Frequently Asked Questions About the Future of Larimer Square
Q: Why is everyone talking about Larimer Square these days?
In 2018 the long-time owner of Larimer Square proposed ideas to redevelop the historic district. The first plan called for adding two new towers on Larimer Square, one as high as 40 stories and a second up to 10 stories. That plan was later shelved, but Larimer Square’s owner and development partners continued to pursue redevelopment concepts, and there was significant uncertainty about what might happen. In December 2020 new owners purchased the block and have thus far signaled their intent to continue the legacy of rehabilitation and preservation.
Q: How did Larimer Square become a historic district?
Larimer Square is Denver’s oldest block of commercial buildings, some dating back to the 1870s. The buildings and the block were saved from demolition in the late 1960s by historic preservation pioneer, Dana Crawford, who transformed the block into a shopping and entertainment district. Larimer Square was designated as a historic district—Denver’s first—in 1971 by Denver City Council.
Q: Does Larimer Square have to stay exactly as it is?
Change and evolution have been key ingredients in Larimer Square’s success. Shopping and dining attractions have changed over the nearly fifty years since its historic district designation, and new buildings have been added over time and could be expanded in the future. In fact, the block’s design guidelines would allow more than 200,000 square feet of new construction within the height limits set for Larimer Square and the adjacent Lower Downtown Historic District. Such design changes would need to be reviewed and approved by the Landmark Preservation Commission or the Lower Downtown Design Review Board.
Q: What uses are allowed in the historic district?
Larimer Square’s historic district status allows for a wide range of building uses, including affordable housing, offices, hospitality, artist spaces, retail and restaurants, or innovations that no one has thought of yet. The building uses are only governed by zoning regulations, so Larimer Square’s owners are free to choose the uses that best meet their needs and community desires.
Q: Is Larimer Square in LoDo?
Not technically. Larimer Square is immediately adjacent to the Lower Downtown Historic District (LoDo), which was enacted by Denver City Council in 1988 as a result of Larimer Square’s success. The special context and human scale of both districts are valued in the design guidelines that are a part of the historic district designations.
Q: Is the Larimer Square parking garage on Market Street part of the Larimer Square Historic District?
The Market Street parking garage is owned by Larimer Square’s ownership, but it’s not part of the Larimer Square Historic District. It is within the Lower Downtown Historic District and was built to meet the height and design guidelines that are specific to LoDo.
Q: How does the City & County of Denver manage change in historic districts like Larimer Square?
Changes to historically designated buildings and districts are allowed, and there are design review processes in place to accommodate these changes. As buildings change and evolve, the new features sought by building owners—ranging from new additions, signage, to window and door treatments—are reviewed by Denver’s Landmark Preservation Commission or Lower Downtown Design Review Board to ensure they are compatible with the design, scale, architectural features and building size (including height) that make the district distinctive.
Q: What about proposed changes to the ordinance that established the historic district?
Three years ago the then-owners of Larimer Square presented plans for additional towers on or next to the block that would exceed the height standards for the two adjacent historic districts, and continued to publicly contemplate such changes. Doing so would require City Council and the Mayor to approve amendments to the district’s legal protections and design guidelines (after review by the Landmark Preservation Commission or Lower Downtown Design Review Board). Changes to Larimer Square—including new buildings or additions—that do not require amendments and are within the district’s legal guidelines would need approval only by the Landmark Preservation Commission or the Lower Downtown Design Review Board.
Q: Would changes to Larimer Square’s historic district designation and ordinance affect other historic districts and landmarks?
Due to Larimer Square’s status as the city’s first protected historic district, altering its legal protections and design guidelines would open a Pandora’s Box of uncertainty for the city’s 53 historic districts, including the entire Lower Downtown Historic District, and the nearly 350 individually designated landmarks in Denver.
Q: What is the condition of the historic buildings in Larimer Square? Can they be repaired?
The buildings in Larimer Square do require reinvestment, as all buildings do every generation. Repairs to the stone, decorative elements, windows and doors, as well as roofs and foundations, are common on historic buildings. Overhauls to plumbing, electrical and HVAC systems are also needed, and some require structural reinforcement to ensure that the buildings remain strong long into the future. Many owners have undertaken this work in nearby LoDo and beyond.
Q: Are there financial tools available to support the repair and stabilization of Larimer Square’s buildings?
Yes. There are several programs designed to support property owners in maintaining significant buildings, because keeping these buildings healthy and vibrant has extraordinary benefits for the community. Federal, state and local funding options that can total millions of dollars are available to support renovations and rehabilitation. The amount of public and private funding and financing needed at Larimer Square should be driven by a thorough, independent analysis of the buildings’ conditions to accurately determine the renovation costs.
Q: Did the owners of Larimer Square made a formal application or proposal to redevelop Larimer Square?
No. In February 2018, Larimer Square’s owners announced redevelopment plans to add two towers to the block. No formal plan was submitted to the City, and the owners have since said they will not pursue their original concept. A six-month long advisory committee was then formed by the owners to review various options and challenges with Larimer Square, but the committee reached no consensus regarding large-scale redevelopment. At the end of 2020 the owners sold the block to Asana Partners, and they have not indicated any interest in amendments to the historic district protections.