The word is out. Denver is "in."
What once was a way station for travelers headed to and from the ski lifts is now a destination unto itself. With growing convention center business, a comprehensive transportation expansion in the works and organizations like Visit Denver
spreading the word, tourists and business travelers alike are making their way to the city in droves.
Denver International Airport now ranks as the fifth busiest airport in the U.S. and 10th busiest worldwide. Over 53 million passengers per year travel through Denver. And, with them have come hotels -- a lot of them. More than 1,400 new hotel rooms are planned or under construction in and around Denver.
John Rebchook, the publisher of InsideRealEstatenews.com, attributes the city's hotel growth to the rebounding market conditions. "We are seeing the economy bounce back," says Rebchook. "Denver is arguably the strongest non-coastal market in the country."
Restoration: "ambiance and romance"Smaller boutique hotels, such as The Crawford Hotel, and restored historic properties are popping up all over the city.
Not all of Denver's hotel growth is following big-box trends of the recent past. Smaller boutique hotels and restored historic properties are popping up all over the city.
"There is a population out there that likes gritty hotels with a history instead of a cookie-cutter hotel that looks like it could be built anywhere," says Rebchook. "When hotels capture the character of an area, it appeals to us. That's why the Brown Palace is so popular -- it has a certain ambiance and romance to it."
It follows that several restored downtown structures will soon offer travelers more than just a luxurious stay, but also a glimpse into Denver's unique past.
Named for local preservationist Dana Crawford, best known for spearheading the preservation of Larimer Square, The Crawford Hotel
at Union Station is part of a $500 million redevelopment project intended to transform the current station into Denver's main transportation hub.
"The design of The Crawford Hotel honors the great history of the train station, while providing a modern luxury that is new and exciting," says Walter Isenberg, CEO and President of Sage Hospitality
, one of several local Denver companies participating in the redevelopment. "It is an amazing combination, reflective of the work Dana's done for our city."
The 100-year-old structure will boast 112 uniquely decorated guest rooms reflective of the building's history. With no two rooms alike, guests can choose between several options reminiscent of the station's past, including the "Pullman" rooms which offer modern takes on private sleeping cars, and "Classic" rooms, inspired by the building's Victorian-era beginnings.
As the "Grand Central Station" of Colorado, Union Station will also integrate several new rail lines and bus services branching out to all parts of the city. Part of the FasTracks initiative, a multi-billion dollar transit expansion plan, visitors will gain easy access to downtown via a direct rail line between Union Station and Denver International Airport to be completed in 2016.
"Union Station is an example of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be involved in an adaptive reuse project that is one of the most significant in the state," says Isenberg, "The building was probably one of the most iconic and significant historic structures in the state of Colorado that was underutilized." The restored station is slated to open to the public, along with the hotel, in July 2014.
Another property to be repurposed, the Colorado National Bank Building is one of Denver's most iconic and historic structures. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it opened its doors in 1915 to store gold at the peak of the gold rush, and will reopen in April 2014 as the new Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center
The boutique hotel will offer 230 guest rooms, 6,000 square feet of meeting space, an original concept bar and restaurant and 16 original murals by renowned Western artist Allen Tupper True. The Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center will offer 230 guest rooms, 6,000 square feet of meeting space, an original concept bar and restaurant and 16 original murals by renowned Western artist Allen Tupper True.
Despite challenges in modernizing plumbing, heating and electricity, the hotel's design was meticulously selected to preserve and compliment key elements of the historic structure and its heritage. There are 33-inch steel safe doors in three boardrooms now housed in the building's original bank vaults. Guests can even take an interactive cultural tour of the property covering everything from the hotel artwork to the history of banking in Colorado.
"I think it was a relief to many people," says Judy Esterbrook, Director of Sales and Marketing at the new Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center. "We are able to use the hotel in a way that causes the least amount of disruption to its history."
Are Broadway and Colfax next?
As downtown Denver quickly becomes saturated with new full-service accommodations, the Cherry Creek, Uptown and RiNo neighborhoods are predicted to be the next focus of hotel development. City Councilman recently pointed to the Gates site
in Baker as another potential hotel site, and Broadway is ripe for a lodging upgrade, north and south. Even Colfax Avenue, with its proximity to downtown, could be poised for redevelopment.
"Without question, the whole Colfax corridor could see development," says Isenberg. "It's certainly an area that is changing in a positive way."
Rebchook agrees, noting, "In the past, old buildings along that corridor could be turned to condos, and now for construction liability reasons, we don't see that conversion as much. Those buildings could very well be turned into hotels at some point."
Neighborhoods in proximity to hospitals are another predicted area of hotel growth -- needed to serve families of loved ones with prolonged hospital stays. Rebchook foresees boutique hotels appearing near the St. Anthony's, Anschutz and Rose medical centers soon.
With economic recovery well underway, more visitors than ever and transportation expansion in progress, Denver is experiencing the beginning of a much-deserved rediscovery. Mindful development, the hotel boom included, serves as indication that, as Esterbrook puts it, "Denver is now being considered among cities with first-tier status as a must-see destination."
Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.