Last summer, a vision for revitalizing 62 acres of land in downtown Denver took its first step toward becoming reality. Over the next 20 to 30 years, the new River Mile neighborhood will arise from the Elitch Gardens and Pepsi Center area bounded by Interstate 25, Speer Boulevard, Auraria Parkway, and the South Platte River.
This new Denver neighborhood will be established in the Auraria enclave and lies in the southwestern strip which parallels the South Platte River. It will become just one of the latest development in Denver’s move to create more livable communities in the urban landscape.
Instead of endless surface parking, the new neighborhood will incorporate riverfront parks, skyscrapers, restaurants, stores, entertainment venues, condos, and apartments—all easily accessible by public transit, bicycle, or foot.
When a project has such a long timeline, it’s hard to imagine what it will really be like when it’s finished. It’s easy to wonder if it will ever be finished at all! So we thought we’d take a look at how the project has progressed so far.
Denver City Council Approves Redevelopment
Developers will need numerous approvals to carry out each phase of the massive River Mile project. But they inched closer in December when the city council approved a development agreement and “created new zoning types — or sets of development rules — for River Mile,” the Denver Post reported.
The developer’s plans include towers as tall as 59 stories, and the new zoning does not limit building height. But it does require that the taller the buildings get, the narrower and farther apart they must become. The rules are supposed to make sure that any new multi-story buildings will not block access to the sun or sky.
The redevelopment approval also plants the seeds for 700 to 1,000 units of affordable housing downtown (out of 8,000 total units that will house 17,000 people). The housing will be targeted for Denverites who earn as little as 30 percent of the area median income.
The new rules require bicycle parking and limit car parking to ease traffic congestion. And they require that 12 percent of the River Mile project consist of parks and open space.
This year and next year will involve infrastructure planning. Last August, the Denver City Council approved $1.2 billion in bonding authority for the owners of the River Mile development. The money must be used to provide at least two of 10 elements required by Colorado law. In addition to sewers, water, and roads, those uses include parks and recreation, traffic safety controls, and public transportation.
The first phase of the River Mile development includes plans to use about $285 million in bond money for streets and about $242 million on parks and rec. This taxpayer financing, while common in Denver, is also controversial and will add a property tax of 60 mills to the special metropolitan district.
The River Mile’s first stage of development includes turning some of the current surface lots into parking decks and mixed-use housing. Elitch Gardens is expected to eventually be torn down, but the amusement park doesn’t have a closure date yet and could continue to operate for many years.
In fact, this year it opened a new attraction from Meow Wolf, an arts and entertainment company based in Santa Fe. They new ride, called Kaleidoscape, opened in April and is described as a “mind-bending journey unlike any other … an odyssey of creative discovery through immersive art landscapes, a thrill ride for the mind.”
In 2021, Meow Wolf will expand its immersive art experiences to Denver with a new 90,000 square foot facility in the extreme southeast tip of the Auraria neighborhood (which coincidentally will become the southern section of River Mile). This exciting new attraction is bound to be a tremendous compliment to Denver’s burgeoning arts and entertainment offerings.
Dredging and rebuilding parts of the South Platte River will also be integral to the River Mile development plan in order to prevent flooding in the area. The dredging will remove sand and silt from the bottom of the river to deepen the river bed and provide better water flow.
The new development is expected to open up new recreational activities on the river that would include a water park and corridor for kayaking and stand up paddle boarding. An adjacent plaza and open space will create a park-like environment.
The River Mile has the potential to be a transformative project for downtown Denver. Things may not look or feel different yet, but so far, development is proceeding as planned.