Downtown’s new neighborhood: Arapahoe Square
Colorado residents can agree that downtown Denver has significantly transformed over the past 20 years. Once an area that lacked attractive retail space, affordable housing and compelling destinations that attract visitors, downtown Denver today is a thriving urban environment where businesses grow and people live.
This transformation can be attributed to a number of factors, but perhaps the greatest of all was the careful planning and execution of the 1986 Downtown Area Plan and the 1993 Downtown Denver Urban Renewal Plan, also known as the “1993 Plan.”
The city of Denver, the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP), the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) and others worked in concert to identify opportunities to revitalize and enhance downtown Denver through these plans, and the resulting redevelopment has changed the face of downtown. The Denver Pavilions, Denver Dry Building and Mercantile Square are just a few of the tremendous projects that stemmed from this effort.
Simultaneously, neighborhoods directly adjacent to downtown Denver also have transformed. To the sout
east, Uptown is now a haven for boutique retail and mixed-used development along the 17th Street corridor. To the northwest, the Highlands have blossomed by overcoming the restrictive barrier of I-25 and connecting to downtown Denver through commuter bridges and pedestrian walkways. And directly north, the Ballpark neighborhood has effectively leveraged Coors Field to spur economic growth and create new housing options for downtown workers.
One adjacent neighborhood, however, has not seen similar type growth. Arapahoe Square, the neighborhood directly northeast of downtown Denver, is currently home to a throng of surface parking lots and blighted building structures. For context, Arapahoe Square is a 96-acre section of Denver bound generally by 19th and 24th avenues and Lawrence and California streets. Walk a few blocks in Arapahoe Square, and you will see that this neighborhood has been neglected for too long.
I predict this will change in the coming years.
With Denver City Council’s adoption of the 2007 Downtown Area Plan, the Northeast Downtown Neighborhoods Plan, as well as the recent approval of the Arapahoe Square Urban Redevelopment Plan, Arapahoe Square should finally experience the revitalization that other downtown Denver neighborhoods have in recent years.
Transformation will not come without its challenges. In a recent study, 413 incidents of blight were found across a 26-block study area. More challenging yet, Broadway cuts directly through the area on a diagonal, impeding pedestrian traffic and creating a number of awkward intersections.
Like the “1993 Plan,” however, the Arapahoe Square Urban Redevelopment Plan allows for the use of tax increment financing (TIF) to catalyze redevelopment in the area, and this financial assistance helps developers overcome some of the barriers to redevelopment in Arapahoe Square.
On a project-by-project basis, DURA can use TIF to help close the financing gap between what a private developer can fund and the actual cost needed to complete a project by utilizing the incremental new taxes generated by a new project.
Our objective when utilizing TIF is to spark redevelopment in a certain area, creating momentum for future projects that won’t require financial assistance. For example, during a five-year stretch following the “1993 Plan,” DURA utilized TIF to invest in four of the seven residential projects under way in downtown Denver. The following 12-year period saw 12 new residential projects come about without the help of DURA or TIF.
Currently, no Arapahoe Square projects have been approved by City Council; however, it’s been reported that Greyhound Lines Inc. has plans to move its Arapahoe Square hub to another Denver Metro location with better access to public transportation. The current Greyhound site, located at 19th and Arapahoe, touches the downtown Denver boundary, thus Greyhound’s move could spark a blaze of redevelopment into Arapahoe Square.
It’s difficult to predict what exactly the future of Arapahoe Square will look like, but the steps taken by Denver City Council, DDP and DURA over the past three years ensure that positive change is coming for downtown’s newest neighborhood, Arapahoe Square.
Tracy Huggins is executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA). You can reach her at (303) 534-3872.