When Rhys Duggan and his partners were discussing plans to purchase the 62-acre property bounded by the South Platte River, Speer Boulevard, Interstate 25 and railroad tracks in central Denver, they called it by the code name “doughnut hole.”
Aside from Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park, the site is mostly surface parking lots surrounded by hip, redeveloped neighborhoods like LoDo and Highland.
Now, with a city-led planning process aimed at creating a long-term vision for the area rounding into shape, Duggan and his partners are releasing their vision for how they plan to fill that hole that they purchased in 2015 with backing from billionaire Nuggets and Avalanche owner Stan Kroenke.
Rest easy, roller-coaster lovers. Elitch’s isn’t going anywhere, Duggan said, though its 17 acres worth of parking lots are slated to eventually be replaced by a single parking structure and new buildings as part of Phase 1 of his project. Early conceptual plans call for a mix of office, residential and some retail space on those lots, located to the north and east of the park.
“I think in the long haul, over 25 years this becomes a new, vibrant downtown neighborhood,” Duggan, CEO of Revesco Properties, said Monday. “In the interim, the park stays in place. Come see us. We’re spending money. We’re adding attractions.”
Rising up around Elitch’s, Revesco envisions a dense, walkable area with high-rise structures interspersed with green space. As highlighted on the project’s website, rivermiledenver.com, the property would be more than offices and condos. It would include three new parks along its roughly 1-mile strip of South Platte River access between Colfax Avenue and Speer. Among its more than 137,000 square feet of projected public space would be a school, day care and community center. A grocery store is critical, Duggan said.
Revesco is doing a “deep dive” on affordable housing options for the property, Duggan said. Having such a large area in the urban core under the control of one owner provides the opportunity to address Denver’s housing challenges in a unique way, particularly with two light rail stops nearby.
“I think we have done a great job of building a city for a certain demographic and a certain age strata but I think we can do more to build a complete downtown community, where people can really live and work and even raise a family and send their kids to school,” Duggan said. “How do we do that with an affordability component so it doesn’t become an elitist neighborhood? Because I think that serves no one well.”
He lists things like looking at parking maximums instead of minimums as ways the River Mile will develop differently from other neighborhoods. But Revesco is taking a slow and steady approach to getting started. It has no firm start date in mind yet. First, Duggan and company are waiting for the city to finalize Central Platte Valley-Auraria District amendment to the 2007 Downtown Area Plan, a planning process spurred on largely by Revesco’s interest in redeveloping in the area, city officials say.
“The 2007 Downtown Area Plan did not include much detail on this particular location,” Denver Community Planning and Development spokeswoman Andrea Burns said. “As big changes start to take place in this area, we wanted to make sure that the community has a voice in shaping it future.”
A draft of the plan is now available for review on the city’s website. It sets the stage for a neighborhood that is walkable, economically diverse and embraces the river as an amenity, all ideas the that blend well with Revesco’s aims.
The city is continuing to gather input on the plan, and will fold recommendations into a final version expected this spring, Burns said. From there, it would go to the city planning board and City Council for approval an adoption.
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Revesco is also talking about rezoning the property, possibly through creation of a downtown sub-district, Duggan said. That process could also take time and will require City Council approval.
On paper, the site looks like the kind of centrally located prime real estate that could appeal to Amazon as it searches for a second headquarters. The state has submitted a bid with eight proposed locations in metro Denver, but has not disclosed the actual sites. Duggan said he was “not at liberty to discuss” whether the River Mile property is among those.
In the meantime, Duggan hopes people will visit and support Elitch’s. He declined to reveal specifics, but hinted that the River Mile property’s most notable incoming tenant — the second permanent installation of Sante Fe-based artist collective Meow Wolf — could make its impact felt at the amusement park this season. Opening day is April 28.