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Archive of posts filed under the Sustainability category.

14th Street Ambassador Corridor Improved by Renovation at 414 14th

Recently I was able to get a peek inside the former Denver Public Schools Administrative Building at the corner of 14th Street and Tremont in the Central Business District.

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This gorgeous building, now known as 414 14th Street on the Ambassador, was originally erected in 1923 for the Denver Public School system and housed their offices until the 1970’s. It was added to the City and County of Denver’s list of historic landmark buildings in 1994. Most recently, it served as offices for the Denver Art Museum.

The Downtown Denver Partnership has designated the 14th Street corridor the “Ambassador Street” because of its proximity to sites popular for out-of-towners, such as the Colorado Convention Center and the Performing Arts Complex. The building’s prime central location on the Ambassador Street, along with its historic importance, caught the eye of owners Dunkeld-14-LLC (a partnership that includes principals from Hyder Construction). They closed on 414 14th in 2013 and with the help of DURA financing, they are in the midst of performing an impressive renovation.

Redeveloped on spec, Dunkeld-14 is now seeking tenants through Pinnacle Real Estate Advisors to fill this 43,000 square foot office space. Tenants could potentially lease the entire building, or subdivide the three floors into multiple offices. Though many of the original building’s details are being restored (like the stairwell and hallway pictured below) each lessee will have the rare opportunity to select their own finishes.

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Though the owners are not currently seeking LEED certification, the building is being adapted to meet LEED-Silver standards. Negotiations with Xcel Energy have resulted in a brand new electrical system, with a state-of-the-art transformer vault installed at the rear of the building. High speed fiber-optic cable was added, and the interior features a brand new variable refrigerant flow (VRF) HVAC system that offers up to 35% in energy savings because of its ability to allow for zoned thermal control in large spaces.

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All of the 150-some original windows were sent out of state to be professionally insulated and glazed, preserving the original character of the building while bringing it up to today’s energy-efficient standards. Lower level bike storage and shower rooms will cater to the cyclists in the city, while 42 dedicated parking spaces at the rear of the building are an undeniable bonus for potential tenants.

The 3-story building was originally shaped like a U, with the open space facing the rear. Dunkeld-14 has added an impressive secondary entry alcove to this space that adds over 6,000 square feet to the original building footprint.

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With its unique blend of modern technological improvements and historic 1920’s charm, 414 14th is sure to be snapped up soon. We’ll check back in for an update when the renovation is complete.

Thanks to Jeff Caldwell at Pinnacle Real Estate Advisors for the tour!


Turntable Studios Brings Micro-Apartments to Denver

MARCH 5 UPDATE: JG Johnson Architects has finalized the renderings for Turntable Studios.  The three photos posted below include the final sign design and color scheme for the building.

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Denver’s first micro-apartment building is under construction! The project is called Turntable Studios, and its introduction to Denver’s rental housing mix marks an important step toward expanding the affordable housing options for would-be city dwellers.

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courtesy of JG Johnson Architects

Micro-apartments (also called micro-units or micro-housing) have been part of the housing mix in dense international cities like Hong Kong and Tokyo for decades, but they are just starting to catch on in the U.S. Though the maximum square footage varies depending on the source, most authorities consider a one-room apartment unit that is between 150-350 square feet to be “micro.”

There is a reason that micro-apartment development is on the rise. According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the proportion of single-person households in America has increased by 10% from 1970, and presently accounts for more than a quarter of all households. This rise in single-person households coupled with steadily increasing housing prices has created a new real estate market segment that appears quite willing to sacrifice square footage for affordable rents and desirable urban locations.

Though the concept has not yet reached Middle America, fast growing cities like Boston, San Francisco and Seattle have been offering micro apartments for several years now. Their introduction to the rental market has presented a challenge to city planning departments, who have no previous experience guiding policy decisions that speak to the unique housing arrangement that places kitchen components within mere feet of sleeping quarters. Nevertheless, the demand for affordable urban units in the U.S. is undeniable and Denver will soon have its first offering, courtesy of Nichols Partnership.

Probably best known locally for developing the Spire condominium building downtown, Nichols Partnership is in the midst of adapting the former VQ Hotel building next to Sports Authority Stadium at Mile High into 179 apartment units that will range in size from 330 square foot studios, to 820 square foot 2-bedroom units.

Originally erected in 1967, the 94,000 square foot, 13-story cast-in-place concrete structure stands out because of its unique design. It is shaped like a silo, with the elevator bank at its center and 16 hotel rooms per floor spoking out from the circular hallway.  Each of these rooms is being converted to an apartment unit, complete with a kitchen (featuring full-sized refrigerators and built-in microwaves), a full bathroom with a sliding barn door, and living / sleeping area.

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Because of the limited square footage, the unit floorplans had to be carefully arranged. Nichols Partnership  tested the design with a real-life mock-up unit, to ensure the spaces were laid out to maximize livability for the future tenants.

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Courtesy of Nichols Partnership

The windows are being re-glazed and each unit will feature a Juliette balcony, so that tenants can open up their doors and enjoy their remarkable view of downtown Denver.

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Turntable Studios will offer a variety of amenities, such as a fitness room, swimming pool, and community room on the first floor, along with additional storage space for tenants.  The hotel’s former top floor restaurant space will be converted into penthouse apartment units and a common area. The development prioritizes access to multi-modal transportation, with plans for 144 covered bike racks, and its proximate location to I-25 and two light rail stops.

Property management company Boutique Apartments is already accepting inquiries for the project, which is scheduled to begin leasing in June, 2015.

Be sure to check back for updates, as we will certainly be keeping an eye on the development of this exciting new addition to Denver’s housing mix! Thanks to Melissa Rummel and Jodi Kopke for the tour!


Gas is suddenly cheap(er), and the reason is bigger than you think

Gas prices have fallen below $3 per gallon in much of the US, and the explanation isn’t the simple seasonal differences that always make gas cheaper in autumn. The bigger reason: US oil shale deposits are turning the global oil market on its head.

Photo by Wil C. Fry on Flickr.

Photo by Wil C. Fry on Flickr.

How did cheap gas happen?

In the simplest terms, supply is up and demand is down.

Travel drops between the summer travel season and the holidays, and cooler fall temperatures actually make gas cheaper to produce. That’s why gas prices always fall in autumn.

But that’s not enough to explain this autumn’s decline, since gas hasn’t dropped this low in years. China is also using less gas than expected, but that’s also only part of the explanation.

The bigger explanation seems to be that supply is also up, in a huge way. North American oil shale is hitting the market like never before, and it’s totally unbalancing the global oil market. Oil shale has become so cheap, and North American shale producers are making such a dent in traditional crude, that some prognosticators are proclaiming that “OPEC is over.”

It’s that serious a shift in the market.

Will this last?

Yes and no.

The annual fall price drop will end by Thanksgiving, just like it always does. Next summer, prices will rise just like they always do. Those dynamics haven’t changed at all.

Likewise, gasoline demand in China and the rest of the developing world will certainly continue to grow. Whether it outpaces or under-performs predictions matters less in the long term than the fact that it will keep rising. That hasn’t changed either.

But the supply issue has definitely changed. Oil shale is here to stay, at least for a while. Oil shale production might keep rising or it might stabilize, but either way OPEC crude is no longer the only game in town.

Of course, oil shale herf=”http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-10/u-dot-s-dot-shale-oil-boom-may-not-last-as-fracking-wells-lack-staying-power”>isn’t limitless. Eventually shale will hit peak production just like crude did. When that happens it will inevitably become more expensive as we use up the easy to refine reserves and have to fall back on more expensive sources. That’s a mathematical certainty. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. In the meantime, oil shale isn’t very scarce.

So the bottom line is that demand will go back up in a matter of weeks, and the supply will probably stabilize, but at higher levels than before.

What does this mean?

Here’s what it doesn’t mean: There’s never going to be another 1990s bonanza of $1/gallon fill-ups. Gas will be cheaper than it was in 2013, but the 20th Century gravy train of truly cheap oil is over.

Oil shale costs more to extract and refine than crude oil. Prices have to be high simply to make refining oil shale worth the cost, which is why we’ve only recently started refining it at large scales. Shale wouldn’t be profitable if prices dropped to 1990s levels. In that sense, oil shale is sort of like HOT lanes on a congested highway, which only provide benefits if the main road remains congested.

So shale can only take gas prices down to a little below current levels. And eventually increased demand will inevitably overwhelm the new supply. How long that will take is anybody’s guess.

In the ultimate long term, oil shale doesn’t change most of the big questions surrounding sustainable energy. Prices are still going to rise, except for occasional blips. We still need better sustainable alternatives. Fossil fuels are still wreaking environmental catastrophe, and the fracking process that’s necessary to produce oil shale is particularly bad. It would be foolish in the extreme for our civilization to abandon the progress we’ve made on those fronts, and go back to the SUV culture of the 20th Century.

There will probably be lasting effects on OPEC economies. The geopolitical situation could become more interesting.

In the meantime, enjoy the windfall.


Colorado Leads the Nation in Embracing, Regulating Ride-sharing Services

The controversy over ride-sharing services like Uber and Lyft is well known, with national sites like CityLab reporting that states and cities both nationally and internationally are discouraging or even banning these companies from providing ride-sharing services as a viable transportation alternative in urban areas. 

Meanwhile, Colorado has taken a different approach. Recognizing that ride-sharing can be a smart and sustainable transportation option if properly regulated, Colorado has become the first in the nation to pass a comprehensive set of ride-sharing regulations that allow Uber, Lyft, and similar companies to succeed while providing reasonable safeguards for ride-sharing customers. The legislation, which passed with bipartisan support in the Colorado legislature, was signed by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper on June 5, 2014.

The difference in attitude on this topic between Colorado and other states is stark, as is evidenced by Governor Hickenlooper’s signing statement on the new legislation: “Today, as we sign into law Colorado’s Transportation Network Company Act, we celebrate and affirm that Colorado is open for business as a place where entrepreneurs and tech-savvy innovators can thrive. We welcome UberX and Lyft and other ride-share companies that will provide Coloradans with an affordable and convenient new transportation option. Colorado once again is in the vanguard in promoting innovation and competition while protecting consumers and public safety.”

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(image source: http://blog.uber.com/regsdoneright)

Uber and Lyft echoed Governor Hickenlooper’s views on Colorado’s leadership in providing transportation options for its citizens. Lyft spokesperson Chelsea Wilson said: “By creating a common-sense regulatory framework for ridesharing that prioritizes public safety and consumer choice, Colorado has stepped up as a leader in welcoming innovative, community-powered transportation options and forging a path for other jurisdictions to follow.” Uber’s Eva Behrend added: “Colorado is on the cutting-edge of innovation and technology. Their leaders understand that laws should not stand in the way of consumer choice, innovation and the natural evolution of the way people travel; instead, they have proactively adopted commonsense rules to allow for technology to create safe, convenient and seamless new transportation options.”

Way to go, Colorado!


Suburbs May Scare You, but a Look Under Stapleton’s “Hood” May Reveal a Surprising Amount of Innovation

As the largest urban infill redevelopment project in the country, Stapleton’s name is known both in, and outside, of Colorado. Having the community’s first phases being met with success, countless awards, and even garnering visits from mayors across the world, the development is not slowing down. By final buildout, Stapleton is expected to house 30,000 Denver residents. After watching decades of failed suburban mass developments scar swaths of unscathed land across the US, it’s not shocking that an urbanite’s first reaction is to run from this situation in some Godzilla-like fashion. I stood corrected on a recent trip to Stapleton and actually left feeling embarrassed that I’d allowed myself to be so closed-minded. Stapleton is not every other suburb. In fact, 20 years from now when the outer-ring suburbs are crumbling, Stapleton might just have an offshoot business making manuals for how to bring liveability to fractured surburban American communities.

As Stapleton pushes further north, the project team has kept a fine pulse on the needs and interests of those entering the community. A true emphasis on lifestyle, even if it’s not the one you choose, has been guiding many of the decisions being made by the project team. Progressive urbanism is at work here. It’s already apparent from passing through the solar panel-laden rooftops and pristine greenways that Stapleton has placed a focus on sustainability, but are these more common symptoms our only way to measure comprehensive sustainability?

Beyond simply being “green”, Stapleton has strived to create sustainable lifestyles. Though they’ve achieved becoming the largest EnergyStar community in Colorado, it runs deeper than that. Sustainability has been implanted into the simplest components of city infrastructure to ensure the human experience is always in consideration.  For instance, medians intended for nothing more than asphalt or grass, have been turned into elaborately designed pedestrian paths increasing safety, mobility and drastically enhancing aesthetic. Poachable fruit trees like the MontMorency cherry have been planted throughout the neighborhood to allow people to interact with the environment outside their door. Even the numerous community gardens peppered about have been planned down so intricately that some include organic fences built from espaliered apple trees.

In its newest phase, Stapleton has taken strides to create a place where the Colorado culture and Gen X ideals can be embraced. Homes will now have the option of including chicken coops, green houses and other agro features. Farm to table has been an embraced philosophy throughout the entire development and the team is constantly thinking outside of the box on ways to seamlessly building a stronger relationship between person and place.

  

With 38% of the new residents in the northern portion of the neighborhood being from the previously existing phases, it’s clear that the new phase of development has stepped up its game. Placemaking has become apparent through not only the medians and gardens, but in the street grid itself. Conforming to the grid pattern of the surrounding context, Stapleton has made sure in their new phase to build a heightened level of placemaking within each corridor. To break from the mundane and develop character, the street grid was carefully sculpted into more unique block forms. It was done in a way that retains the grid and connectivity throughout, while also delivering originality. In addition, pocket parks are encouraged to developers for designing opportunities for social interaction and quality of life. To foster community and continue building upon sense of place, homes are corralled around a common greenspace in a dense and intimate fashion. This is one further attempt to create spaces that work for people.

Lastly, in the coming years, Stapleton will continue to leverage its significance as a residential heavy hitter in the Denver Metro Area. It is home to what will expand as the second largest transportation hub within RTD’s network. What will be most exciting to watch is the portion of land set aside by Stapleton to create their TOD (Transit-oriented Development). Though plans have not been firmly laid, we could see some of the development’s highest densities still yet to come.

The takeaway from this piece is simply that Stapleton possesses more than what meets the eye. Though many of us following this blog sometimes get caught up in the urban-only fight, there’s a lot to learn from the community to the northeast. If some of the urban developments currently at work in the inner core cared half as much about the details and creativity of building sustainable living, we might be producing a far better quality of life to experience for generations to come.