parking lots north of the arena and not just those to the south.

  3. Bennett April 27, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    So after Pepsi Center parking, would Coors Field parking be next to go?

  4. K Mart April 27, 2014 at 4:21 pm

    One reality about transit use at sporting and music events is the time these events take place and usually end. Unlike transit use around a 9 to 5 weekeday work commute, events are usually ending around 10 to 11 pm or Sunday evening for Bronco games. Using a car to get to an event is different calculus.

    Frquency of trains and buses can be an issue at later hours without special runs. Also, once a driver gets out of the parking lot the highways are usualy clear at these times. I’m a user of the W line for assiting my bicycle commute from Denver to Lakewood, but I would never use it for an event and especially a late night one because it is too slow. The special buses like Broncos ride or the US 36 B route are better time options. Although again the B bus only runs 2 times an hour late at night. I will speculate that the user base willing to take transit is already doing it.

    I think the better hope for infill in this area is continuing creep from the Speer and Confluence areas. When the dollar signs are right, Kronke will pull the trigger. But as previous comment states not sure what ownership or zoning is.

  5. Pat M April 27, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Activating this area would necessitate a pedestrian bridge across Speer St. The crossing is already treacherous and development will be easier to sell if there is natural connectivity to downtown.

    • SPR8364 April 29, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Perhaps adding strong pedestrian connections at all four blocks between Delgany and Wazee.

    • Steve June 4, 2014 at 8:50 am

      There are other ways to improve the pedestrian crossing other than removing them from the street all together and making them climb into a bridge. Streets are for people, not just cars, and need to be designed accordingly. Pedestrian bridges are essentially an admission that the car wins.

  6. mckillio April 28, 2014 at 7:57 am

    I love this article and there are some very good comments so far too.

    I definitely support this area getting redeveloped but if Kroenke owns the area then unless the city sweetens the deal, he’ll wait (and rightfully) so until the time is right. Does anyone know if Kroenke has a division that does real estate development?

    This area and the Auraria campus definitely need to become better connected to Downtown, whether that’s a pedestrian bridge, underpass or making Speer seem and be more safe.

    I completely agree that we have one too many light rail stations. The Auraria station was built quite recently but combining Mile High and Pepsi Center stations, should be feasible.

    I really wish the Rapids still played at Mile High, I’ve never seen them play and their location is a huge reason for that. It also would have made the Mile High area more likely for development.

    • SPR8364 April 29, 2014 at 11:57 am

      The nice thing about combining the other stations instead of the MH and Pepsi stations, is that it is still okay to use for Mile High events.

  7. Jeff April 28, 2014 at 11:04 am

    Great post. Perhaps the city should look at increased taxation on undeveloped lots to level the playing field for. This would be good for Pepsi center as well as Arapahue Square, GT, etc.

    Speer is not easy to cross but plenty of people do it daily- students and construction workers come to mind. A ped bridge would be nice. Another option could be some traffic calming measures with parallel parking, street car, reduced lanes along speer. Then all the motorists would decry about their increased travel times on our urban highway (I mean boulevard).

    • mckillio April 28, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      All good ideas for Speer. Parallel parking would be nice until/if we get a street car. I’m not sure on the width of the lanes but they could be reduced if they have the room for it, slowing down traffic.

  8. beto April 28, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Alway thought it was interesting how the smallest and most transit accessible major league stadium in Denver has the largest surface parking lot. The Auraria/Pepsi Center area is a disapointing use of land and a redevelopment would be nice.

  9. Brett S. April 28, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    I have to agree with McKillio: It makes aLOT more sense to combine the entertainment stations into one, rather than mixing a rabble-rousing entertainment station with a station meant for mostly student use. Although, I often wonder why they even stop at the Sports Authority station when there are not events happening, there. Remember, Auraria West is the only Campus station for the W line, and you make it even MORE inconvenient for students by putting it further away. Walking to that station from campus, after dark, already feels fairly unsafe/dark.

  10. Nate April 29, 2014 at 10:07 am

    I would 100% live in this area and think the access to downtown and proximity to the Campuses make it highly desirable. I currently own in LODO and it would be so nice to have some reasonable 3 bedroom options for urban families available without having to go all the way to the Highlands, which somehow manages to feel more cramped then LODO. Then you have the CPV that feels so cutoff from downtown, like its own little island with 3 restaurants and 1 coffee shop and $1.5MM townhomes.

  11. SPR8364 April 29, 2014 at 11:54 am

    Great Plan and very exciting. I’m sure you’ve already considered the things below, but…

    I think that I would leave the frontage road along the RR tracks to eliminate any cul-de-sacs and dead ends. It also makes for easier access for fire trucks which would be required anyway. Maybe it would just be one-way to keep it narrow.

    I also wish / wonder if there is anyway to add an exit from the parking structure over the tracks to the Elitch’s side. One way to make it faster to vacate the parking structures after an event. I think that if you have four or five stories of parking to the east and west of Pepsi, you would still be able to change that third parking structure (7th, 9th, and Auraria) to a mixed use building or residential.

    One last thing, it would be great to eliminate the residential parking doughnuts. Just move the parking underground and leave the inner courtyard as an amenity much like the do on One City Block in Uptown. Of course, the water table is might be too high in that area. Oh well.

    Thank you for putting this out there.

  12. Nathanael April 29, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Long term, unfortunately, the tracks leading south from Union Station should be restored — and they should cut directly through this area. Right-of-way preservation, please.

    • mckillio April 30, 2014 at 6:56 am

      When you say “should” do you mean YOU think they should or will most likely be restored?

      • Nathanael May 5, 2014 at 11:16 pm

        I think they should. Whether they will be or not depends mostly on when Colorado Springs and Pueblo get serious about intercity rail service.

        If they wait too long, this entire area will be built over and the trains will have to take a more convoluted, slow, and expensive route.

  13. Tyler April 30, 2014 at 1:35 am

    As an urban planning nerd, this is something I have often fantasized about. While I have to agree with Chad on such things as the consolidation of the light rail stations and creating view corridors (something I had not thought of for this area), I think this plan could be greatly improved upon.

    As mentioned in the above comments, pedestrian connectivity across Speer Boulevard into LoDo is paramount. However, I personally don’t think this should be done with pedestrian bridges as I think it would ruin the tree-lined aesthetic of Speer. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t really believe pedestrian bridges should ever be installed over city streets; there are better solutions, such as traffic calming, etc., that can greatly improve pedestrian movement while also not removing them from the streetscape equation. Pedestrian bridges should be reserved for crossing rivers, train tracks, and highways, as they do quite effectively on 16th Street from the Union Station area to the Highlands.

    Equally important in the Pepsi Center parking lot infill should be the re-installation of the Auraria street grid system. This is something partially idealized in Chad’s above plan, other than the omission of 8th and 10th Streets (and possibly some of the east-west streets as well). Creating city blocks that are too large or too long make for considerably less ease of movement, for pedestrians and cars alike, which would be of utmost importance for moving the mass crowds in and out of Pepsi Center. Taking the street grid a step further north into the Elitch Gardens parking lots would also be highly desirable.

    In combination with re-implementing the street grid, the Auraria Parkway and Speer Boulevard corridors should be fronted with businesses and residences like the legitimate downtown surface streets they are. They should not be neglected with parking garages lining their sides, as is slightly indicated in Chad’s design. As mentioned above, both streets could also support on-street parking to truly bring them in line with their downtown identity (and not the suburban limited-access boulevards they are currently masquerading as). In doing this, the elevated portions of these streets (Auraria Parkway viaduct over 5th Street and the rail tracks, and Speer Boulevard over the rail tracks and to a further extent, Little Raven Street) could become integrated parts of the streetscape instead of obstacles for pedestrians to overcome, as is clearly the case in the lack of pedestrian connectivity across Speer Boulevard between the Union Station area and Pepsi Center.

    As for event parking (and parking in general), it is no secret that removing surface parking would require the construction of parking garages. Chad certainly was on point in the amount of parking that would be needed in his design. However, as I already mentioned, i don’t believe it should have any frontage on Speer Boulevard or Auraria Parkway. Instead, why not line the railroad tracks with all the parking garages, as that is a view that no one (residents and office workers alike) would be particularly thrilled about seeing out their windows. Also, unless the parking garage can be constructed like the Mickey & Friends Parking Structure in Disneyland, for example (if you haven’t seen or heard of it, look it up), that can efficiently funnel 10,000 cars in and out all at essentially the same time, parking for Pepsi Center and its surrounding infill should be divided into many garages with many entrances/exits (though I would not be against a large Disneyland like garage, the cost would probably be prohibitive). I also agree that exiting parking garages after games would be significantly aided by access across the railroad tracks to the north instead of only allowing exits onto Auraria Parkway and Speer Boulevard.

    Who owns the parking lots surrounding Pepsi Center? I assume that would largely be KSE, though some belongs to the Viawest building on the western side and some belongs to the existing buildings along Auraria Parkway. Would Kroenke ever develop the land? Some comments above have suspected he would wait as long as possible before considering this. While that may be true, the smart time to act would be now while development in Denver’s urban core is skyrocketing and values have never been higher. Kroenke could easily build parking garages to keep his existing parking revenues flowing. He could sell the land to private development for a pretty penny right now, or just as easily develop it himself for more revenue. Any way you slice it, the development of the land around Pepsi Center would only increase his cash-flow (not that his considerably deep pockets are somehow getting shallower). But regardless of the avenue the development takes, much review from the city and planning experts must be taken into account.

    A still related yet slightly radical idea for the development of Pepsi Center’s parking lots, in addition to the building of residences, offices, retail, etc., could be the construction of a new stadium for the Colorado Rapids. Few would argue that it was a smart decision to move them to Commerce City, so moving them back to Downtown Denver seems logical. Considering Kroenke owns the Rapids and the parking lots around Pepsi Center, it would be a relatively easy task. I am certainly no fan of abandoning a stadium that is less than a decade old, but I am certain attendance for the Rapids would increase if they had a stadium downtown.

    In a completely more self-satisfying way, I hope development of the Pepsi Center’s parking lots does occur if only so as to prevent construction of a new arena in the Pepsi Center’s parking lot in the future (much like the Mile High Stadium situation). I hope this for a couple of reasons. One being that, as an avid Denver sports fan, I love Pepsi Center. It is a place where I have so many fond memories and I hope it stays with us for the ages. Secondly, it disgusts me when new sports venues are built just to see the old one razed. Talk about environmentally unfriendly. Often these new stadia are even taxpayer funded. So why build a new arena when we have a perfectly well-functioning one in Pepsi Center. Hopefully, when the time comes, and Pepsi Center is considered out of date, they can renovate it instead of replacing it. Development and infill around it certainly may not stop construction of a new arena but it could make it more difficult.

    Luckily for us Denver residents (and residents of Colorado and the Rocky Mountain region as a whole), Pepsi Center is a gem. It was well built and suits the needs of the metro area. Anyone who has ever attended a game or concert there can testify to that first hand. But the development of the surrounding parking lots could turn this work of art into a masterpiece. Perhaps we need only look a few blocks down the street to see a thriving example of infill development around a sports venue: Coors Field and its burgeoning LoDo and Ballpark neighborhoods. The success of Coors Field can certainly not be attributed to the play of the seemingly always under-performing Colorado Rockies, but rather to the vibrant community that has been created around it. If Kroenke and the Pepsi Center were smart, they should immediately try to emulate the atmosphere that surrounds Coors Field.

    So thank you, Chad, for putting this idea out there for all to see. Hopefully those in charge see these ideas as well. Do us all a favor Stan, and help mirror the Pepsi Center’s beauty with that of its surroundings!

    (Also, thanks to anyone who has read through my 10 cents worth… Or 20 bucks as the case seems to be. Hahaha)

    • Chad April 30, 2014 at 5:47 pm

      Tyler,
      Thanks for your comments; all good suggestions (That goes for you too SPR8364). There’s certainly much to think about here, and many more hours of study are needed to make it a great place.

    • Zmapper May 4, 2014 at 7:38 am

      You may have just accidentally opened a can of worms with your comment on keeping the Pepsi Center in its current location…

      What about relocating the Pepsi Center to the lot occupied by the LRT bend southwest of 5th St, and redeveloping everything northeast of 5th? Doing so would keep noisy facilities (the arena, freight railroad, and highway interchange) adjacent yet separate from the residential area and ensure that all development northeast of 5th is actively used all days of the year.

      • Tyler May 4, 2014 at 8:44 pm

        That idea seems very suburban in nature. Sticking the Pepsi Center next to the “noisy facilities” like highways and railroads is exactly what they do in the suburbs; segregate the housing from retail from entertainment, etc. What developing the Pepsi Center parking lots should be doing is looking at how to integrate the arena and its surroundings into the downtown core instead of further distancing it.

        My point in bringing up a potential relocation of a downtown arena was not to invoke ideas of where to locate it but rather that it should not happen. Ever. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Especially at the expense of many hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better utilized. Pepsi Center is certainly not broken. But, arguably, the parking lots around it need help, particularly from an urban planning standpoint.

        Also, Pepsi Center hosts over 220 events each year. That means that the building itself is “actively used” more than half of the year. Building upon that activity in developing the Pepsi Center parking lots would be much easier and simpler than creating new activity from empty lots with essentially nothing to anchor it.

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