by Bill Mosher
In 1991 Bill Mosher became President of Downtown Denver Partnership Inc., a non-profit business organization that mobilizes a $6 million budget to provide private sector leadership for Downtown Denver on behalf of 447 member businesses. Mr. Mosher previously served as Executive Director of the Downtown Development Corporation and Industrial Development Authority in Tucson, Arizona. Mr. Mosher is a native of Denver.
The Central Platte Valley (CPV) is the historical heart of the city of Denver–the birthplace of its first mining settlements, the place where Denver’s two waterways run together, and the site of its early industrial and commercial center. Now, 60 acres of the valley located between the South Platte River and Downtown Denver stands ready for development into a mixed-use neighborhood that will deliver two greatly needed features to our center city: housing and open space.
The Central Platte Valley was once the site of a network of railyards that served the city’s oldest industrial and warehouse area, Lower Downtown, which has been transformed in recent years into a mixed-use historic district, residential neighborhood and entertainment destination. The valley has gone through several master plans and has been slow to develop, long held back by complicated land ownership and intersecting rail lines. But now that Lower Downtown is established (anchored by Coors Field), the rail lines have been consolidated into a main line that bisects the property, and the parcel has been acquired by a single owner, the area is in a position to be developed. The addition of a regional amusement park, an aquarium and a new 20,000-seat sports arena have also set the stage for the area to be a regional destination.
This property presents a development opportunity in a market that we have long recognized is absolutely critical to the future health of our downtown: housing. Simply put, the long-term success of this downtown relies on the development of nearby neighborhoods and housing. To that end, the Downtown Denver Partnership manages a housing support program–the Center City Housing Support Office–that works with developers, investors and other groups to make residential developments a priority and increase downtown’s population.
Four years ago, we began a process to study the Central Platte Valley (CPV), and worked closely with the property owner and the city on the zoning and design guideline process. With the financial help of the Gates Family Foundation and the expertise of representatives from the downtown business community, we formed a task force which identified some guiding principles for the future of the valley:
- the need for a strong pedestrian-oriented urban character;
- the creation of neighborhoods and a sense of an urban residential “village;”
- an emphasis on a dynamic, urban, mixed-use environment;
- the importance of Union Station in the CPV as the regional hub of different transportation modes into and out of Downtown; and
- the development of Commons Park as a significant regional amenity.
The last of these guiding principles is key to the development of a residential population in the valley. An early and central role of the task force that continues to work on CPV issues was to foster the development of a plan that features open space–and Commons Park in particular–as a cornerstone, and also to provide the necessary political support to make it a reality. There are a diverse group of players involved–Mayor Wellington Webb and his office, Denver City Council, neighborhoods, wildlife interest groups, state parks staff, city public works staff, businesses and residents. In order to bring these pieces together, people in high places had to make the park a priority, and Mayor Webb’s office and the parks department have truly built a coalition for this river and Commons Park.
Commons Park and the other regional destinations located in the Central Platte Valley are the eye-catching amenities, but the key for us will be the neighbors and residents living adjacent to Downtown and using Commons Park. As Denver’s largest business association, our goal is to position Downtown for the next century, and to do that, we need significant new housing opportunities. Commons Park will certainly be a big attraction not only for the developers and investors who will have begun building the 3,000-plus housing units in the former railyards in the Central Platte Valley, but also for the people who will eventually live in this new urban neighborhood.
From Great Parks/Great Cities: Denver, 1998, a publication from PPS’ Urban Parks Institute.