For years, downtown Denver practically shut down at night, as daytime workers retreated to suburban bedroom communities. Today, the city’s urban core is thriving, thanks in part to an influx of transit-friendly millennials and startup companies. Former parking lots and industrial sites have been filled with stylish apartment buildings, and now there is a full-blown hotel boom, with at least eight new projects either in the works or opening soon. Many are boutique hotels with architectural aspirations that go beyond the typical cookie-cutter property.
The demand for such facilities, said Brian Phetteplace, senior manager of economic development for the nonprofit Downtown Denver Partnership, has a lot to do with an increased demand for conventions and trade shows. “We’ve actually had to turn away some conventions because we don’t have enough rooms,” he said. Meanwhile in 2012 (the most recent figures available), Denver saw more than 13 million overnight visitors—a record number of tourists. Additionally, said Rich Grant, director of communications for Visit Denver, the city’s travel and convention bureau, there has been a pent-up demand for boutique hotels that offer guests a unique experience.
First out of the gate is The Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center Hotel, which opens in April in the historic Colorado National Bank Building. Empty for years, the neoclassical edifice was constructed in 1915, with three additional floors awkwardly added in 1963. Denver-based klipp Architecture (a division of gkkworks) designed another, more contemporary addition to accommodate the hotel’s 230 rooms. The building’s spectacular marble-columned lobby has been restored. It includes the massive original bank vaults and a series of murals installed in 1924 by Denver artist Allen Tupper True that depict scenes of Native Americans.
Eight blocks away, another historic building—the 1914 Beaux Arts Union Station depot—is being restored and transformed into the 112-room Crawford Hotel, which opens in July. It is part of a massive redevelopment effort led by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to create a multimodal transit hub for buses, light rail, commuter rail, and Amtrak service in the former rail yard behind the terminal. Developer Union Station Alliance hired Denver firms Tryba Architects and JG Johnson Architects for the adaptive reuse project, which will include shops, offices, and restaurants. The station’s grand waiting room will serve as the hotel lobby and remain open to the public 24 hours a day. (Amtrak, which once controlled the entire 21,000-square-foot space, now has a much smaller area for passengers.)
The Crawford will have some neighborly competition starting in late 2015 when San Francisco–based Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants opens a new 200-room hotel directly adjacent to the Union Station depot. (It will be Kimpton’s second Denver property.) When the Regional Transportation District’s new commuter rail line to Denver International Airport opens in 2016, travelers will be able to step off the train and walk directly to the hotel’s entrance. Semple Brown Design, of Denver, and BOKA Powell, of Dallas, will design the 12-story hotel, part of a $98 million hotel-office-retail complex. Denver developer Continuum Partners, part of the Union Station development team, is bankrolling the project.
Also in late 2015, a 500-room Westin Hotel will open at the Denver International Airport, part of a $544 expansion project that includes the transit link to Union Station. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava originally proposed a design of a narrow, white concrete-and-steel building with a V-shaped notch in the center, evoking wings in flight, along with a an open-air train station covered by a dramatic vaulted glass-and-steel canopy. But when Calatrava walked away from the project in 2011—citing “financial constraints, unnecessary time delays, and deep division” among design and engineering partners—firms Gensler and Anderson Mason Dale took over the project. Gensler’s design for the hotel retains some elements of Calatrava’s proposal, but with modifications. For one thing, it is no longer all white—Calatrava’s signature color.
Perhaps the most unusual project on the horizon is the Art Hotel, located in Denver’s Golden Triangle neighborhood near the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum. Now under construction, the 165-room hotel occupies a narrow, three-sided property adjacent Daniel Libeskind’s 2006 DAM addition and museum condos. Architect Guadalupe Cantu of Denver-based Davis Partnership Architects previously worked with Libeskind, and his design for the hotel shares some of Libeskind’s sharply angled geometry. The Art will have its own curator, Dianne Vanderlip, who was the Denver Art Museum’s longtime curator of modern and contemporary art.
Last year, Zeppelin Developments opened The Source, a European-style food market, in a former iron foundry in Denver’s River North (RiNo) district, northeast of downtown. The company recently announced plans to build a new 12-story, 100-room hotel next door. Dynia Architects, which has offices in Jackson, Wyoming, and Denver, is designing the project.
Denver, of course, has a long history of boom-and-bust economic cycles, and there is always the possibility that too many developers are jumping on the boutique hotel bandwagon. But for now, the boom is on, and construction cranes are proliferating on the skyline. If there happens to be a bust down the road, well, said Grant, “that’s the free market.”