Larimer Square Secures New Owner
Larimer Square is our city’s first locally protected historic district, designated in 1971 after a determined Dana Crawford saved the block. Its preservation story is nationally recognized as a watershed moment in modern preservation. It is the place where our city first affirmed a commitment to our heritage after the devastation of urban renewal, and its historic designation was the first in Denver that recognized not only individual historic buildings but a collection of related buildings and their context. Larimer Square was the economic spark that fueled downtown’s renaissance, is significant to generations of Denver residents, and is the model for historic districts and landmarks across Denver.
In December 2020 news broke that Larimer & Associates had sold the block to Asana Partners of North Carolina, marking another pivotal moment in the block’s story. Historic Denver’s representatives met virtually with Asana prior to the close of the sale and expressed the local and national significance of the historic district as our city’s crown jewel and as a watershed moment in preservation history. Our representatives also discussed the numerous preservation incentives available to support the rehabilitation of the structures. Asana expressed their interest in those programs, and the high value they place on historic buildings. As Brian Purcell, Managing Director at Asana, noted in the Denver Post “We plan to invest the necessary capital to both restore and preserve the historic nature of these buildings within their existing footprint and improve the spaces to meet the expectations of today’s retail and creative office tenants.”
The Asana sale marks the end of a three-year period of uncertainty for the historic district, our city’s first, designated in 1971. In early 2018, then owner Jeff Hermanson and partners at Urban Villages floated a plan to seek amendments to the historic district protections in order to exceed the existing height limits to build two tall buildings, one as many as forty stories, and partially demolishing several historic buildings to make room. The announcement led to the listing of Larimer Square on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Place list. Throughout a months-long advisory committee process Historic Denver consistently advocated for the integrity of the district, partnering with several other organizations and individuals, including Dana Crawford, to ensure that the values that have protected Larimer Square, its buildings and its context for more than fifty years, remain the guiding force for the district.
Amending the legal protections for Larimer Square or the adjacent Lower Downtown Historic District, which would have been necessary if tall buildings were placed in either district as proposed in 2018, would not only forever alter the authenticity, scale and context of this irreplaceable historic asset, but also would have far-reaching and dangerous policy consequences for historic buildings and districts citywide.
Historic Denver and our preservation partners emphasized that Larimer Square can continue to evolve with new uses and spaces that meet the community’s current needs and desires, while respecting the essential qualities and integrity of the block as outlined in the legal protections established nearly 50 years ago. The protections are not designed to prevent change and evolution, or to encase the historic districts “in amber,” but to guide them thoughtfully and carefully so that the historic buildings and context remain intact long into the future.
We also worked to highlight the preservation incentives available for the rehabilitation of the structures, and the opportunities to have both evolution and preservation in the district without upending the protections. We are hopeful, based on our conversation with Asana, that this is also their goal.
In addition to the full Larimer Square Historic District, which includes 22 buildings, the purchase also included buildings on Market Street just west of the block, including the Larimer Square parking structure. These buildings are located in the Lower Downtown Historic District and protected by that specific ordinance, first adopted in 1988. In addition to its Denver properties, the firm already owns historic structures in several other cities, including Dallas, Los Angeles, and Alexandria, Virginia.
To learn more about the block, its protections, and the issues at hand, click here to see our FAQ.
The Back Story
December 2020– Larimer Associates announces the sale of the historic block, and the adjacent buildings in the Lower Downtown Historic District, to Asana Partners. Read more in the Denver Post.
March 2019- Larimer Associates and Urban Villages announced that they will no longer seek a plan that includes demolition of any historic structures in Larimer Square. Missing from this announcement was a commitment to whether they will respect the full scope of the legal protections the community put in place for Larimer Square, long before this owner or developer came into the picture. Read more in March 20 articles in the Denver Post and in BusinessDen.
February 2019- Urban Villages opened an outreach center in Larimer Square to gather public input on the future of Denver’s first locally protected historic district. They have not put a new redevelopment proposal on the table, but recent communications have signaled a continued desire to amend the protections that have safeguarded the historic buildings in Larimer Square, as well as the scale and context of the district. Read more from a recent Denver Post article.
December 2018- Larimer Associates and partner Urban Villages concluded the six month advisory process they convened with no consensus on a design or development proposal involving significant alteration to the historic district or its protections. During the closed-door meetings, the owners and their team presented information on the buildings’ structural conditions, repair priorities, and redevelopment options. However, the cost estimates to achieve the buildings’ structural and system upgrades were not independently analyzed, as was done in the extensive redevelopment of Union Station. Furthermore, information on the process or implications of amending the legal protections was left out of the discussion. Such changes would present precedent-setting consequences for other landmarks and historic districts.
June 2018- The National Trust for Historic Preservation lists Larimer Square on the 11 Most Endangered Places List, citing the threat of the inappropriate development proposal that called for partial demolition of several buildings, the potential construction of two towers, and weakening the groundbreaking ordinance that has long protected the famous square. The Denver Post also publishes an opinion piece by Dana Crawford & Annie Levinsky.
National Trust Includes Larimer Square on the 11 Most Endangered Places List
In June 2018 the National Trust for Historic Preservation unveiled its 2018 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, an annual list that spotlights important examples of our nation’s architectural and cultural heritage that are at risk of destruction or irreparable damage. Almost 300 places have been on the list over its 31-year history, and in that time, fewer than five percent of listed sites have been lost.
The list included the first-ever Denver site- Larimer Square. As Denver’s first commercial block and the city’s first historic district (1971), Larimer Square is a nationally known preservation success story—an anchor of the thriving Lower Downtown commercial, residential, and entertainment district and a compelling example of how historic preservation and building reuse can restore the soul of a city, create places that attract people, and make good economic sense.
On June 17 the Denver Post published an opinion piece by Dana Crawford and Annie Levinsky. “Together we can develop ideas and locate the resources necessary to protect these irreplaceable buildings, but only as long as the sharp focus is on solutions and alternatives that honor the vision and landmark protections that saved Larimer Square nearly fifty years ago.” Click here to read the full opinion piece published in the Denver Post.
National Register of Historic Places Nomination of Larimer Square, expanded in 1994. Click HERE to read.
Local Historic District Ordinance (ORDINANCE Larimer Sq (1971)
Local Historic District Ordinance & Design Guidelines (1974 ORDINANCE LarimerSq)
“Focus on Larimer Square – Again” Historic Denver Spring 2018 newsletter. Click here to read.
“Protecting Larimer Square, Again” Opinion Piece by Annie Levinsky & Dana Crawford Published by Denver Post, June 17. Click here to read.