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Prospect: A Dense Corner of Downtown Grows towards the Future

The Prospect district is less than a mile from Union Station.

Out from the ashes of warehouses and loading docks over the last two decades, imaginative developers have and continue to create this high-end residential nook of Lower Downtown, leading a population boom for the city center.

A fresh commercial strip on W. 29th Avenue is intended to add easily accessed amenities to the area and includes the Pizza Pedl'r, Mexican eatery Santiago's, TOKIO and the new Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, or WTF.

 Today, Prospect is comprised of dense rows of urban housing, with more to come.

The City of Cuernavaca Park sits in Prospect neighborhood.

In Denver's Prospect area, central, transit-oriented development and density wrestle with a low profile and parking problems. The walkable location will be the gateway to downtown for the DIA train come 2016.
Near the northwest corner of LoDo -- Lower Downtown Denver, for the uninitiated -- is a petite, popular community with an unabbreviated title.

The formerly industrial spot is now almost exclusively residential, but it's still a bit under the radar. In fact, the area's name is so infrequently dropped into casual conversation, many downtown Denverites appear puzzled when mapping out or mulling over the area.

"I was not familiar with the moniker, Prospect," says Alex Foster, communications program manager in Community Planning and Development for the City and County of Denver, upon investigation into the neighborhood. "It's in a really odd spot."

Why so peculiar? Tucked in the Central Platte Valley in the western shadow of Coors Field, the Prospect district is a dense urban island that's less than a mile from Union Station but in what you might call the LoDo-RiNo nether-zone.

Prospect is "pretty isolated," says Ken Schroeppel, DenverInfill founder and CU Denver instructor in the College of Architecture and Planning.  "[It's] a discrete area, because it's separated by railroad tracks, the Wewatta viaduct and 20th Street."


Once a highly industrial enclave of Italian immigrants, the neighborhood housed the former Mail-Well Envelope manufacturing plant and a sprawling city maintenance yard. Out from the ashes of warehouses and loading docks over the last two decades, imaginative developers have and continue to create this high-end residential nook of Lower Downtown, leading a population boom for the city center. However, along with the growth has come the classic criticisms and concerns, including a dearth of parking and incessant construction headaches.

With few empty lots left, Prospect is "almost entirely residential," according to Schroeppel. He highlights the Flour Mill Lofts, Ajax Lofts, Jack Kerouac Lofts, The Metro, Skye 2905 Urban Flats and other apartments and condos in the area, alongside projects in the works.

According to Marcus Krembs, former Water Tower Lofts property owner and founder of the Prospect Neighborhood Association, the initial goal was to have a master-developed community, which would have laid out clear and detailed guidelines for building. As is, it's "not a very family-friendly part of downtown," says Krembs, who moved to Stapleton in 2012.

"When we would try to walk the stroller around the neighborhood," he says, "we'd dodge broken beer bottles and other unsightly things -- the remnants of a Saturday night."

Senior Manager of Economic Development at Downtown Denver Partnership Brian Phetteplace says although Prospect is included in the 2007 Downtown Area Plan, he is unsure of any ongoing beautification or cleanup efforts that take place in the neighborhood.

"As the whole area is evolving, we hear requests and needs for that kind of stuff," Phetteplace says. However, "there are other places where the need is more acute."

Today, Prospect is comprised of dense rows of urban housing, with more to come. Developments currently underway include 3500 Rockmont, a 16-building, 390-unit apartment complex next to City of Cuernavaca Park. An infill project at 2100 Delgany St., Residences at Prospect Park is a 187-unit, six-story apartment situated on what was one of the largest open dirt lots serving the neighborhood.

Growing pains


The ongoing development boom has been difficult for residents. "Two years of construction on the Prospect Park apartments -- this build has severely impeded parking for Water Tower residents and visitors," Krembs says.

Former Japon chef-owner Miki Hashimoto took his ramen restaurant concept to Prospect with Tokio, which opened in summer 2014 in the retail strip adjacent to Prospect Park.

"Unfortunately, it's not taking off," Hashimoto shares, noting he predicted spillover from Union Station. He echoed the parking woes as the problem that's keeping customers away. "Although we have 48 parking spaces in the garage behind the building, they are still working on the construction" of Prospect Park apartments.

Krembs says instances such as these highlight the poor communication outlets and inability to track down a body to register a complaint with.

But Phetteplace points to regular meetings for neighborhoods on the edge of the city center radius, such as Ballpark, the Highlands and Prospect, noting, "There certainly could be a dialogue." He adds that parking concerns are an unoriginal complaint. "In every residential neighborhood, we hear concerns about parking."

Schroeppel acknowledged there's little room left for visitor parking, however he wouldn't expect there to be. "What differentiates downtowns from suburbs is the walkability factor. You don't want to make it an automobile paradise," he says.

With downtown living comes these sometimes harsh realities. However, Prospect is less than a mile from the largest multi-modal transit hub in the region and pending light rail connections. Up to the urban challenges, some downtown dwellers are willing to jump on the alternative transportation bandwagon -- or bus as it would happen.

"My draw to the area was that it was really close to public transit," says Banks Benitez, a resident of Skye 2905 since September 2014. "I go up to Boulder most days for work and it's really simple to jump on the bus -- it stops right at Prospect. So it's a four-minute walk from my apartment. I have a wireless hotspot on my phone so I can work on the road."

Benitez says that Boulder-based professionals are incentivized to go car-free with free bus passes. He adds that neighbors of his make the same route via public transit on a daily basis.  "I jump on the bus around 7:30 a.m., and there are 10 to 12 people doing the same thing. I'm definitely not the only one."

Undeniably, Benitez agrees "Parking is the biggest and most glaring of issues," in the neighborhood. And despite his urban-living cheerleading, Schroeppel admits Prospect remains "primarily a driving market at this time."

Looking aheadA fresh commercial strip on W. 29th Avenue is intended to add easily accessed amenities to the area and includes the Pizza Pedl'r, Mexican eatery Santiago's, TOKIO and the new Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, or WTF.

Despite the density of residential offerings, "Prospect Park is an underserved area as far as retail and entertainment space goes," says Helen Wood, director of marketing for Tavern Hospitality Group.

Hence, a fresh commercial strip on W. 29th Avenue is intended to add easily accessed amenities to the area and includes the Pizza Pedl'r, Mexican eatery Santiago's, TOKIO and the new Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, or WTF.

WTF is a dimly lit, yet upbeat watering hole reminiscent of early 20 th century Denver, with photo collages and a menu by Justin Brunson of Masterpiece Deli and Old Major. The neighborhood's "demographic of men and women 25 to 45 years old is perfect for us," says Wood of Tavern Hospitality Group.

Krembs, who no longer has skin in the Prospect game, is "bullish" on the long-term outlook for the area, and stressed the necessity for better communication between various stakeholders, given the new commercial interests. It's important to evaluate, how each entity "impacts the connectivity of adjacent buildings or interests. There's a lack of accountability and oversight."

With additional retail, amenities and the long awaited Central Platte Valley King Soopers, Schroeppel anticipates the shift toward a connected downtown district will happen organically. "For the last 15 years, it's been an isolated enclave all by itself, even though it was close," he says. "More people are going to start walking across 20th with the new hotels and office buildings.  . . . There have been studies and it's well-documented that people are more inclined to walk longer distances if there are interesting and engaging things to look at along the way."

And yet, in terms of the city's pending plans, there's nothing for Prospect on the immediate agenda. "At this point, it's been built out to where the city expects," Foster says. "We're not going to be engaging with it much more in the near future."

Perhaps Foster is correct -- maybe the necessary pieces to produce a better Prospect are already in place.

"The light rail, where they're building it, will do a loop by the neighborhood, so people are going to see what's going on over there," Krembs says. "As you're exiting Union Station to connect to the I-70 corridor ... thousands of people will be coming into and out of the city of Denver, and their first look is going to be Prospect -- this is urban, residential Denver. So it's even more important from that point of view that Denver invest in this neighborhood."

Read more articles by Gigi Sukin.

Gigi Sukin is a Denver-based writer-editor. She currently works as an editor at ColoradoBiz and previously worked as an editorial intern at 5280.
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