At the once-toxic Shattuck site in Overland, a project is set to kick off a new era for one of the most infamous parcels of land in Denver. A Dallas-based firm plans to build more than 200 apartments on the six-acre property that was at one time considered too contaminated for development.
Long one of Denver's most notorious brownfields, the former Shattuck Superfund site in south Denver is primed for a transformation.
It's been more than 30 years since an erstwhile radium refinery shuttered here and left a nasty environmental legacy in its wake. The Overland neighborhood is now looking at the longtime glitch turning into a shiny new feature: a transit-oriented apartment complex with a big dog park and a pool.
As the site's new owner, Dallas-based Encore Enterprises, preps a project that would have been unimaginable 20 years ago, it's as good of a time as any to look back on the property's storied past.
Denver used to pave its streets with radium ore, low-grade radiation be damned.
Nearly century ago ago, there were several operations in the city that refined radium salts. Priced at about 80,000 times the value of gold in 1921, it took a year's labor from 15 men to make just a gram of the stuff. It was considered a wonder drug before being found to be carcinogenic itself.
But the boom times made for a lot of leftover ore in Denver, and some of that radioactive rubble found its way into the city's roadways.
The nearest homes were just a block away from the Shattuck site.The S.W. Shattuck Chemical Company was a big player in the local radium industry during its heyday.
It first opened its facility at 1805 S. Bannock St., two blocks west of Broadway on the south side of Denver, in 1918. As of the 1930s, the company started processing radium at the plant and later processed uranium and other radioactive materials there.
The nearest homes were just a block away. Critics later called it one of the most toxic sites in urban America.
The Shattuck plant ceased operations in 1984, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in and declared it part of the Denver Radium Superfund site, which also included the aforementioned radium-laced pavement. In 1996, the agency poured tons of concrete and fly ash on the property and declared the radioactivity contained in the resulting "monolith." Done deal.
Not so fast. Radiation leaked into the surrounding Overland neighborhood as a "plume" of contaminants bled northwest from the site through the bedrock below.
By the early 2000s, the EPA responded to criticism of the monolith and constructed what looked like a two-story corrugated shed on top of it. For about five years, three daily shifts of workers in hazmat gear jackhammered the radioactive concrete into rubble, loaded more than 200,000 tons of the stuff into railcars and shipped it off to a disposal site in Idaho.
The $33 million cleanup was completed in 2006, and local developer Jon Cook bought the 5.83-acre property the next year with a heady vision for an apartment tower anchoring a mixed-use project.
Then the Great Recession struck. The financing plan faltered and the site has mostly seen use as a yard for semi trucks, construction equipment and assorted urban flotsam and jetsam in the interceding years.
But the site -- along Bannock Street between Jewell Avenue and Aggregate Industries concrete plant -- is now sitting empty as Cook's Jewell Group recently sold the site to Encore Enterprises of Dallas.
The selling price has not been disclosed, but Cook says it was "probably the biggest deal for the neighborhood I've ever seen. It's a short, two-block walk to the light rail at Evans and two short blocks from Broadway and all of the exciting things going on there."
A new reality
Encore's plan calls for 224 one- and two-bedroom apartments averaging 867 square feet with the possibility of mixed-use development on Jewell Avenue. The architect is KTGY Denver.
The project is expected to be completed in 2017."We're probably going to call the property Encore Evans Station," says Brad Miller, president of Encore Multi-Family. "It's going to be a unique product type for the neighborhood. The "garden-style" apartments will be three-story walk-up units, and most of them will have their own private garage. "Our cost is going to be greatly advantaged because we don't have to build a parking structure."
Other amenities include a resort-style pool, indoor/outdoor patio with a pizza oven and a kegerator, and "a mega dog park," Miller says. "It'll be the largest dog park in the submarket."
Planning is underway, with a projected groundbreaking in early 2016 and completion in spring 2017. "We're very positive on it and we have our financing lined up," says Miller. "We like our chances."
It's a remarkable turnaround from an environmental disaster area to planned residential development, but it took decades and a staggering amount of work to get to this point, Miller is quick to note. "When you read the environmental report and consider the magnitude of taking 5.8 acres and digging down 14 feet and taking out all that dirt . . . " he trails off. "That's a lot of dirt."
In part due to the legacy of Shattuck, the surrounding area has long been off the development radar, but the transit-oriented location is enviable, especially as higher prices RiNo and Baker push investment dollars south and west. This long-industrial strip off Broadway in south Denver looks like it finally has some competition for land use.
Cook credits former Denver City Councilman Chris Nevitt and Barbara Frommell, previously a city planner, for their push to rezone the area for mixed-use development in 2010. That's already catalyzed some development in the vicinity, with more to come.
"The first building that went up is the one across from the light rail," Cook says of the 50-unit Evans Station Lofts that opened in 2013. "This'll be the second one -- and a big one. It's going to be really cool."