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Archive of posts filed under the Revitalization category.

West Colfax Mobility Improvement Project Completed

This past weekend, the West Colfax Business Improvement District (WCBID) celebrated the near completion of a mobility improvement project on West Colfax Avenue between Federal and Sheridan Boulevards. The project, which has been in planning and development for nearly three years, includes new pedestrian-scale signage, seven artist-designed bus shelters and entry monument signage on both ends of the corridor. The project aims to encourage pedestrian traffic and mass transit use on West Colfax and throughout the surrounding neighborhood by connecting people to local parks, light-rail stations and other destinations such as the new Denver Library branch set to open on West Colfax in early 2015.  All aspects of the project incorporate the WCBID’s logo therefore helping to create a brand for the up-and-coming West Colfax corridor. The “W” logo can be seen on the entry monument shown in the photo below.

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Funded by the Denver Office of Economic Development the new signage, bus stations, and branding is also intended to help jump start additional redevelopment along the corridor. Together with bicycle signage also being installed throughout the neighborhood, these new elements form a wayfinding system that is designed to comprehensively connect pedestrians and bicyclists to neighborhood assets. Together with the bus shelters, these directional signs and enhanced transit amenities support WCBID’s efforts to encourage pedestrian and bike transport in West Colfax and create a more healthy, dynamic and  interactive community culture that will support local businesses.

While this project certainly isn’t as monumental as the recent reconstruction of 14th Street downtown or as pretty as improvements to South Broadway or North Tennyson Street, for example, there is certainly something unique to be seen here. I believe that the exciting thing about this project (unlike so many other pedestrian improvement projects) is that it anticipates the pedestrians rather than simply acknowledging an existing pedestrian presence. As it exists today, there is very little pedestrian traffic on West Colfax, but with new developments coming online including Mile High Vista at Colfax and Irving and the redevelopment of the St Anthony’s hospital, there is potential for more pedestrian traffic in the near future. Additionally, acknowledging and enhancing what little pedestrian traffic is already on the street goes along way toward encouraging more pedestrians to make their way onto the corridor. Putting just a few more people in front of existing businesses and empty storefronts just might be the ticket that sparks additional redevelopment.

Here’s a closer look at the components.

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The wayfinding signage (above) and entry monuments designed by Tom Rodgers with Hyperform Design Cooperative (as part of a larger master plan for the corridor executed several years ago) are designed to reflect the rich history of mid-century “Googie” signage on Colfax Ave while also giving the corridor a bold modern look. The entry monument on the east end (pictured earlier) replaced an existing, but tired, welcome sign located at Colfax and Irving, while on the west end of the corridor, Dan Shah of the WCBID somewhat miraculously managed to convince the Walgreen’s corporation to mount an identical sign on the concrete wall surrounding their parking lot at the intersection of Sheridan and Colfax. The wayfinding signs are located on both sides of Colfax Avenue and occur on nearly every block throughout the corridor. They help to continually reinforce the theme set up by the entry signage.

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The bus shelters, designed by local artist Emmett Culligan, also pay homage to the mid-century modern car culture with their unique “inflated” stainless steel columns and bright colors (as seen in the pictures above). Each of the seven shelters is painted a different color of the spectrum and has matching plexiglass panels. As you travel down West Colfax from east to west the stations are placed in spectral order from red to purple. Interestingly enough, however, the shelters aren’t actually new. In order to complement the WCBID’s other sustainability goals (you can see the solar streetlight in the photo above) the BID and the artist worked with RTD to refurbish and place seven identical bus shelters along the corridor. This was no easy task as only three of the shelters already existed on West Colfax. In order to create the rest of the set, RTD and the BID swapped out three non-matching shelters from West Colfax with matching shelters elsewhere in the system and pulled one more matching shelter out of storage. A pretty amazing feat if you ask me. Once the refurbished shelters were placed on site, the artist simply mounted his inflated stainless steel tubes to the corners of the existing shelter to finish off the new look (the “inflated” tubes are made by blowing compressed air into extremely hot steel to create the “air-stream” like forms).

So next time you’re traveling by on West Colfax (in whatever transit mode you happen to be taking) check out the new bus shelters and wayfinding signage. And maybe (if you’re so inclined) linger a bit and imagine a fully revitalized corridor complete with shops, restaurants, new housing and, most of all, healthy and sustainable pedestrian street life. It’s not so much of a distant future.


Adaptive Reuse: Avanti Food and Beverage

Adaptive reuse—that’s planner-speak for the repurposing of an old building—is an important part of helping cities revitalize and grow in a sustainable way. Some adaptive reuse projects are no-brainers, where the historic and architectural quality of the existing building is so great that to demolish the building instead of reusing it doesn’t make any sense. Good examples would include the Colorado National Bank (now the Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel) and The Source.

Then there’s the adaptive reuse project called Avanti Food and Beverage at 32nd and Pecos in Lower Highland. The existing building looks like this today:

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Okay, maybe not an architectural masterpiece, but that’s alright! Even if the structure itself isn’t all that glamorous, the reuse of an old building—in addition to being an environmentally friendly option—helps preserve some of the neighborhood’s physical scale and offers a reminder of fast-changing Lower Highland’s economic roots. This structure, built in 1935, was occupied by Avanti Printing and Graphics for many years. Here’s a view of the inside:

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After its physical transformation is complete, this will be the home of Avanti Food and Beverage, a “collective eatery.” The concept behind this project is really cool. Most people are now familiar with coworking spaces, where small start-up companies share office space and resources and collaborate with each other. Avanti Food and Beverage will be very similar, except it’s for restaurants instead.

The building will house eight different restaurants, each operating out of a modified 8′ x 20′ shipping container. This allows restaurant entrepreneurs, particularly up-and-coming chefs, the opportunity to launch a new restaurant or test a new food concept for a fraction of the cost of building out a traditional restaurant space, all while fostering creativity in a cooperative “restaurant incubator” environment. Customers will have a great selection of affordably priced and innovative food, plenty of indoor and outdoor seating areas to share, and two bars offering adult beverages.

Here are a couple of images, courtesy of the Avanti development team. Here’s an example of the shipping container-turned-kitchen:

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and here is the ground-level interior floor plan showing five of the eight shipping container/restaurants, shared seating areas, and one of the bar areas:

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Three more restaurant spaces, the other bar, and additional seating will be built out on the roof, providing awesome views of the Downtown Denver skyline. Here’s a rendering of the rooftop deck, followed by a photo I took from the roof (the power lines will be buried):

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The building will be given a thorough makeover and new windows will bring a lot of natural light to the interior. The grounds will be landscaped along with additional patio seating overlooking Highland Gateway Park:

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Renovation work will be getting underway soon and the project is planned to open Spring 2015.   

The Avanti Food and Beverage project is fantastic in so many ways. It renovates an old building in disrepair; it infuses energy and activity next to a small public park; it adds an innovative concept to Denver’s booming culinary scene; and it brings another great dining option to Denver’s hottest restaurant neighborhood.


Colorado National Bank Hotel Conversion Final Update: Part 2

In Part 1 of our coverage, Ryan gave us a comprehensive overview of the grand opening of the new Marriott Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel that has been carefully crafted out of the historic Colorado National Bank building at 17th and Champa in Downtown Denver. In this post, we’ll add a few more photos of the project and some additional observations.

This project is a HUGE win for Downtown Denver. Take a classically historic building and transform it into a new hotel, with the modifications approved by the Denver Landmark Commission:

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This building was vacant for about a decade. Thanks to Stonebridge Companies and the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, this historic building was transformed into the beautiful building it is today. Here’s a photo of Councilman Brooks and others from the development team cutting the ceremonial ribbon on June 5, 2014:

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A few more images of the building at grand opening:

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If you haven’t yet checked out the inside of this awesome historic structure, featuring a stunning three-story atrium of white marble colonnades and a series of historic murals by Colorado artist Allen Tupper True, I highly recommend you do. The lobby bar and the hotel’s restaurant, Range, are fantastic.

While infill development is a big part of Denver’s growth as a city, adaptive reuse projects like the Marriott Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center hotel are equally important to Denver’s urban evolution and preserving its heritage as a major city.


Gentrification in Denver

The concept of gentrification is relatively new in the urban planning lexicon only appearing in print in 1964 and generally defined as “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.” Whether or not a racial component of displacement is integral to this definition is still up for debate. With Spike Lee’s recent rant on this very subject as Brooklyn continues to gentrify, I decided to look at some Denver examples of gentrification to see how we compare.

The Whittier neighborhood, located north of 23rd Avenue and east of Downing (east of Five Points), has been closely associated with Denver’s black community since at least 1930. This was solidified by the 1950s as the so-called “color line” located near High Street in Whittier was broken as new housing opportunities were sought due to explosive growth in Denver’s black population following World War II. The white majorities along Race, Vine and Gaylord streets quickly vanished. A neighborhood that had once been nearly 100% white in 1890 had become 75% black by 1990. The process of this mid-century demographic shift has nearly been lost to history as the general perception has been that Five Points and Whittier have always been the heart of black culture in Denver. Whittier School did in fact become Denver’s first majority black school by the early 1930s as the population was increasingly segregated in this part of Denver especially following the Ku KIux Klan’s political grip on Denver and Colorado during the 1920s. But prior to this time, Denver’s black population was never large enough to dominate a majority of slots in any Denver school.

The Civil Rights Movement and fair housing laws eventually created more opportunities for housing choice, especially after 1970, and evidence of this is very apparent in Whittier. Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 43% drop in the black population of Whittier and an 89% increase in the white population (Whittier is coterminous with census tract 23). The neighborhood’s demographic breakdown now consists of a 29% black/42% white percentage, also indicating that there is a sizable Hispanic population in the area that was not in place in 1990 or 2000. Meanwhile, the black population has spread out into other areas of east Denver and into Aurora, no longer being forced into a few census tracts.

Whittier is not alone in this demographic shift that also coincides with a great influx of new residential construction (scrapes), home remodels and other major home improvements in most old Denver neighborhoods featuring historic homes with brick construction. We can quickly compare Whittier to Highland. I am referring only to the census tract located around 29th and Zuni, that includes “LoHi,” the area near Little Man Ice Cream. In 1990, this census tract (4.02) contained 5,986 people and was 65% Hispanic. Today (2010 census), the population stands at 5,314 people and is 35% Hispanic. Since 2000, the white population of the census tract has increased 32% and the Hispanic population has decreased 57%.

So ultimately I wonder if gentrification is only perceived as “bad” if it displaces minority residents. I know that for black homeowners in Whittier, many have suddenly lived the American Dream by selling their $39,000 home in 1989 dollars for $339,000 in 2014 dollars. While the faces in the neighborhood have changed, Whittier continues to be one of Denver’s most diverse areas. The influx of energy and money ensures that Denver’s central neighborhoods remain viable places to live over the long-term and are a welcome alternative when considering the urban decay and blight that a place such as Detroit is currently suffering. When you take any racial changes out of the equation however, gentrification’s foes are more quiet if we look at anecdotal evidence. One only needs to read the Denver Post over the past month about the booming Highlands neighborhood (west of Federal) pricing out even more people in the real estate market who are now looking at places such as Edgewater and Wheat Ridge where one can buy the same housing types as found in the 32nd and Lowell or 44th and Tennyson area for $100,000+ cheaper. These areas are being “rediscovered” and, although they have been historically “white” in character, they are no less deserving of the new investment.

Ultimately, cities are changing and dynamic places, if they are lucky. Otherwise, they can stagnate and decline. While it is painful sometimes to see places you grew up knowing in one capacity, there is a whole new generation of folks moving to Denver from across the country who have no preconceived notions of what an area is or is not supposed to be. So whether it’s Harvey Park in southwest Denver that has greatly increased its share of the Hispanic population (while it was nearly 100% white in 1960) or Whittier and Highland who have greatly increased their share of white population, the Denver area continues to grow and change—just as it has always done since 1858.


Welcome Back to Denver Union Station, Amtrak!

As mentioned earlier, Amtrak has now moved its operations back to Denver Union Station, and are using their new platforms under the new train hall canopy. I was able to make it tonight to take some pictures!

First off, let’s start out by walking around the new platforms under the canopy. This structure, especially at night, is absolutely incredible. Some of the station was still under-construction but we were able to access a good portion of it including the 18th Street pedestrian bridge.

 

 

 

 

 

My perch to watch the train come in was on top of the 18th Street pedestrian bridge. In the second picture, the California Zephyr Amtrak train is pulling into the station!

 

Photos are always great but I have something very special to share with you: A time-lapse of the California Zephyr train pulling into the station. The time-lapse is not very long but is still neat given this is the first train to pull into the new station! It’ll be great to see all of the action going on around this station once the commuter rail lines are done!

Welcome back to Denver Union Station, Amtrak! We are glad to see you back!