Posted: July 01, 2013
Accounting for sports
Broncos are most valuable, but Rockies have had a bigger economic impactBy Mike Taylor
But longtime developers in Denver’s city center cite Coors Field as the chief catalyst in the area’s transformation, a chain reaction they say started with people being drawn to LoDo for baseball, leading to a surge in entertainment investment – drinking and dining establishments – followed by loft projects, and finally office development. From 2000 to 2011, the population of downtown Denver increased 61 percent, according to the Downtown Denver Partnership.
“I give Coors Field most of the credit for that just because they were the initial catalyst that got the whole thing started,” says Randy Nichols, a real estate developer for more than 30 years, all but six of those years in Denver. His firm, The Nichols Partnership, built the 41-story Spire residential tower, among its many developments in the city’s center. “Downtown in the early ’80s was a wasteland. It was where you went to work and then as soon as work was off, you left. There was no activity, there were no restaurants, there were no bars, there was nothing to do, so why stay there? So Coors Field comes in, and there were something like 45 bars and restaurants that opened within six months before and after Coors Field’s opening. The city had terrific foresight in how it designed the field to be real neighborhood-friendly.”
But Nichols, whose firm also developed a 165,000-square-foot office building on 19th and Wynkoop streets in 1997, says there were other factors besides Coors Field that factored in the revitalization of Lower Downtown and the rest of downtown Denver.
“It isn’t the only reason why downtown is a great place to be,” he says. “There were huge investments in infrastructure and light rail and interstate highways and access from the highways into downtown. So that had a lot to do with it as well. But I think the single big event that really kicked it all off was when they built Coors Field.”
Well-known developer Mickey Zeppelin has a unique perspective when it comes to the revitalization of Lower Downtown. The Denver native has been in real estate development in Denver since 1972 and was the co-founder and first president of the Lower Downtown District Inc., when the location of a baseball stadium became an issue.
“I think at that point in time there was a group that was very excited about it, there was another group that was much more apprehensive about whether the historic character would get wiped out or what would happen to Lower Downtown,” Zeppelin says. “I think the neighborhood was particularly concerned with being overwhelmed by people who were less than sober. But from an economic standpoint and certainly from a real estate standpoint, I think it was a real sparkplug for all of downtown.
“It’s has its plusses and minuses, in terms of whether the entertainment kind of became a little overdone and overwhelmed the other things that had happened,” Zeppelin adds. “What was an extremely active art gallery scene has kind of faded away from Lower Downtown and been replaced by higher and I wouldn’t say better, but more expensive, uses.”
In assessing the development of the city’s center, both Zeppelin and Nichols cite the surge of Generation Y or millenials – the 25- to 35-age group – as a major force.
“Not only do they want to be where the action is, but they are a lot more environmentally conscious, and the thought of living in Parker and commuting for an hour and half in your car that gets six miles a gallon or something is just totally foreign to them,” Nichols says. “They’d much rather ride a bike or do something where they can walk. It’s a lot of things, but it’s clearly the Generation Y that is spurring all the growth right now.”
Zeppelin says he sometimes wonders what Lower Downtown would look like if not for the Rockies and Coors Field. “I think it probably would have taken a lot more time for it to develop,” he says. “I think it probably would be a calmer place. Probably it would be more like the Golden Triangle, basically something that happened over 30 years, just kind of gradually happening, or the Silver Triangle, which is just kind of creeping along. I think the stadium changed all of downtown.
“It’s stimulated a different kind of arts – more of the arts in terms of business; the tech businesses tended to go there, and I think that’s been a really positive thing,” he adds. “You’ve got this kind of energetic business thing. The Tech Center was really kind of the center of a lot of it (previously). Lower Downtown kind of moved the ball much more out of the suburban into the urban. People wanted to be where the restaurants, the action, the activity was.”
Nichols describes the chain of events that started with baseball fans descending on LoDo and sparking developments in entertainment, residential and, finally, office buildings.
Mike Taylor is the managing editor of ColoradoBiz. He writes about small-business money issues and how startups are launched. Email him at email@example.com.