In December 2018 Larimer Square owners Larimer Associates and Urban Villages concluded the six month advisory process they convened with no consensus on a design or development proposal involving significant alteration to the district or its protections. On February 25th Urban Villages opened an outreach center in Larimer Square to gather public input on the future of Denver’s first locally protected historic district. While there is no specific redevelopment proposal on the table, the developer has continued to signal a desire to amend the protections that have safeguarded the historic buildings in Larimer Square as well as the scale and context of the district. This would have far-reaching implications for the integrity of Larimer Square and for all of Denver’s historic districts. Read more from a recent Denver Post article.
The 2018 advisory committee, on which Historic Denver served, came following the owners’ surprising announcement in February 2018 that they intended to ask City Council and Mayor Hancock to amend Larimer Square and Lower Downtown’s historic designations to allow the partial demolition of several historic buildings and the construction of two towers, one as high as forty stories.
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, left out of the process was information on the fundamental process required to change Larimer Square and Lower Downtown’s legal protections. Such changes would be unprecedented in Denver history, and would present far-reaching and precedent-setting consequences for other landmarks and historic districts.
Historic Denver and our preservation partners believe there are solutions for Larimer Square that do not require demolition or out-of-context buildings. Larimer Square can continue to evolve with new uses and spaces, while respecting the essential qualities and integrity of the block as outlined in the legal protections established nearly fifty years ago. The protections are not designed to prevent change and evolution, but to guide it thoughtfully and carefully so that the historic buildings and context remain intact.
Historic Denver has shared numerous ideas and resources that should be part of a solution moving forward, including federal and state tax credits that could translate to more than $20 million dollars in incentives for rehabilitation. We presented to Larimer Associates and Urban Villages our analysis that shows how 200,000 square feet can be added to the block while respecting the building fabric and the legal protections. We are willing to work with the owners and partners to fund and produce an independent structural analysis and cost estimate to guide future decision-making.
National Trust Includes Larimer Square on the 11 Most Endangered Places List
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.
This year’s 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.
Protecting Larimer Square—Again? Opinion by Dana Crawford & Annie Levinsky
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.
In February 2018 Larimer Associates and Urban Villages presented a redevelopment plan for Larimer Square, Denver first locally protected historic district, that called for two major additions to the Square: a tower as high as 40 stories on the downtown side of the block, and another large building up to 10 stories on the LoDo side. These new structures would be built behind and over the existing buildings and along the alleys, though their large size would envelop existing courtyards and would require partial demolition of several historic buildings. The new buildings were to include a hotel, residential units (for-sale condominiums and workforce apartments), commercial/retail space, and parking. This proposal was put on hold in April 2018.
Key Issues of Concern
Historic Denver has deep concerns about the proposed redevelopment project, including:
- The partial demolition of several of the historic district’s buildings.
- The severe harm to the historic context and human-scale of the buildings on Larimer Square.
- Amending the nearly 50-year old legal protections and design guidelines that created the historic district and have since guided the block’s evolution.
- The potential threats to the legal protections for the rest of Denver’s hundreds of historic buildings and districts.
Historic Denver’s Role
Historic Denver, along with community stakeholders, has committed to engage with Larimer Square owners to address the challenges they have identified for the district’s future, including the costs of maintenance and infrastructure, and Larimer Square’s market positioning in a rapidly growing and changing Denver.
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 Published by Denver Post, June 17. Click here to read.
Larimer Square Timeline
1858 – Denver City Town Company established. The first cabin constructed in Denver, housing General William Larimer, where the current day Granite Building is located
1861 – Colorado Territory was created
1900 – Businesses began leaving Larimer Street to relocate on 16th and 17th Streets
1930s – 50s – With business and people leaving Larimer Street and a declining economy, Larimer becomes skid row
1950s – 60s – Larimer Square is threatened by Denver Urban Renewal Authority
1963 – Dana Crawford gathered a group of investors, Larimer Associates, to begin buying one building at a time and restore for a new use
1971 – Larimer Square becomes Denver’s first Historic District
1973- Larimer Square added to the National Register of Historic Places
1986- Dana Crawford sells Larimer Square
1993- Jeff Hermanson purchases Larimer Square, operates it as Larimer Associates
1990s – New buildings added to Larimer Square where parking lots formerly existed
1994 – National Register of Historic Places designation expanded