Inside Denver’s Emerging West Side Story — Billions in Development Bring a ‘New City’ to Life in District 3
Revitalizing a once-marginalized neighborhood with massive infrastructure and mixed-use projects.
Early 265 acres of prime real estate in a once-marginalized neighborhood is slated for billions of dollars in development that will result in virtually a new city on the southwest side of downtown Denver.
A handful of planned developments will bring tens of thousands of new residences, office space and shopping and entertainment to the Denver District 3, which includes the Auraria, Sun Valley, and West Colfax neighborhoods.
“This was where nobody wanted to live,” said District 3 City Councilwoman Jamie Torres, a Denver native who grew up in the neighborhood. “It was built out later than the rest of the city because we were redlined for a long time. There was disinvestment in this part of town.”
With so many developments teed up, it’s crucial that the city take a holistic approach to developing infrastructure including roads, bridges, utilities, water, pedestrian and bike paths and public transportation as well as services such as fire, police and paramedics.
The developments along the Platte River will be connected by light rail, pedestrian walkways and bike paths. They’ll also be stitched into Denver’s central business district to make walking from the 16th Street Mall to Sun Valley a pleasant experience.
“Attention to connectivity needs to be a prime component,” said Kourtny Garrett, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “16th and Market to Sun Valley may be a 30-minute walk, but when you have a contiguous experience block by block, it’s the journey, not the destination. There’s an entire new quadrant of our city that’s about to pop, and that’s really exciting.”
Urban Ventures President Susan Powers, a pioneer in the neighborhood who developed Steam on the Platte, said Meow Wolf was a catalyst for the planning activity that’s now happening in the area.
“What needs to happen is that somebody needs to look at all of this together,” Powers said. “There’s so much development potential here, but somebody needs to be connecting the dots. The magnitude of all those projects being developed is like another downtown.”
Projects in the works include the parking lots surrounding Ball Arena and Empower Field at Mile High Stadium; The River Mile, a mile-long stretch along the South Platte River that includes Elitch Gardens; Burnham Yard, which is owned by the Colorado Department of Transportation; and Sun Valley.
The Auraria Campus is in the early stages of creating a new master plan; and ideas for reconfiguring Speer Boulevard and developing housing, a hotel and education and retail space are being floated.
“The west side is the future of Denver for the next 50 years,” said Rhys Duggan, president and CEO of Revesco Properties, which is developing the River Mile project in the area.
The River Mile
A public planning process for The River Mile, a 62-acre development planned along the Platte River, was completed in 2018. The planning process resulted in a high-level vision for the mile-long stretch along the Platte River from Speer Boulevard to West Colfax Avenue. Developer Revesco Properties completed an Infrastructure Master Plan and entered a development agreement with the city.
The plan requires reengineering the South Platte River, which will be partially funded with $350 million in federal money.
As part of the plans and agreements set for The River Mile so far, at least 15% of future residential units will be affordable — some at the 0% to 30% area median income (AMI) level and some at the 30% to 60% AMI. The affordable units will include a range of home types, including larger three-bedroom units for families.
The development will have a community recreation center. Because of open space requirements, everyone at The River Mile will be within a five-minute walk to a park and a three-minute walk to a public open space like a plaza.
The area will also have new pedestrian and cyclist connections across the river and two light-rail stops to improve mobility throughout the area.
Development planned for The River Mile includes 4.7 million square feet of commercial space, 520,000 square feet of retail space, 7,600 residences, including 934 affordable units, and 137,000 square feet of education and recreation centers.
Revesco, the developer behind the art experience Meow Wolf, recently bought an additional 2.5 acres upstream from The River Mile. It will seek rezoning to allow more height on the property.
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) will connect Denver’s urban core with the River Mile and create a new “Sports Mile” on Wynkoop Street between Coors Field, Empower Field and Ball Arena.
Last July, KSE submitted an Infrastructure Master Plan to the city to redevelop the 55 acres of mostly parking lots surrounding Ball Arena into about 12 million square feet of residential, retail, office, hotel and education uses.
More than 20% of the land area, bordered by Speer Boulevard, the RTD light-rail line and Auraria Parkway, will be dedicated to parks and open spaces, and the redevelopment will make bicycle and pedestrian connections cross and over physical barriers that have stranded the site.
KSE’s proposal calls for 6,763 residential units totaling 5.38 million square feet; 582,763 square feet of retail space; and five office buildings encompassing 2.9 million square feet. A 309-room hotel at the south corner of Wewatta Street and Speer Boulevard also is proposed.
KSE is planning an ambitious sustainability program for the project, which prioritizes mixed mobility infrastructure and water management. A central utility plant on the city could form an energy loop that shares thermal energy within the district.
Stadium District Master Plan
Denver City Council approved the Stadium District Master Plan in June 2019. The plan provides guidance for a future mixed-use neighborhood hub on Empower Field at Mile High’s southern parking lots.
The plan area is bounded by the South Platte River and Interstate 25 on the east, Federal Boulevard on the west and Lakewood Gulch on the south. The plan covers the southern portion of the stadium as well as adjacent properties, including the cloverleaf where Federal Boulevard and Colfax Avenue meet southwest of the stadium.
The plan recommends that the northern part of Metropolitan Football Stadium District property remains flexible for game-day uses.
The property is owned by the Stadium Investment Corp., a nonprofit venture between the Metropolitan Football Stadium District, the Stadium Management Co. and an affiliate of the Denver Broncos Football Club, which paused their redevelopment work in 2020.
“Since this is privately owned land, redevelopment of these parking lots hinges on the property owner’s appetite to move forward,” said Laura Swartz, communications director for Denver’s Community Planning and Development department. “If the Stadium District wanted to resume a development proposal in the future, it would need to align with the community’s vision and recommendations in the adopted Stadium District Master Plan.”
That vision is for a neighborhood destination that supports local arts and culture, provides a mix of uses in an environment that prioritizes pedestrians and bicyclists and activated and enhanced access to a variety of high-quality public spaces. The community also wants to see a variety of housing, including additional affordable housing, and jobs within the plan area for people of all incomes, ages and abilities.
The plan is designed to encourage development that supports the Sun Valley community and surrounding neighborhoods by providing opportunities for small businesses and local employment.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) acquired the 58-acre Burnham Yard property in 2021. The property is east of Interstate 25 between West Sixth and West Eighth avenues and extends a little more than a mile from 13th Avenue to Fourth Avenue.
The site, which is zoned for industrial use, includes about two dozen buildings.
At the time the deal was announced, the agency said it anticipated using about 17 acres of the rail yard to relocate train tracks, allowing for improvements to I-25 through central Denver while reserving right of way for Front Range Passenger Rail and an expansion of congested RTD light-rail lines.
CDOT is studying all rail alignments to determine which would position the property for optimal development as well as provide the most efficient operations of freight and passenger rail through the site.
The Colorado Transportation Investment Office, a CDOT enterprise, owns the property and is working with the city and other stakeholders to figure out which portions of the land must remain free of development so they can be used for surface transportation. The land that is not used for transportation will be sold to private developers.
Over the past decade, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) has been planning the redevelopment of Sun Valley, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded DHA a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Initiative Implementation to implement the Sun Valley Neighborhood Transformation Plan.
The redevelopment plan includes replacing 333 obsolete public housing units with new energy-efficient developments, including more than 950 mixed-income housing units.
DHA completed the first phase — Gateway North and Gateway South at West 10th Avenue and Decatur Street — in 2021, and the buildings’ 187 units were fully leased by the first quarter of 2022.
In February, it opened two buildings in the second phase of the redevelopment — GreenHaus and Thrive, which have both income-restricted and market-rate units that are now available to lease.
“We’re doing one-for-one replacements for all original housing units — where we had five bedrooms before, we also have five bedrooms in the new structures,” said Erin Clark, DHA’s chief real estate investment officer. “We’re building everything to market-rate standards.”
Buildings in the third phase — Sole, Joli and Flow — will open by early 2025. The third phase also includes a restaurant incubator space that will be managed by the Youth Employment Academy, which has a mission to serve young adults in breaking the cycle of generational poverty.
DHA also is working with market rate developers who will buy parcels from the agency.
In addition to housing, DHA is working with the city to build a 10-acre park that includes a civic plaza. It’s also opened Decatur Fresh Market, a grocery with an international flair, in the ground floor of the Gateway South building and is working with the Denver Botanic Gardens, which will help residents grow their own produce.
“It’s so exciting that we’re finally embracing the South Platte River as an amenity after we’ve turned our back on it for so long,” Clark said. “All of these developments and redevelopments are us opening our eyes.”
Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for The Denver Post covering residential and commercial real estate. She can be reached at email@example.com.