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"Spine of the City" Gets Makeover as $28 Million South Broadway Project Nears Completion

The industrial district west of South Broadway.

Flooding on South Broadway in 1998.

South Broadway has been a hodge-podge of motels, antique stores, dive bars and empty stores.

Flossy McGrew's on South Broadway.

In July 2009, Denver Public Works embarked on a $28 million rebuild of South Broadway. Nearly four years later, the project is on the verge of completion. What's next for Denver's main street?
The asphalt was pockmarked with potholes, and the sidewalks were in tatters. South Broadway in 2008 needed some serious help.
 
It got it, in the form of the $28 million Better Broadway project that was funded primarily by the Better Denver Bond Program of 2007 and supplemented by additional city and federal money. 
 
The potholes are gone. From Arizona Avenue to Yale Avenue, the roadway is entirely new. Jackhammers accelerated the slow demise of the sidewalks and new ones -- wider ones -- have replaced them. Drainage has been improved and utility lines buried. Aesthetic improvements include new streetlights, trees in the medians and new traffic signals, with public art on the way.
 
Nearly four years and three phases of construction later, the seemingly perpetual cone zone is ready for a new chapter.
 
"When it's done in May, they will have rebuilt from building edges to building edge for 17 blocks," says Christine Downs of Denver Public Works. "It's been kind of a pain to deal with, but it's day and night now."
 
The Trolley's Soggy Legacy
 
The Denver Tramway Company's trolleys ran up and down Broadway for the first half of the 20th century. After the company went belly up in 1971, the City of Denver came into possession of the tracks. Leaders came up with a sensible, forward-looking plan: bury the old trolley tracks in asphalt.
 
But that progress came with a price. "The trolley tracks made the street perform as a dike during rainstorms, forcing water onto the sidewalks and into businesses," explains Denver Public Works ' Downs.
 
Flooding on South Broadway in 1998.The floods didn't do the sidewalks or roadways any favors over the years, but the light rail's arrival a few blocks west of South Broadway in 1999 eased a half-century of no-train pain.

However, beyond Antique Row, South Broadway has long been dominated by an odd mix of vintage and consignment shops, light industrial, dive bars, payday-loan places, used-car lots and a few contractors and showrooms. Medical marijuana dispensaries have filled some of the vacant storefronts in the last four years, but little else has found a foothold and four years of non-stop construction haven't helped.

This all could change soon. The pieces might finally be coming together for South Broadway to become Denver's next hip address.
 
The Spine of the City
 
"We have a strong history of supporting the Broadway corridor," says Paul Washington, Executive Director of the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED), citing a loan to Baker's new Punch Bowl Social as an example.

"What's so exciting, quite frankly, is its access to all of the different transit options, because of the intersection of freeways, light rail and Broadway," adds Washington. 
 
"Broadway has a rich history of commercial activity," says Denver OED Economist Jeff Romine. "It was the spine of the city in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s."
 
A good chunk of South Broadway's historic commercial activity was due to the numerous jobs at the half-redeveloped Gates Rubber facility near Mississippi Avenue. The site is something of a linchpin for the area's continued revitalization, Romine notes, and the stalled redevelopment is holding up additional private investment in the area. Romine still sees it as a location for a potential "anchor," most likely commercial or mixed-use.
 
Filling this hole in Denver's urban fabric would help catalyze revitalization on Broadway south of I-25. In the meantime, several new businesses have opened their doors on South Broadway since the first phase of the project was completed in 2010, including Zocalo Restaurant & BarAzucar Bakery, Derbyville, Dive Inn and Black Crown Lounge & Crown Accents.
 
The Next RiNo?The industrial district west of South Broadway.
 
Romine touts Broadway's revitalization in the Baker neighborhood. "That's been led by redevelopment and investment in the surrounding neighborhood. The same will be true between Gates and Englewood. That creates a lot of energy."
 
"Public Works' investment is absolutely necessary first step, but we've got a lot more work to do," he adds.
 
Washington says the goal is "healthy congestion" along South Broadway's newly rebuilt stretch. "It allows for greater vibrancy at retail," he says. "It engages the driver as well as the pedestrian."
 
Tim Martinez, Senior Economic Development Specialist with the OED, says increasing real-estate prices in RiNo could make the South Broadway and the adjacent industrial areas sandwiched between the railroad tracks in the Overland neighborhood a potential hotspot for artists, entrepreneurs and other creative types.
 
"That place is perfect for that," says Martinez.

Photos by Eric Peterson.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here.
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