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The Denver Dry Goods Building Redevelopment

Denver, Colorado

Urban Design Group Denver, Colorado

Neil Brun - 00090462 University of Waterloo School of Architecture Arch 366

*Photograph obtained from Denver Uptown Business District Virtual Tour -

Introduction The Denver Dry Goods department store is a beloved heritage building in the heart of downtown Denver. Following a series of mid-century cultural shifts, the landmark came to be reborn as a mixed-use development by The Urban Design Group, combining apartments, retail and office spaces. Apart from environmentally sensitive design decisions surrounding the reuse of specific architectural elements and equipment, the project is a model example of successful adaptive reuse. The Denver Dry redevelopment has revolutionized the financing, planning, zoning and formal execution of infill development, and has promoted widespread acceptance of adaptive reuse projects in architectural and business communities. History In the latter half of the 19th century, department stores were located in downtown business districts. The need for more space was accommodated either by expanding the building or moving to a larger one close by. It was during this time that the Denver Dry Goods Company built their 3-storey department store at corner of 16th and California streets in downtown Denver. Designed by Denver Architect Frank Edbrooks, and completed in 1888, its beautiful brick, sand and lime stone exterior and large show windows made it one of the finest store buildings in Denver.


As the city grew, three separate additions took place around the turn of the century that changed the building into the six-storey, 350 000 square foot edifice it is today, extending the entire block between 16th and 15th streets. Denver Dry Goods was one of the first companies to deliver goods and incorporate home-order catalogs, and the 5th floor tea room provided a popular meeting place for business groups. The building became a cornerstone of Denver's vibrant business district.i

***Photographs obtained from Denver Uptown Business District Virtual Tour -

The Redevelopment Project After WWII, families moved out of the city and into the suburbs, luring many major department stores away from urban centres. In 1953, a study conducted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) identified a slow de-centralization occurring in Denver's downtown. ULI's prescription was to strengthen the central business and reinforce the market for office retail space by provided parking and better access to cultural centresii. ULI also stressed the need for establishing an association that would manage and promote the renewal of Denver's downtown fabric, and in 1958 the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) was formed as an independent full service local agency specializing in housing rehabilitation and redevelopment. DURA performs studies of downtown sites in order to select appropriate developers for urban projects.iii

In the 1980's, department store chains consolidated to gain strength in a widening market and downtown stores across the country were shut down. The Denver Dry Goods store closed in 1987 and was acquired by DURA. Four developers failed to offer a viable plan for the site and in 1994 it was in danger of being razed to the ground and converted to a parking lot. At this time, the Affordable Housing and Development Corporation (AHDC) was selected as a developer for what was originally to be a simple conversion of the old building into small condo units. When Urban Design Group was selected as the project architect, a more ambitious mixed-use plan for the historic structure was proposed, including affordable and market rate housing, retail and office space.iv Several innovative financial moves allowed the complex development to get beyond the proposal stage. Rather than selling the building as one unit, it was broken up into smaller lots and sold to a variety of developers, allowing for different construction and finance schedules to unfold on one site. DURA also used Tax Increment Financing to get the project underway. TIF enables an owner to issue bonds and reimburse developers using the money a proposed development will generate through additional property/ sales tax.v The rebirth of a celebrated landmark, one so much at the heart of Denver's downtown fabric and identity, attracted large public and private support. Funding for the project was provided by 23 sources including banks, developers, public agencies, non-profits and the municipality. The project is noted for bringing so many major urban members together to bring a multi-phase project to fruition.

Execution of the Project The Denver Dry Goods store is located at a downtown transit hub where a pedestrian transit-way mall joins the new light rail system. The building occupies 1.5 acres and provides a link to major cultural centres, such as the convention centre, downtown business and retail districts and a number of downtown hotels Construction has presently unfolded in three phases. The first phase included the construction of 51housing units as well as most of the retail and office spaces. This allowed tenants and businesses to move in while planning for the residual office, retail and residential spaces continued into the second and third phases. Approximately one quarter of the building remains currently undeveloped. The breakdownvi of the site development is as follows: LAND USE Office Space Retail ­ Media Play, T.J. Maxx, Waxman's Camera + Video Residential ­ 11 market rate and 40 affordable apartments Currently Undeveloped Circulation/Common Areas TOTAL SQUARE FOOTAGE 28,780 115, 370 47, 235 77, 000 81, 615 350, 000

While the exterior renovation presented several challenges, including the removal of over thirty layers of lead paint and the replacement of the brick and stone cladding, the interior renovation required a sensitive arrangement of residential and office spaces to make use of the existing bays and service cores. Residential units were arranged around the exterior to bring natural light deep into the living spaces, reducing the need for lighting while allowing for several different unit types.vii The old elevator cores were reused, saving the energy and resources involved in both down-cycling and new construction. This was made possible by arranging a system of corridors to serve residential, commercial and business spaces. However, the existing stairwells and elevator cores did not meet the current high rise building codes, and the budget did not provide for all necessary ramifications. Fortunately, compromises were formed with local fire and building departments through the use of stair, elevator corridor and lobby pressurization systems, quick action sprinklers, and a new fully addressable fire alarm system.viii Apart from the elevator cores, every effort was made to reuse building components. The existing wood structure and interior columns were reused, along with an array of condenser water piping and two existing chillers that were incorporated into a new high-efficiency steam-powered water heating system. *Plans adapted from M.I.T. Case Study

Several environmental systems were installed throughout the building to provide appropriate environmental comfort and control in each space. Residential units are equipped with evaporative cooling and baseboard radiation, while a combination of variable or constant air volume systems with fan coil units or baseboard radiators serve the office, retail and service spaces. A direct digital temperature control system was also installed so that the environmental systems could work in harmony, saving energy while creating comfort interior environments. Adaptive Reuse While the Denver Dry redevelopment incorporated efficient design strategies and power systems, the most sustainable move was to rehabilitate a historic structure to accommodate new uses. An analysis of how the project fulfilled all potential benefits while overcoming all obstacles to infill developmentix will bring to light its importance as a model of adaptive reuse ­ one whose success has earned a place in the AIA's Top Ten Models of Green Development. Benefits Environmental Reusing the Denver Dry building relieved pressure off rural development, thereby protecting agriculture while preserving green space within and surrounding Denver's urban centres. In this way, urban sprawl was avoided by making use of existing infrastructure, parks, schools, and transit ­ reducing the need for cars and the consumption of nonrenewable fossil fuels. Reusing the building has also improved its life cycle. This eliminated the embodied energy involved in demolition, materials use, transportation of materials, and new construction. The reuse of equipment,

envelope and structural elements eliminated the need for these demo materials going to a landfill in an energy-intensive fashion. Community The adaptive reuse of a historic structure into a mixed-use development has increased the tax base of the neighbourhood, while creating a broad range of services and programs for the local community. The housing element has improved the quality of life for tenants by reducing commute times and provided access to cultural centres for those with special needs. Last but not least, an important piece of Denver's urban history and architectural fabric was restored, maintaining the character of region through the visual amenity of the landmark. Obstacles: Despite the many benefits of adaptive building reuse, there were many legal, financial and community-based obstacles that the Denver Dry Building redevelopment had to overcome to be successful. Legal The prominence of Euclidean zoning in North America, which advocates separate uses for each lot of land, often poses legal constraints upon mixed-use projects. Another obstacle occurs when suburban parking models obstruct pedestrian-based infill projects that lessen the need for cars. While the use of overlay zoning is gaining popularity, the Denver Dry redevelopment won support by proving to city officials and the public of the great benefit the project would provide to the community.

Financial The primary barrier to infill development is the raising of finances. Traditional lenders are skeptical when it comes to investing in economically depressed sites. Skepticism rises with mixed-use developments, because each lender will generally have different criteria for financing housing, retail, and office spaces. In the Denver Dry redevelopment, the decision to preserve a historic landmark attracted public and private support, while the use of Tax Increment Financing and allowed for different financial agendas and schedules to unfold on one site. Community Infill projects can also attract opposition from the local community, especially if the development is sited in a lowincome neighbourhood. When the tax base of a site and its surrounding area is raised, high property values can displace people from property they can no longer afford. Other sources of community opposition come from changing street character, affecting public transit and local businesses. By incorporating affordable housing into the plan, involving the public from the design stage, and by strengthening the character of its neighbourhood, the Denver Dry development set all these worries to rest. Success Breeds Change With some twenty other mixed-use historic projects having been initiated in downtown Denver since it's completion, the Denver Dry redevelopment has shown how a successful mixed-use infill development can clear a path for similar projects and snowball into large-scale change. Apart from setting an example for how to successfully restore a historic

building using modern environmental systems and design strategies, the project has made many contributions to adaptive reuse development, the planning of downtown retail centres, and public/private partnerships. The use of Tax Increment Financing, combined with the restructuring of a large site into smaller lots was what made the Denver Dry Project practically feasible. These financial and legal innovations have helped provide precedents for future adaptive reuse projects. The project also showed the value of incorporating housing into commercial sites by providing self-policing streets and by stimulating activity in the retail district. Last but not least, the Denver Dry redevelopment was a success thanks to open communication between the many private and public organizations parties involved in its production. The public has obtained a vibrant commercial/business centre featuring a variety of housing opportunities, as well as the benefit of maintaining the landmark of Denver Dry Goods at a cultural hub of downtown. Private Investors received large returns from a desirable mixed-use centre promising activity far into the foreseeable future, all for less than the cost of a new structure. Conclusion The Denver Dry Goods redevelopment is proof of what can be accomplished when a community comes together to save a piece of their cultural heritage. The project serves as a model for sustainable building practice, bringing out the best in the architectural and business communities through clear intentions and communication. The success of the Denver Dry development has echoed in the success of similar projects that have adopted its innovative ideas in design, financing and planning, and will continue to do so for years to come.


History on the Denver Dry Department Store obtained from: Denver's Uptown Business District's Virtual Tour Information on ULI report obtained from: Urban Land Institute ­ Technical Bulletin 54. "DOWNTOWN DENVER ­ A Guide to Central City Development." Published by the Urban Land Institute, Washington D.C. 1965. pp 7-17 Information on DURA obtained from: Denver Urban Renewal Authority Website Background information on redevelopment obtained from: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Case Study Information on TIF obtained from DURA Website Project Statistics obtained from M.I.T's case study on the Denver Dry redevelopment Plans and information on plan development obtained from M.I.T's case study on the Denver Dry redevelopment Information on mechanical and electrical systems obtained from: ABS Consultants Report on Denver Dry Mechanical and Electrical Systems









All general information on infill development obtained from: Ellen Wilmer ­ research paper for the Congressional Research Service's 2003 Policy Research Project

Sources Urban Land Institute ­ Technical Bulletin 54. "DOWNTOWN DENVER ­ A Guide to Central City Development." Published by the Urban Land Institute, Washington D.C. 1965. pp 7-17 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Case Study Denver's Uptown Business District's Virtual Tour Ellen Wilmer ­ research paper for the Congressional Research Service's 2003 Policy Research Project "Smart Growth Audit" from the 2001Green Building Conference ABS Consultants Report on Denver Dry Mechanical and Electrical Systems Denver Urban Renewal Authority Website Massachusetts Institute of Technology Assessment Framework for Infill Development


The Denver Dry Goods Building

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