The property has a lot of potential to be redeveloped as residential space. Eric Peterson
Gates started demolishing the complex in Nov. 2013. Eric Peterson
Established in 1911, Gates Corporation shut down the once-thriving rubber plant in 2001 and moved its headquarters to LoDo. Eric Peterson
The former Gates rubber factory has blighted the South Denver landscape for more than a decade. Now that demolition is underway, can the redevelopment reality match the award-winning mixed-use plan that fell apart five years ago?
It’s finally coming down.
After a dozen vacant years, a tragic urban-spelunking accident and a last-ditch attempt at historic preservation, demolition is underway at the old Gates Rubber factory on South Broadway.
Established in 1911, Gates Corporation shut down the once-thriving rubber plant in 2001 and moved its headquarters to LoDo. The manufacturing jobs -- which once numbered 5,500 in Denver -- migrated to facilities in the southeastern U.S. as well as Asia and Europe.
The property has a lot of potential to be redeveloped as residential space.
At its mid-century peak, the Denver factory was one of the biggest manufacturers of automotive and industrial belts and hoses on Earth. The company still makes plenty of belts and hoses, but not in Denver.
The south half of the facility had a date with the wrecking ball in 2007 and the 419-unit Windsor at Broadway Station apartment complex took its place in 2009. But the hulking, graffiti-spackled eyesore north of Mississippi Avenue just sat there with broken windows for the last 13 years, a reminder of a different era for the local manufacturing industry. But it's finally fading from the city's scenery, and will once and for all be history by the end of the year.
In 2007, Metro State student John Polzin died when he fell down an elevator shaft during an illegal "urban exploration," raising questions about security and whether the abandoned complex was a public hazard. Jared Jacang Maher wrote an excellent story about Polzin and the Gates site for Westword later that year.
The north side of the old rubber factory owed its survival to 2013 in large part to the recession, which quashed the 50-acre, $1 billion redevelopment, the largest in Denver since Stapleton, about five years ago. Developer Cherokee Denver ultimately couldn’t finance the project, and the award-winning plan for a mixed-use development, complete with more than 3,000 housing units and 1.75 million square feet of retail, restaurant and office space, never left the drawing board.
Gates took the title to the property back in 2009. Then University of Colorado student Eugene Elliott complicated the demolition with an attempt at historic preservation in 2012.
Hurdles cleared, Gates started demolishing the complex in Nov. 2013. In the process, the company is decontaminating the site of trichloroethelyne and asbestos, among other nasty things.Established in 1911, Gates Corporation shut down the once-thriving rubber plant in 2001 and moved its headquarters to LoDo.
The project, which started in Nov. 2013, should take about 12 months. Gates is currently looking for a developer to spearhead a yet-to-be-determined plan. If there are few changes to the original plan, the review process will be minimal.
The timing looks about right. The rebuild of South Broadway is complete and there is all sorts of new development underway in the immediate vicinity, including several apartment buildings on South Broadway, and row homes off of Mississippi Avenue.
South Denver is dominated by industrial areas along the railroad tracks and the South Platte River from old Gates south to the city limits at Yale Avenue. In between, the former Shattuck Superfund Site sits within spitting distance of residences. Remnants of radium were embedded in a concrete monolith that was supposed to contain the radiation, but it didn’t work as well as hoped. Now it’s cleaned up but undeveloped, and the site is being used as a storage yard. Developer Jon Cook planned an apartment tower, but the plan fell apart when the economy went south in 2008.
Between the twin trouble spots of Gates and Shattuck, it's no surprise developers have avoided South Broadway for much of the last 25 years. Aside from the apartments at Mississippi and Broadway, new construction has been negligible.
But there’s finally light at the end of the tunnel for the Gates ordeal. This is prime real estate that’s gone unused for far too long.
The debit soon stands to become a credit to the surrounding neighborhoods. The vacuum of residential development in the industrial netherworld along the Platte has been a major drag on South Broadway's ability to support restaurants, bars, and retailers, but that’s visibly changing with more than 20 consumer-facing businesses opening on and around between I-25 and the city limits at Yale in 2013, and others slated for opening in 2014, including Corvus Coffee Roasters (now open), Former Future Brewing Company, Declaration Brewing Company and Bear Creek Distillery.
The times are definitely changing. If a developer can bring in an anchor project to the Gates site with anything close to the residential target of 2,500 units, the math gets even better for consumer-facing businesses on and around South Broadway.
"The potential for that area is incredible," says Chris Nevitt, Denver City Councilman for District 7, of the Gates property. "The fundamentals for the site are spectacular."
Nevitt, who has worked with Gates and the community to restart the redevelopment for the past five years, touts the site's "connectivity" to transportation as well as its proximity to recreational amenities like the South Platte River and Ruby Hill Park."It sits at the nexus of I-25, Broadway and Santa Fe Drive, and right next to the second busiest light-rail station."
"The idea that nothing will happen there is insane," he adds. "Gates holds their cards pretty close to the vest. At the end of the day, it’s a private deal."
Nevitt says he thinks there’s potential for residential, but doesn't discount office space or other uses. “I think there’s a hotel opportunity at Broadway and I-25.”
He also touts the numerous residential projects and new storefronts in the vicinity. “Things are happening. After the work we did on South Broadway, we hoped it would catalyze new businesses, and it has. I just hope redevelopment at this site hasn't missed this business cycle."
Eric is a Denver-based tech writer and guidebook wiz. Contact him here