A few weeks ago I attended a Downtown Denver Partnership event profiling several large-scale development projects in and around Downtown Denver. Titled “Downtown Development Takes Off: Creating a World Class City,” the event was formatted as a presentation/discussion with moderator Brad Buchanan from RNL and presenters Ed Schiel of Integrated Properties, Tommy Nigro from Stonebridge Companies, Jim McGibney from First Century Development, LLC, and Duane Risse, CFO and VP of Administrative Services for the Community College of Denver. Subsequent projects presented were, in the order of presenter, 16th and Market, the Renaissance by the Marriott, the IMA Headquarters, and the CCD Student Learning and Engagement Building. Each presenter was tasked to present “information on their upcoming projects and explain how these projects will enhance and impact our center city and surrounding areas.”
In the event you aren’t familiar with the DDP, it’s a non-profit business organization “that creatively plans, manages and develops Downtown Denver as the unique, diverse, vibrant and economically healthy urban core of the Rocky Mountain region.” After exploring many different organizations relevant for a young Denver architect to commit rare “free” time to, I have personally found my involvement with the DDP to be extremely worthwhile due to its strong, diverse programming and long-term investment/dedication to improving Downtown Denver.
This event was no exception. While observing the differences in outlook and approach between developers and architects is already of great interest to me, my biggest take-away from this event was the brief presentation given by Jim McGibney of First Century Development. Rather than talk at length about the many amenities and design features of the IMA building (which, to paint a quick picture, is an under-construction five story commercial office building set to open near Union Station in late 2013), Mr. McGibney showed slide after slide of names of people and companies that had collaborated and contributed to this single project. From government and transit officials to architects and designers to developers, engineers, facilities managers, neighborhood and community organizations and non-profits, Mr. McGibney’s presentation effectively illustrated two important realities of an urban development project:
(1) It does, indeed, take a village to create a successful large-scale urban development project.
(2) By engaging a village in building a successful urban development project, hundreds to thousands of jobs are created or supported, directly impacting Denver’s economic health and growth in a more tangible way than one might initially think.
While I cringe when I see large-scale suburban developments, big box stores, and parking lots the size of football fields continue to encroach on the pastoral lands that mark the interstitial spaces between my travels from Denver to nearby cities, I feel more optimistic and supportive of the continued development and in-fill of Downtown Denver. Smart urban growth and the continued densification of downtown continues to make Denver one of the most sought-after, attractive cities for people between the ages of 25 and 35 in the United States—a promising idea for continued economic, social, and cultural growth in Colorado. I’m going to take a leap and say that this demographic is not moving to Colorado because of the great access to Walmart and TJ Maxx. I predict they are moving here because as our Downtown continues to grow as does its appeal and reputation as a more cosmopolitan, world-class city…that happens to be driving-distance to some of the most amazing natural amenities one might hope for.