The More Things Change...

Landmarks rise and fall in Denver.

You see, making the convention center viable -- a fool's errand if there ever was one -- had become the paramount goal of the public sector, egged on by greedy private interests eyeing future public handouts.

But even after the Adam's Mark took over the space, the performance of the convention center was little to write home about, so a whole bakery-in-the-sky idea was cooked up, and the voters were convinced in 1999 to fund an expansion of the convention center, which was tied to a new, and larger, hotel. Like the first hotel scheme, this one cost the city one of its landmarks, in this case Temple Buell's 1940s moderne Denver Post building. Unlike the first deal, however, this one doesn't have a hotel, and none seems to be on the horizon.

Historic Denver mounted a campaign to save the Denver Post building, pointing out that since there was nothing planned for the site, wouldn't leaving the building up give the new owners more options? Their reasoned appeals, as usual, fell on the deaf ears of the city council, and developer Bruce Berger turned the old Post into a parking lot.

Daniel Libeskind's site model for the Denver Art Museum expansion.
Daniel Libeskind's site model for the Denver Art Museum expansion.
The Terracentre tower.
The Terracentre tower.

There's no mystery as to why Berger can't find a taker on the hotel deal -- Marriott already turned him down, and Hyatt may be set to do the same -- despite an aid package of between $55 million and $65 million being offered by the Denver Urban Renewal Authority and the city. The accounting firms for these big hotel chains have simply pointed out that the financial outlook for an expanded convention center is just as iffy as the current one. In fact, the CCC's track record is so dismal, it makes Colorado's Ocean Journey look solid.

Preservationists tried to save Zeckendorf and later the Post, but they didn't even attempt to scuttle the convention-center expansion plan. Too bad. In retrospect, they should have, because it will take out two more significant buildings.

The expansion is to be built where the marvelous 1960s Currigan Hall stands. Done by a consortium of Denver architects, with James Ream as the principal designer, Currigan Hall represented a cutting-edge building, featuring a number of technical and artistic innovations. The preservationists took a powder on the place because they'd been cynically hoodwinked with a bogus suggestion that Currigan could be moved. This idiotic idea was promoted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and others, all of whom should have known better.

Well, as I said all along, Currigan won't be moved. It will be torn down, and the city council is about to authorize nearly $2 million dollars for its demolition. Add that to the $3 million already spent for asbestos abatement, as well as the value of the building itself, which must be worth $25 million, and you have almost $30 million in public waste, not to mention the more important loss of one of the city's most important modernist structures.

The latest link in the outrageous chain of ill-conceived events related to the CCC is the impending demolition of the handsome Terracentre tower, a 1982 high-rise at 1100 Stout Street, built by Alfred T. Williams for the Denver firm of Seracuse\Lawlor and Partners. The building is a fine example of late-modern-style architecture by one of the most artistically significant Denver firms of the time. The 1970s through the '80s was the most important period of downtown building, and Seracuse/Lawlor was among the few local firms to garner commissions for large buildings; most of the jobs went to big national firms like Skidmore Owings and Merrill, Kohn Pederson Fox and Johnson/Burgee.

The Terracentre tower, constructed of concrete, is raised up on pilotti with a series of outdoor landscaped terraces stepping back to a shaft. The individual floors are marked by alternating horizontal bands of concrete and glass, and the dramatic interior is pierced by an atrium. Looking at the elegant building, which still seems practically new, it's hard to believe that the Terracentre is going to be lost to make room for just a corner of the expanded convention center.

The Terracentre is to be condemned (tenants have already been given ninety-day eviction notices even though the city hasn't acquired the building yet), and though the purchase price hasn't been revealed, it can't be less than the $11.5 million that the Matrix Capital Bank paid for it only recently. The bank intended to use it for a high-profile headquarters building. Additional costs will arise from asbestos abatement and demolition of the tower, which will run into the millions.

It's amazing that the city would spend tens of millions of dollars simply to destroy existing and objectively valuable assets so that it can wind up with a vacant lot on which a doomed-to-fail enterprise will later rise -- though surely not by 2004, its previously announced completion date.

As if all this isn't bad enough, consider the tragic tale of Skyline Park.

Running along Arapahoe Street between 15th and 18th streets, Skyline is a superb example of vanguard landscape design and site planning from the 1970s. And, of course, that means it has been noticed by the philistines who now seek to destroy it -- namely, the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Wellington Webb administration.

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