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Denver's High Line? Opportunities and Challenges at Gates and Shattuck Sites

Developer Jon Cook poses in Blo Salon.

Azucar Bakery is one of the new business in the area.

The Gates site breaks up the streets running through the neighborhoods adjacent to it.

The former grounds of the Shattuck Chemical Company.

Denver has plowed $28 million into sprucing up South Broadway. Now local landowners and residents are hoping that a renewed interest in the area will lead to a revitalization along the lines of RiNo and LoDo, but there's a need for residential projects at the Gates and Shattuck sites for the population to hit a critical mass. How could industrial reuse and redevelopment here mirror the High Line in New York?
"I've seen some life come back into South Broadway," says Bernie Costello, Founder and Principal of architecture firm B. Costello Design & Consulting, dubbed BcDc.
 
Costello has been living and working near South Broadway for years. He has closely watched the development of the area, which is centered along South Broadway stretching south from the intersection of Broadway and I-25 down to Broadway and Evans, with neighborhoods on either side. The area has long been targeted as a possible location for development -- some have even nicknamed South Broadway as SoBo in honor of other popular, four-letter Denver destinations -- but SoBo has so far managed to fly just far enough under the radar that major developments are few and far between.
 
That may be changing. Long a mishmash of industrial and residential with plenty of vacant land, the area has the potential to become the Denver equivalent of the High Line, a rail line turned public park that boosted redevelopment on Manhattan's West Side.
 
"There could be some really amazing opportunities there," Costello says. "It could be really dynamic." 
 
Millions invested in SoBo
 
Costello isn't the only one hoping for a SoBo resurgence. The city of Denver started a three-phase revitalization project along South Broadway in 2009. The third phase will be finished this May. The $28 million project widened the sidewalks, added new traffic signals, a new median, new lighting, new trees and, importantly, put utility lines underground. The endpoints of the work roughly coincide with the Broadway and Evans light rail stations.
 
The city's next major project in the area is focused on the I-25/Broadway interchange, but that is still in the planning stages. 
 
Residents in the area roundly praise the city's work along South Broadway.
 
"Those improvements have dramatically helped the overall impression of South Broadway," says Costello.
 
"It's like night and day," says Jon Cook, a real estate developer who has been working in the SoBo area for dozens of years. "It's the biggest, most dramatic work that they've done ever."
 
Catherine Sandy, president of the Overland Park Neighborhood Association, agrees. She said the work the city recently completed is so dramatic that "it was really an odd sensation" to walk down Broadway on newly widened sidewalks.
 
Between the light rail stations and the work on South Broadway, "it's a little like Overland Park has been discovered," Sandy says.
 
Andrea Burns, a spokeswoman for the city's community planning and development efforts, pointed to two new, major developments opening for business along South Broadway just as the city finishes its work there. Specifically, at 1000 S. Broadway an apartment complex with 260 residential units and a parking structure (54 feet high, to be precise) is now available through developer Scott McFadden. Separately, Innovage at 1265 S. Broadway is reusing an existing one-story building to offer services for seniors.
 
Azucar Bakery is one of the new business in the area. Not to be left out, developer Cook is working with a number of new businesses in the area. He points to specialty baker Azucar Bakery at 1886 S. Broadway; Blo Salon at 1957 S. Broadway; and Zocalo Mexican restaurant at 2200 S. Broadway.

And that's not all. Angelo's CDs & More plans to close its Littleton store and move to 1959 S. Broadway. The Concoctory just opened at 1875 S. Broadway, suddenly forming a crafts triangle with Treelotta, 1934 S. Broadway, and The Marvelette, 20 E. Colorado Ave.

As any longtime resident will tell you, this is a huge improvement. South Broadway historically has been a hodgepodge of used-car lots, liquor stores, check cashing places and -- most recently -- medical-marijuana dispensaries.
 
Catalysts in limbo
 
While SoBo continues to attract attention, the urban spaces most critical to revitalization in the area have murky futures.
 
"I think the Gates (Rubber Company site) is really going to be a driver of whatever the future of that area is," Costello says.
 
"Gates really is the catalyst there," agrees Jesse Silverstein, executive director of Colorado Brownfields Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at overcoming environmental hurdles to community development. "I think getting Gates going would really kick start the whole neighborhood. It does have the chance to bring a lot of economic change to the area, rapidly."
 
Most Denverites are aware of the giant, now-abandoned Gates Rubber Company factory at the southern section of the I-25 and South Broadway interchange. The eyesore has been vacant for years -- an attempt by Cherokee Denver to redevelop the site collapsed in 2009, and the site reverted back to Gates Corporation.
 
So what does Gates plan to do with the site?
 
"We are right now in the midst of looking at several different options," said Mark Tenney, director of global brand and corporate communications for Gates. "We are actively looking at different options." Tenney declined to provide details.
 
Those in the area are hoping that the Gates Rubber Company site will eventually be turned into a modern housing complex that will help swell the size of South Broadway's population to the point where real development will occur.
 
South Broadway "is kind of missing that critical core of neighborhood people," explains Colorado Brownfields'  Silverstein. "There's just not a lot of residential housing in that area. I don't believe there is a critical mass of households in that area to support itself."
 
The former grounds of the Shattuck Chemical Company.Cook, the developer, had hoped ignite his own catalyst in the area with high-density housing on the grounds of the former Shattuck Chemical Co., one of 20 EPA Superfund sites in Colorado and was once considered one of the most toxic spots in urban America. Cook had hoped to combine the Shattuck site with other properties into "The Lumberyards," which he had planned to be a major mixed-use area that would draw in new residents.

However, Cook's plans were stymied by the recent economic downturn, and Cook declined to comment on the status of the land other than to say that "exciting things happening in the not too distant future."
 
The EPA finished most of its work on Shattuck in 2005. The agency now is conducting a five-year review of the site, where a plume of groundwater is still contaminated. "As part of that effort we will be talking to the owners of the various properties," said Jeannine Natterman, public involvement coordinator for hazardous materials and waste management with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. "We may have more information later this year."
 
It's unclear what South Broadway, Gates and Shattuck and will ultimately become. Those in the area remain hopeful.
 
"Broadway is good, don't get me wrong," Costello says. "But it could be better."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Mike Dano.

Mike is a freelance writer and executive editor of FierceMarkets Telecom Group.
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