History as a Catalyst for Urban Change – Denver’s Union Station

This week we feature another new blog writer for the AIA Colorado EP Blog. Drew Allen, Assoc. AIA grew up in San Diego, CA and graduated from the University of Arizona with a Bachelor’s of Architecture in 2012.

While at Arizona, Drew served as a member of that chapter’s AIAS board as Vice President and President, as well as on two national AIAS boards and the Southern Arizona AIA Board of Directors.

Shortly after graduation, he moved to Denver and worked in a number of small architectural offices before taking an intern architect position at BURKETTDESIGN for over a year. Recently he has moved on to a new position at Humphries Poli Architects in Denver and is in the process of pursuing licensure.


 

 

History as a Catalyst for Urban Change – Denver’s Union Station

On July 26, 2014, the grand re-opening of the historic Union Station will

Denver Union Stationcommence in the Lower Downtown (LoDo) neighborhood of Denver. This will mark the end (or rather a major milestone) in the completion of a district re-defining project that cost over $50 million and spanned the better part of a decade. In addition to the restoration of the 100 year old central terminal, the project encompasses the building of a large train depot that will serve Amtrak and light rail lines, a massive underground bus terminal, several office buildings, high rise residential towers, public/green spaces, an independent hotel, and a wide array of restaurants and retail outlets.

 

(for more information regarding the grand opening events this weekend, please follow this link: http://www.westword.com/events/union-station-grand-opening-2928185?utm_source=Newsletters&utm_medium=email )

This date will serve as a major milestone since it is the official opening of the central terminal, which will serve as the focal point of the transportation, restaurant and retail experience of the project. That being said, several residential towers/complexes are en route to completion and the finalization of the light rail lines to serve northern routes, and most importantly for many Denver residents and visitors, a light rail line to Denver International Airport.

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Many people will look at a project of this scale and immediately begin to try to predict the revitalization effects that it will have on the city. It has been seen many times before from the Guggenheim in Bilbao to Petco Park in San Diego. However, the aspect of these types of projects that often makes them successful is the programmatic variety that is incorporated from the beginning or comes about as a result of said projects. Union Station has the possibility to be incredibly successful because of the broad spectrum of program that can be found across the project area. By activating the site nearly 24 hours a day, through residences, commuters at rush hour, the office lunch crowd at restaurants, the group going out for a posh dinner and drinks, or just your everyday office workers, Union Station has the possibility of maintaining an eclectic mix of users throughout the day, which is vital for a lively urban environment.

 

This can be contrasted with a project here in Denver that many will argue has had limited success to invigorate the city or it’s people: Skyline Park. This urban park stretches from 18th to 16th along Arapahoe and, instead of being another park here in Denver that is beloved and heavily used by residents, it generally sits empty or acts as a campground for the homeless. Skyline Park shows that a strip of grass with some trees will not work as a catalyst for urban recharge if there are no programmatic elements that come with it. The old adage of “if you build it, they will come”, no longer applies. Rather, the saying should be: “if you build it and give them a reason to, they will come”.

 

Union Station already seems to be on the cusp of success. Many of the restaurants have already opened and are experiencing large crowds as office workers populate the area in search of nearby business lunches or happy hours and at night when Denver residents venture out to find the next “can’t be missed” restaurant. The bus and light rail terminals experience a steady stream of people coming or going from downtown during the rush hours. All of these people will also be co-mingling with guests of the Crawford Hotel (located within the historic terminal) and the residents surrounding the station in the near future, adding to the dynamic of the area that has experienced so much growth and success in recent years with the building of Coors Field down the street.

 

It is clearly too early to judge the success or failure of such a massive undertaking. There are always possible pitfalls: restaurants could go under, residences could remain empty, plazas may be vacant wastelands, people could abandon their desires and need of mass transit, etc. Some of these are more far-fetched than others, but the fact remains that such a large scale project is not without risk. The pieces are in place for Denver’s Union Station to be an exemplary model for urban revitalization centered around mass transit, the only question that remains is whether or not people will seize the opportunity to help push it across the finish line.

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