Trouble Ahead, Trouble Behind

Union Station's past will have a major impact on its future.

Two years ago, construction began on a $31 million project at 1899 Wynkoop; it was the first new office building downtown in a dozen years. As the project was being planned, its developer realized that balconies on the west side would jut out about eighteen inches into air space owned by Union Station. Trillium didn't care, but sources say Broe "threw a fit" and demanded $50,000 for the air rights.

"In the final analysis, we worked it out so we didn't have to pay," says Randy Nichols, the developer. "We ended up not putting balconies on that side of the building."

And at one point last year, Trillium offered to give RTD free use of part of the station for the new light-rail line, an idea that Broe reportedly vetoed.

Anthony Camera
Joanne and Manny Salzman have lived on Wynkoop Street for two decades.
Anthony Camera
Joanne and Manny Salzman have lived on Wynkoop Street for two decades.

Now sources say Broe is claiming that the rights to develop the two towers substantially boosts the worth of the Union Station property.

"It makes the valuation part of the agreement more difficult," says Utter.

Clark Robertson, managing director of the Broe Companies, claims that there has been no conflict between his firm and Trillium over the terms of the sale. "Generally speaking, we've been on the same page," he says.

He says RTD and the station owners have an informal agreement to allow an independent appraiser to determine the worth of the property and adds, "Our intent is to get the thing under contract."

Farber declines to comment on behalf of Trillium, saying he believes the parties had agreed not to publicly discuss the negotiations.

If the negotiations stall, the city could condemn the station, since government agencies have the right to condemn private property for transit projects provided they pay "fair market value."

"The RTD board wants a deal by April 17," says Utter. "If there's no deal by then, they'll proceed with eminent domain." In that case, the value of the station and the land would be determined by a judge.

If RTD and its partners succeed in acquiring the station, the threat of having two 250-foot towers behind the landmark will disappear, Moulton says. "One of the conditions I put on this was that if the city puts money in, that (1988) agreement goes away." Even so, development at Union Station is still in the cards, because the public agencies trying to buy it want to eventually bring in a private developer to work with them on creating office, retail and residential projects. The profits from those projects would help pay for the redevelopment of the station. Mayoral chief of staff Cauthen says Denver wants to create the same amount of density as the current zoning allows, but without the 22-story towers. And he adds that the city will work with the neighborhood to come up with an appropriate plan. "We want to make it more horizontal than vertical. This will make that part of downtown even more exciting."

Ironically, it's the railroads' long neglect of Union Station that may have saved it. Historic Denver's Brooker says that if the city had acquired the station twenty years ago, it might have been torn down. Instead, the station has survived to become not just a symbol of the city, but the heart of what may become a new era of rail transit in Denver.

"It could become the entry point for a huge number of visitors," she says. "It's a very powerful gateway building. The State Capitol is the only other thing of its stature in terms of symbolic weight. It's probably the most significant reminder of our history we still have.

"For a hundred years, it dominated our growth and everything we did in Denver. Now we have the chance to use it for another hundred years."

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