May 1, 2020
Developers and city planners are looking to make Golden Triangle Denver’s next hot neighborhood
Everyone wants to go to the coffee shops, the restaurants, the alley, to these different places. If you drop something like that in the Golden Triangle, everything changes.
Changes are on the horizon for Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood. Drawn to the area for its largely untapped surface parking lots and a prime location just outside of downtown Denver, several development groups are planning thousands of new residential units in the neighborhood. At the same time, the city is currently working on an update to the neighborhood’s zoning and design standards, which could allow for taller buildings (albeit with other restrictions) and encourage more office and retail development to balance out the residential-heavy area. Bounded by Colfax Avenue to the north, Broadway and Lincoln Street to the east and Speer Boulevard to the west and south, the Golden Triangle “couldn’t be more well-located,” said Joe Vostrejs, a principal at Denver-based City Street Investors. If Vostrejs has his way, much of the neighborhood’s reinvention will center around the Evans School building, a 46,476-square-foot historic structure at 12th Avenue and Bannock Street that sat largely vacant for decades before it was purchased in late 2019 by City Street Investors, the group behind the redevelopment of the Union Station building.
Just as the revitalization of the historic train station helped breathe new life into what is now one of the city’s most desirable neighborhoods, City Street sees potential for the Evans School building to become a “center of gravity” for the Golden Triangle, with retail, food and beverage, outdoor gathering spaces and possibly office space included in early plans. The Golden Triangle is home to a museum district comprised of shops and galleries and anchored by the Denver Art Museum, which is itself in the midst of a $150 million renovation project. But as Vostrejs points out, those cultural amenities are clustered at the northern periphery of the neighborhood. He’s optimistic that the combination of the Evans School redevelopment and the rezoning effort could lead to more options for residents across the neighborhood. “Hopefully what comes out of this is we see galleries and offices and retail and food and beverage being stitched into the neighborhood, and that the neighborhood starts developing its own character and its own personality,” Vostrejs said. Lennar Multifamily Communities, a real estate investment and multifamily development arm of Miami-based homebuilder Lennar Corp. (NYSE: LEN), also figures to be a major player in the neighborhood’s future. The developer has roughly 1,600 residential units in various stages of development across five lots in the Golden Triangle, three of which surround the Evans School building to the north, east, and west. One of those projects — a 17-story, 363-unit apartment project at 10th Avenue and Acoma Street — is already under construction. Nearby, Mill Creek Residential is under contract for the Rocky Mountain Public Media building with plans to build a 15-story, 420-unit apartment community. The coronavirus pandemic and accompanying economic turmoil have cast new uncertainty on these plans, but developers and the city say they’re moving forward. Construction is still underway on LMC’s 10th and Acoma project, and the company is continuing to plan its four other residential projects in the area, according to LMC division president Scott Johnson. Vostrejs said City Street Investors still plans to submit a concept plan for the Evans School building to the city by the end of 2020. And the City of Denver has shifted to online meetings and surveys to gather input on the neighborhood rezoning, with plans to submit the proposed changes to City Council in late summer or early fall, as originally anticipated. New zoning The Golden Triangle’s current zoning, originally adopted in 1994, was meant to encourage more residential development, said Kristofer Johnson, the principal city planner heading up the rezoning efforts. “In all respects, it was actually quite successful in doing that,” Johnson said. “A lot of the projects over the past 15, 20 years have been residential. Now we’re interested in focusing on the other elements that make this really a complete neighborhood and implementing the recommendations of the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Plan.”That neighborhood plan, created in 2014, calls for a range of uses and development types across the neighborhood, as well as diverse building forms and shapes. The plan is also intended to promote a “high-quality pedestrian experience” complete with public gathering spaces, which the neighborhood currently lacks.”Everybody really loves the variety of things that happen in the neighborhood,” Johnson said. “There’s old and new and large and small, and it’s OK to have a taller building next to a small historic home. We’re trying to perpetuate that going forward.”According to the city, the current zoning uses a “one-size-fits-all” approach, with the same standards applying to all projects regarding to scale or lot size. The proposed changes would implement stronger zoning standards as projects grow in size and scale to account for their increased influence on the surrounding area. The most significant change to building heights would come in the form of “point tower” buildings, which could stretch as high as 300 feet (current limits are set at 175 feet from the elevation at Broadway). Under the proposed framework, buildings that are similar in size and scale to what’s currently allowed would have height limits of 200 feet. The point tower format, which would only be allowed on wider lots, would feature more slender, taller towers on a wide base.
“The reason we’re introducing that gets back to this desire for a variety of different building types and sizes,” Johnson said. “Bulkier buildings have a pretty significant impact on the street level and shadows and things like that. [The point tower] installer, more slender, but it’s basically the same area of the building. It’s just organized in a way that allows for better sunlight and better views.”Johnson said that overall, residents of the neighborhood have been “quite supportive” of the proposed zoning changes.”Certainly, there are some individual property owners or residents that have some hesitation about taller buildings in the neighborhood,” Johnson said. “They kind of like things the way they are.” Like the rest of Denver, the Golden Triangle will have to confront the challenges that come with a rapid influx of new residents. Johnson described parking as a “bit of a double-edged sword” for the area, as the vanishing surface parking lots also serve the museums and workers in the neighborhood and nearby downtown. But Johnson said the city is looking at ways to incorporate publicly accessible parking within new developments. “Certainly there is a need for parking that’s more on the public side given the cultural amenities in this neighborhood,” Johnson said. “At the same time, what we’ve seen in recent developments is there’s been quite a bit more parking that’s private that’s been provided to those developments and residents.” Office potential like most in the real estate industry with eyes on the Golden Triangle, JudsonRobertson has seen opportunity in the neighborhood’s central location for years. A managing director for Stream Realty Partners, Robertson is currently working on leasing out a 10-story office project at 955 Bannock St. being developed by Alpine Investments. Robertson said the project has all the necessary permits and is ready to begin construction — as soon as it can get a lease signed. “A lot of other developments have been put on hold or pushed pause,” Robertson said. “We are still actively negotiating, and we’re getting pretty darn close.”
Robertson is hopeful that with the rezoning effort underway, the project at 955 Bannock will eventually be joined by other office projects to round out the neighborhood. “D-GT [the neighborhood’s current zoning] is actually really well thought out, but it overly incentivizes residential or multifamily development,” Robertson said. “To me, what really makes a community or area whole is having all the food groups.” Brian Hutt, a director at Cushman & Wakefield, said employers want spaces where their workers can walk to everything they need. The Golden Triangle could offer that. “The biggest benefit of the Golden Triangle is just location,” Hutt said. “It’s close to downtown, close to Cherry Creek, but you don’t really have the congestion of downtown. Rates have gone up there from an office perspective, but there’s still a discount compared to downtown.”What’s next for now, Johnson said projects that are already in the planning stages will likely be evaluated under the existing zoning. There will be additional opportunities for public input on the zoning changes throughout the summer, Johnson said, and a 30-day public review period when the changes are submitted to the Planning Board and City Council.
Nearby Cherry Creek offers an example of what can happen to a neighborhood when zoning changes coincide with plenty of new development. A 2012 Cherry Creek Area Plan and rezoning initiative allowed developers to construct taller buildings along with First, Second, and Third avenues. The increased density is resulting in a more diverse workforce, more hotels, and more residences, according to previous Denver Business Journal reporting. Robertson of Stream Realty compared the potential impact of the Evans School redevelopment to that of the Dairy Block, an Instagram-friendly magnet for tourists and residents that also contributed to the development of the Union Station neighborhood.
“Dairy Block was such a magnificent development because it gave not only that specific block, but the area around it, a place to call home,” Robertson said “Everyone wants to go to the coffee shops, the restaurants, the alley, to these different places. If you drop something like that in the Golden Triangle, everything changes.”