Dec. 15, 2018
Height and heft: 5 projects that are reshaping Denver's skyline
By Kelcey McClung – Reporter, Denver Business Journal - Dec 13, 2018, 2:46pm MST Updated Dec 13, 2018, 5:20pm EST
In 2018, the Mile High City has seen dozens of new commercial real estate projects break ground, inch taller or top out, as its signature skyline continues to grow in height, density and texture.
Plans were unveiled for The River Mile in March. The World Trade Center Denver has continued to sign tenants as it steamrolls toward its 2020 completion date. River North's new music venue and mixed-use development project is underway. Also notable are The Coloradan condominium project in Lower Downtown, which will be completed by Q1 2019, and the proposal to redevelop the south parking lots of Denver's Mile High Stadium. And downtown Denver's newest skyscraper at 1144 Fifteenth is almost fully leased.
Among all of the cranes currently towering over Denver, five projects stand out as representative of the next wave of the city's vertical growth: Block 162, the Prism building, Market Station, the Rockies West Lot and Modera West Wash Park.
Each of these buildings speak to the strength and prosperity of the market, as well as the growth of the city, notes Randy Thelen, vice president of economic development at the Downtown Denver Partnership.
And it's not just that the vertical architecture makes great additions to the skyline, but that each has done a "phenomenal" job of looking at "human-scale" elements, Thelen said. The combination of height, mass, design and connectivity to the street and sidewalk evidences thoughtful planning as to how these buildings both fit into and stand out against the existing streetscape.
Projects like these not only enhance the aesthetic experience of both residents and visitors, but such design jewels can also play a role in recruitment as the competition for talent becomes more fierce, Thelen said. While many companies excel at interior design as a key factor in attracting and engaging staff, exterior design can be just as important to the connections people feel with their city.
"I would say we’re maturing, as our market has grown and as price points have climbed, and that affords the ability for higher design and higher levels of architecture," said Ken Schroeppel, founder of the DenverInfill website and assistant professor of urban planning in the College of Architecture and Planning at University of Colorado Denver.
Block 162 is a 30-story building at 15th and California streets that is being developed speculatively by Houston-based Patrinely Group and USAA Real Estate Co. The site is in an area of the Central Business District where there are a few blocks without skyscrapers.
Project name: Block 162
Address: 1514 California St.
Developer: Patrinely Group and USAA Real Estate Co.
General contractor: Swinerton
Estimated completion date: End of 2020
"It's like a donut hole in the middle of downtown Denver," said Schroeppel.
In 2004, Schroeppel created DenverInfill, with the intent of providing information on new infill projects in Denver. Over time, it grew from a project database to a blog that provides not only key information about projects, but also commentary and insight on design.
Block 162's clean lines and the dramatic curtain-wall design will "catch the eye," when its continuous glass facade takes on different colors as the sky changes during the day, Schroeppel said. And the slight flare at the corners of the building adds an interesting effect.
The building's 10 floors of above-ground parking will be covered with the same "glass-curtain" wall as the rest of the building, giving the appearance of a single structure. This is unlike other high rises in downtown, many of which sit on parking podiums that are not covered, which breaks up the seamlessness of the building.
Block 162 will likely be a success in downtown based on how tight the office market has been. Todd Wheeler, Cushman and Wakefield vice chairman, said that Block 162 offers users a "middle-of-the-market" option. He, along with Doug Wulf, executive managing director, are leasing the office space in the building. Users who don't want to be in LoDo because they do business on the other end of downtown, are going to have a brand new construction project offered to them, Wheeler said.
"It's also the first project that's sort of testing the wave of development to move back uptown towards the Capitol," he said.
David Haltom, vice president at Patrinely, said the building is going to be an architectural landmark in Denver.
"We think it's going to be one of the most visible, and highest-quality new buildings in the city," he said. He added that the strength of the Denver market puts them in a "great position" for attracting tenants that already exist in Denver, or are attracted to Denver, due to the limited blocks of space currently available.
Since the original announcement of the project, Block 162's sky terrace has since been updated to be much larger — about 3.5 times the original size, Haltom said. It will have locker rooms, conference space, a social lounge, a fitness center and a large terrace with fire pits.
"That is an amenity where we have decided to go the extra mile and deliver something that's new in the Denver market," Haltom said.
Less than half a mile from Block 162 is Shea Properties' nine-story office building project at 999 17th St. – commonly known as the Prism building. This is the second phase of the group's development on Curtis between 17th and 18th streets, as it recently wrapped up construction on its 28-story, 359-unit apartment building called the Quincy.
Project name: Prism Building
Address: 999 17th St.
Developer: Shea Properties
Architect: Davis Partnership Architects
General contractor: GE Johnson
Estimated completion date: January 2019
With Prism, the concept from the beginning was to be iconic and memorable, said Shea Properties executive vice president Peter Culshaw. They wanted it to be the building "everyone would think about," and tasked Davis Partnership Architects with just that. The firm created several designs, but Culshaw said the folded glass facade was eye-catching from the moment they saw it.
Part of the reason they wanted this building to be so iconic was its location in the Central Business District on 17th Street, just a few blocks from Denver Center for the Performing Arts and close to LoDo.
"The idea was that we believed this was the best corner," Culshaw said. "Rather than do something boring, [we thought] let's do something special that dignifies the location."
Designed with smaller floor plates, Culshaw describes it as a boutique office building designed for smaller financial service tenants.
"We wanted them to feel special in the building," he said, and added that the tenants will benefit from the great architecture both inside and out.
Originally, the project was intended to be two towers, Schroeppel said, rather than a 28-story one and a nine-story one. But in the process of "shrinking" 999 17th St. to nine stories, it acquired its articulated facade facing 17th Street. The multiple folds in the glass curtain wall is not uncommon in other cities, but it is for Denver, he said.
Though it could have been taller, Schroeppel said that this building fits "nicely" with its neighbors, as the building juxtaposes well with the Hotel Monaco, which is one of the few examples of art moderne style in Denver. This style is known for its horizontal banding of windows and round corners, he said. This building from the pre-WWII era contrasts well with the modernism style of the Prism building, he said.
"The fact that they’re the same height, sit side-by-side, and share a block makes for an interesting and somewhat delightful kind of combination," Schroeppel said.
The building's "folded" front also makes for a pleasant pedestrian experience. When a person walks down the sidewalk looking straight ahead, their peripheral vision only includes the first seven or eight floors of a building, Schroeppel said. That puts the Prism Building right in the range of what a pedestrian can appreciate, he said.
Back when construction started on Market Station in fall 2017, Continuum Partners development director Roger Pecsok said that it would be "the next great downtown development, similar in scale and significance to Larimer Square and Union Station."
Unlike nearby projects, the Prism Building and Block 162, the building at 16th and Market streets was subject to Lower Downtown design standards and guidelines, which added a layer of design controls. The capped height, brick facade and setback come straight from those standards, Schroeppel said – and that's not a bad thing, he added.
Project name: Market Station
Address: 16th and Market streets
Architect: El Dorado Inc. and BOKA Powell
General contractor: Kiewit Corp.
Estimated completion date: Q1 2020
Though some of the project's presence was fairly predictive in terms of mass and scale, it has much more of an impact than its architecture. Ever since the 16th Street Mall was built in 1982, the block has not had anything on it except the one building RTD is in, and the rest of it was a plaza — a large gap at Market Street.
But the building will be much more than a gap-filler.
"[Market Station] will create a beautiful transition from the downtown portion of the mall to the LoDo portion of the mall," Schroeppel said. As the granite from the mall ends and suddenly one is in LoDo, Market Station will offer a point of connection between the two.
The 10-story, mixed-use project will include a retail alley, which Schroeppel said will continue to expand the appeal of downtown Denver and LoDo for pedestrians.
According to Wheeler, who is leasing the project's office space, the project is unique because it's driven by retail and the office space flows out of that.
"Those office users are going to tend to be people that are going to want to be fully ingrained in a bustling retail, cutting-edge type of environment," he said.
Speaking to the success of Dairy Block, Wheeler said Market Station will be similar, but about triple the size and right on the 16th Street Mall.
Rockies West Lot
A "legacy project" and an "urban jewel" are phrases John Yonushewski, senior principal at Stantec's Denver office, used to describe the project earlier this year. He emphasized how much consideration the surrounding neighborhood and its residents had on the concept. A large amount of public space was the focal point for the project.
One of the interesting things about LoDo, despite it being an "amazing district" is that it doesn't have a lot of nodes, Schroeppel said, or places of intense concentration within the district. Though LoDo itself is a destination, there are not a lot of singular destinations within LoDo besides Dairy Block, Larimer Square and Union Station itself (and Market Station, once it is complete) — those that allow pedestrians to enjoy the historic buildings along the way to each one, which makes for a "beautiful mix of new and old."
The Rockies West Lot development will be one of those all-in-one locations of intensity and activity.
Project name: Rockies West Lot
Address: 1901 Wazee St.
Developer: Colorado Rockies
General contractor: Hensel Phelps
Estimated completion date: Q1 2021
"I think it’s going to be amazing; we’ve had this full city block-sized parking lot smack in the middle between the stadium and the historic district," Schroeppel said. "The whole point of putting Coors Field where it is was for it to tap into and contribute to the energy and vibe of LoDo."
That's partially what led to the historic architecture and heavy use of brick at the stadium, because LoDo was an emerging historic district that was gaining momentum.
The nearly 830,000-square-foot mixed-use project will have both residential and commercial features, including office and condo space. Stantec has been working on the design since the summer of 2017.
The Rockies West Lot project will fill that gap.
Modera West Wash Park
Mill Creek Residential's 241-unit luxury apartment community is slated for a summer 2020 completion.
The site along Speer Boulevard comes to a point, and also curves along the boulevard. But where that could have been a design challenge, Davis Partnership Architects' Phil Fossen said it ended up being a great asset of the project. Fossen is the project manager and design lead.
Project name: Modera West Wash Park
Address: 390 Grant St.
Developer: Mill Creek Residential
Architect: Davis Partnership Architects
General contractor: Martines Palmeiro Construction
Estimated completion date: Summer 2020
The building is interesting and attractive to look at as it comes to a point, Schroeppel said. It also accentuates the curve along Speer, making Modera West Wash Park a far cry from the "four-over-one" apartment projects some have lamented about.
"The community’s points along Speer Boulevard are atypical to say the least, but are a function of the land parcel’s layout that allowed us the opportunity to design in a unique feature," said Chris Winchester, vice president of development at Mill Creek Residential. He added that the "subtle swoosh" between the two corners along Speer Blvd. was another interesting element of the project's design. The balconies along that side hug the curve.
Glass and masonry are the primary materials on its highly visible facades. More traditional materials like brick ties it back to some of Denver's historic buildings and some of the nearby homes in the neighborhood.
"We were looking to create a modern, beautiful building with more traditional materials," Fossen said.
Winchester pointed out that the corner points toward downtown and the mountains, which led to the full floor-to-ceiling window walls.
"This architectural feature, along with pearly white brick, warm Nichiha wood paneling, and dark stucco bands, really sets the look of the exterior above others in Denver," he said.
The tallest part of the building comes to a point at Speer, and gets smaller towards the south side of the site.
"It's a real handsome project – not gimmicky or trendy," Fossen said. "It's a design that’s there for the long haul."
This project plays a role in the continued densification along Speer, Schroeppel said. That's part of why it is exciting for Fossen – he added that it will have a great presence on the heavily trafficked corridor to downtown.
The future of Denver's urban planning and design
These five projects will all play a role in shaping the way the city functions and feels. But that's not to say that Denver isn't without its design challenges.
Recently, longtime Denver architect and resident Jim Johnson spoke to Denver Business Journal about his disappointment in the quality of Denver's architecture, because many projects lack an aesthetic connection to their surroundings. He called for more authentic projects.
Schroeppel says he sees opportunity in Denver's remaining surface parking lots.
"There's nothing good about horizontal storage of cars in the densest part of a city," Schroeppel said. "It’s antithetical to good urbanism; it's a hole in the urban fabric."
Schroeppel said he would urge Denver to develop design standards and guidelines for all downtown districts that prohibit above-grade parking that is not fully wrapped by other uses. He also said it's also important for the city to adopt more parking maximums, so there are fewer cars and pedestrians can move about more freely.
"That's what the city is about; it's about people," he said.