By Susan Froyd
By Byron Graham
By Robin Edwards
By Bree Davies
By Josiah M. Hesse
By Bree Davies
By Susan Froyd
By Kate Gibbons
The idea to build a new CHS building in the park was first made public at a time when the CHS leadership was in a period of transition, just before veteran president Georgianna Contiguglia left her post and her successor, Ed Nichols, took over. Nichols supports the plan. (But he just got there, so what would he know?)
One of the things I've noticed while watching the urban design process over the years is that the best ideas often get the least attention. And that's what's happening now. If you stand on the sidewalk near the proposed CHS location in the park and turn around, you will behold the former permit center. Once the site of the University of Denver's law school, the center used to be a significant modernist building designed by Perkins & Will. But in the late 1980s, its character was lost during a thorough remodeling by Fentress Architects that resulted in its current incarnation. The remodel was so bad that when the city was searching for a new site for the central branch of the Denver Public Library, I suggested at a 1990 public meeting that the still-new version of the building be demolished — it was that bad. Just a dozen years later, the permit center had already outlived its usefulness, and the city offices inside were moved to the new Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building. The permit center has been vacant ever since.
What makes it superior is its location relative to other nearby cultural institutions like the Denver Art Museum's Gio Ponti tower and the CHS's own historic property, the 1880s Byers-Evans House. Furthermore, the Clyfford Still Museum, when it is built, will be just around the corner, with the art museum and library entrances just beyond that.
This site would put the CHS in the middle of everything, just as it is now.
Something that irks me about this whole discussion is that we are having it in the first place. The Civic Center was long ago identified as the premier urban space in the Mile High City, and as such, it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It's also a Denver historic district overseen by the city's landmark commission.
But as if that weren't enough, the Civic Center is also supposed to have not one, but two city stewards, either of whom could have stopped this. And herein lies the source of the problem. One of those supervisory slots is held by the inept and disinterested "Won't You Go Home" Kim Bailey, head of the parks and recreation department. The other is held by in-over-his-head zoning wonk Peter "Principle" Park, who runs the planning office with a blind eye toward historic preservation, neighborhood conservation, architecture and urban design. Instead of serving as watchdogs over the Civic Center, these Hickenlooper appointees have played no role that I can see. But maybe that's for the best, considering how little talent for such things these two bureaucrats have demonstrated during their four and a half years in office.
Several public meetings are scheduled to take place on the subject over the next few weeks. A final decision could be made by late fall.
The city's most valued treasure, the Civic Center, shouldn't be left to the fantasies of developers and architects out to make some scratch regardless of what happens to our historic equities. So let's keep our fingers crossed that — as with last year's dim-witted Libeskind plan — intelligence prevails and we won't have to watch heavy equipment cut down the trees and scar the Civic Center by literally and figuratively burying the CHS there.
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