Confluence Q&A: Ken Schroeppel, CU Denver and DenverInfill

Confluence Denver talked to DenverInfill Founder and CU Denver Instructor Ken Schroeppel about Denver development, parking lots and the best places in the city.
Ken Schroeppel is on the short list of top development minds in Denver. He's a longtime blogger and an instructor in Planning and Design in the College of Architecture and Planning at CU Denver.

Schroeppel launched DenverInfill in 2004 while working as an urban and military planning consultant, and started teaching at CU Denver full-time in 2012. He launched a companion blog, DenverUrbanism, in 2009.

What's your background?

I grew up in Michigan, but moved to Denver when I graduated from college at Ferris State University. I got a degree in business and moved here immediately, and I've lived here ever since.

Why Denver?

To see a different part of the country. To blaze my own trail.

What was your original vision behind DenverInfill?

Number one, there was so much development going on. I was such a big fan of infill development, and I had a hard time keeping track of it all. There wasn't something like that so I thought, "Why don't I do it myself?"

It was really just a hobby and my personal interest, and a technical challenge. I thought it would be fun.

Tell me about the growth of the blogs.

I have eight or nine folks writing for them. A few small text ads cover web hosting. I never intended to make money on it. Traffic is in the 70,000 to 80,000 hits a month range.

Did you expect to get that kind of a following?

Not at all. I thought there might be a couple dozen people interested in it. It was propelled into the mainstream consciousness in 2006 when John Rebchook, the real-estate reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, wrote about my post about the old Fontius Building at 16th and Welton. It sat there vacant for years. I kind of did a rant on it and he picked up on it and did an article.

Then Evan Makovsky renovated it in 2007.

I certainly can't take all of the credit. What happened is I did that blog post and it propelled it into the spotlight. That was really my intention.

What's your take on Denver development now?

There's a lot going on. Even during the dark days of the Great Recession, there were so many public projects, it always felt like Denver was a thriving, growing downtown, which it was. Just as we were pulling out of the recession, the public sector wound down ju7st in time for the private sector to kick in. In the 10 years I've been blogging about it, there's never been much of a lull.

How about Union Station?

I've covered it pretty extensively on the blog. I've also done about 50 tours. It's our generation's transformational project for Downtown Denver.

There are also so many apartment projects in the downtown area. They're not really high-rise -- they're five or six stories. That's not a problem because there are so many parking lots in the area, if we were seeing all this development being high-rises in the Central Business District, we wouldn't be consuming these parking lots. Because they are five to six stories, that is critical development. It's creating a lot more vitality and making Denver more urban.

As those parking lots in a ring around downtown are developed, that will cause pressure on the CBD.

But what about Denver's dominant car-commuting culture?

These are all people [living in new low-rise apartments downtown] who now have the option of walking or biking to work. I'm not worried about traffic or parking. We're building a great transit system and we're always improving walking and biking infrastructure. If traffic gets worse, that's more reason for people to walk and bike. That's exactly what we want them to do. If it's easy to drive, downtown, more people will drive. Traffic congestion in my opinion a good thing.

What are some of the challenges?

There are two issues with parking lots in Arapahoe Square and Golden Triangle in particular. You have blocks that are owned by several different property owners. Land assemblage can be a real problem if you have people who have no interest in selling or are asking for something exorbitant.

In the core Central Business District, you have property owners of vacant parcels where their expectations of what land is worth is still based on putting a 60-story tower on it. I think about 80 percent of all skyscrapers downtown were built from 1975 to 1985. A lot of these landowners tore down the buildings on their sites then in hopes of attracting a developer to put a skyscraper on it. When the energy bust happened in the mid-'80s, that came to an end.

Today there's a mismatch between what landowners think their land is worth and what developers are willing to pay for it. It doesn't pencil out. Therefore these parking lots sit there for generations and decades on end.

What are your favorite places in Denver?

Certainly Lower Downtown has a wonderful scale to it. The historic buildings are authentic and well-scaled for the pedestrian. I really like all of Downtown Denver. It's a clean, safe, vibrant city. You don't see boarded-up buildings and disinvestment and decay. It's just improved so much in 25 years and despite all these surface parking lots, there's still so much untapped potential.

14th Street has become a real favorite of mine. It's a street I never used to walk down -- I used to ride the 16th Street Mall shuttles. Now I'm absolutely happy to walk on 14th Street because it's a lovely environment, thanks to the 14th Street initiative. It worked.

What do you do in your down time?

The blogging and the urbanist activities, that is my hobby. But I do like to travel internationally. My trips are very urban-focused. Next year, we're going to Portugal and Spain.

Read more articles by Eric Peterson.

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