Jeff Hermanson was a co-developer on Denver’s Union Station. He understands the landscape-altering power of real estate redevelopment. Now, the Larimer Square owner is working to bring changes to his own historic block that would transform it via new and taller buildings, workforce housing and rooftop gardens.
“I have been constantly thinking, ‘What’s its next step? What does the block look like in 50 years?'” Hermanson, the CEO of Larimer Associates, said Wednesday. “And that gives rise to an opportunity.”
Specifically, Hermanson and his development partners at Denver’s Urban Villages Inc. are proposing two new buildings along Larimer between 14th and 15th streets. As outlined this week, those structures would utilize space on the block’s existing alleyways, behind the many historic buildings lining Larimer, adding density and bringing new uses to the commercial district, which dates back to the 1860s, while respecting its historic character.
Urban Villages chief development officer Jon Buerge described the buildings as follows: The alley closest to Lawrence Street will feature a building housing a hotel, bar and restaurant space, and several stories of condos. Accessible through the Kettle Arcade building, the building would feature a five-story atrium with the back ends of its historic predecessors spilling into it. It would offer public access to existing rooftops where some of the many urban gardens planned for the block would be planted.
Across the street, on the Market Street side, the alley would be renovated to feature retail space for new, entrepreneurial concepts. Near midblock, another building would rise, this one featuring apartments, as many as 90 of which would be family workforce housing. That means units with multiple bedrooms for people with kids, Hermanson said. Using a deed restriction, that building would have units for people making anywhere between 30 and 80 percent of area median income. Again, urban gardens would be part of the design on rooftops on that side of the street. Food grown in them could supply restaurants below.
“It’s a pretty exciting as a restaurateur to contemplate a reinvention of the property that would grow food for those restaurants and house employees that would work in those restaurants,” Hermanson said.
The development team did not offer a cost estimate for the project, but with aims to break ground late next year, they have been circulating their ideas with members of City Council and historic preservation groups, they said.
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Historic Denver executive director Annie Levinsky has reservations. She noted the 1974 city ordinance that established design standards for the Larimer Square historic district capped buildings heights at 64 feet. Only an amendment approved by the City Council could change that. Hermanson and Buerge said they don’t have firm building heights to release yet, but Levinsky said she has seen plans that show one of the structures at 450 feet tall. She worries that allowing such a change, even in a limited area, could encourage developers to seek similar amendments for historic districts across Denver.
“While we respect the developers and hope to work with them on making Larimer Square an ongoing success, we clearly have concerns about what is proposed,” she said. “Infill is important. But disregarding scale and how that infill will happen can have serious consequences.”