Progress is also being made on the so-called "wing buildings" that will flank the historic Union Station building. Controversial when they were first proposed, these five-story structures will be home to offices on the top levels and restaurants and retail on the ground floors. In front of each will be a plaza: trees, flowers and benches on the north side of the station, ground fountains and space to host a festival or farmers' market on the south side, leading right into the extended mall.

"Someday, there will be forty-story buildings all around," says Roger Sherman, chief operating officer for lobbying firm CRL Associates and an RTD pro who helped get voter approval for the massive FasTracks project and now serves as spokesman for the Denver Union Station Project Authority. He's referring to the private developments expected to spring up around Union Station like points in a crown. "Other cities would kill to build their transit hub in the middle of the most densely populated part of the city."

But getting to this point wasn't easy. Union Station opened in 1881 as a way to consolidate the city's train depots under one roof — though it was always more than that. The biggest building in Denver when it was built, Union Station became an icon, carrying soldiers off to World War II and welcoming presidents and queens to the Mile High City.

As auto and airline travel grew, however, the bustle of Union Station died down to a murmur. In 2001, a consortium of public entities, including RTD, the Denver Regional Council of Governments and the City of Denver, bought the station and the 19.5 acres it sits on for close to $50 million. Their vision? To turn Union Station into a busy transit hub served by buses, light-rail trains and commuter lines. The project got a necessary boost in 2004 when voters approved FasTracks, a multibillion-dollar plan to build 122 miles of new rail lines and eighteen miles of bus rapid transit along the Front Range that also allocated $208.8 million to revitalizing Union Station as a multi-modal hub. That was far short of the station renovation's $488 million price tag, but a good start, nonetheless.

The next several years saw a succession of design and development decisions, crises and resolutions of funding, disagreements and compromises. Construction finally began in February 2010. One of the first pieces of the project to be completed was the relocation of the light-rail station to northwest of Union Station and the extension of the 16th Street Mall shuttle route, so that buses now turn around at the new station.

Escalators that are today ringed by signs that read "Construction Area Keep Out" will eventually carry passengers into the underground bus depot. The depot itself will be 980 feet long and is 75 percent complete, Sherman says. The commuter rail station is 55 percent complete; when it's finished, it will be covered by a canopy made out of material similar to that of the roof at DIA. The canopy will shade certain parts of the platform but be open in the middle so as not to obscure the view of historic Union Station from higher ground.

Construction on the plazas out front, as well as the streets included in the project, is 97 percent complete, according to Sherman. Passersby won't notice much of the plaza work, however, as the finishing touches aren't done. As for the wing buildings, the one to the north, which is farther along, will serve as the headquarters of IMA Financial Group, while the south wing will be home to Antero Resources, an independent oil-and-gas exploration company.

Renovations to the historic station itself are only 11 percent complete, Sherman says. Union Station Alliance, the team in charge of the renovation that includes Sage Hospitality president and CEO Walter Isenberg, recently received word from the National Park Service that its plan to remodel Denver Union Station to include a boutique hotel meets the park service's standards, which is essential if the project wants to receive historic-preservation tax credits.

At a recent ceremony, RTD general manager Phil Washington waxes nostalgic about how far the redevelopment project has come. "On February 5, 2010, we stood where the old light-rail station used to be and there was nothing here," he says. "And look at this now."

Washington is speaking from underneath a white tent erected in an empty lot near 17th and Wewatta streets, addressing a suit-and-tie crowd gathered to celebrate the groundbreaking of the first high-rise project at Union Station. Called Cadence after the rhythm of the railyard, the building will include 219 apartments, a space to do yoga and a rooftop pool. At an average of $1,600 per month, the studios and one- and two-bedrooms won't be cheap, but the developer promises they'll be energy-efficient.

"This is really the stuff that greatness is made of," says Mayor Michael Hancock, stopping by to praise Cadence's creators. He calls it "a place-based project," one being erected "where the action is really happening, at the hub of the wheel," a development he hopes will attract hardworking, innovative (and money-spending) twenty- and thirty-somethings eager to ditch their cars and fall in love with public transit.

With the rebirth of Union Station, he says, "Denver, and our region, has really hit pay dirt." Melanie Asmar

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47 comments
OverIt
OverIt

30 years ago is was great; even 20 years ago is was great.  Now...does anyone look around when they come down here?  Curtis and up is terrible, and that's during the workday.  Forget about coming down on a Sunday afternoon.  If you have a family or anything valuable it's often just scary to be hanging out on the mall.  The LoDo side of the mall...a bit better but still not great.

 

And the whole length is just dated and makes me feeling like it's 1992.  The expense of regular maintenance or a makeover are too high (and we pay for it as taxpayers, not the vendors and property owners proximate to the mall).

 

Time to turn it back into a regular street.  It has run its course.

Stephen At Half Aspen
Stephen At Half Aspen

I remember laying there with an officer's knee on my neck and the other tightening down the cuffs like he was torquing a lug nut. Ah, the good old days.

Tenzin Tsering
Tenzin Tsering

Hardcore parkouring every small obstacle in my path.

twisst260
twisst260

@new_clear_DAZE A very bright ISS will cross your sky tonight. It comes up in the South at 7:57 pm. Details: http://t.co/Jjgkl4Dq

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator topcommentereditor

if you'd like to see your comment published in the print edition as a letter to the editor (with your real name), e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

WestGuest
WestGuest

16th Street was cool, before the mall.  Thanx for the nostalgia, Alan!

as far as panhandlers, they're outnumbered 10 to 1 by the people

soliciting for their "causes".  but if all you need is a souvenir t-shirt,

this is your spot.

Ozzie Perch
Ozzie Perch

I remember driving down it just one way...now my buses are cruising it!cool!

Caleb Mather
Caleb Mather

Junkies n' panhandlers are my personal fave

Michael McCarthy
Michael McCarthy

Is the 180 cameras...police on: horse...segway...motorcycles....bicycles....foot....undercover too...so yeah...it is safe...that is my favorite part. If someone shoots you..they will know who did it.

Joe Matrone
Joe Matrone

what joktan said... 16th st is one of my least parts of Denver

Fred Kaplan
Fred Kaplan

Favorite thing about the 16th St. Mall is avoiding it.

Joktan Rogel
Joktan Rogel

I can't decide between overeager petitioners and smoke being blown in my face. It's a really tough call.

Lisa Wolf DeWitt
Lisa Wolf DeWitt

al fresco dining...before dark and the unsavory folks start roaming the streets

Wehavesir
Wehavesir

Seriously, it's not even that bad! Have you ever been to south side Jamaica Queens or Compton? The 16th street mall is not ghetto whatsoever, even late at night. Be more scared of the drunk lodo jock-types bar hopping than the homeless. Geesh 

Keloid
Keloid

The 16th Street Mall: A transient toilet and gangbanger outreach program that never met a wig shop it didn't like. World class, Denver! WORLD-FUCKING-CLASS!

basecamper
basecamper

@DowntownDenver @DenverWestword The mall is a scary mess filled with second rate shops, panhandlers and strung out teen runaways. Buzz?

Keloid
Keloid

Well, thanks to Hancocks camping ban, all your shit seems to be rolling uphill to us. I'll be sure to point em back to where they belong, so your gem of the west doesn't lose it's local flavor.

Spliffy
Spliffy

You wrote LMAO? Seriously? What the fuck, are you a fourteen year old girl texting about her new tween boyfriend or Bieber CD? SERIOUSLY? You SERIOUSLY wrote LMAO? Thanks for chiming in for the sanctimonious douche canoe contingent.

sux2Bstupid
sux2Bstupid

 @Sux2BU

 

 Definition for pleb from the Oxford English Dictionary: plebeian: one of the common people.

 

plebe/plēb/Noun:A newly entered cadet or freshman, esp. at a military academy.

 

Go get yourself a real dictionary.

 

 

sux2Bstupid
sux2Bstupid

 @Sux2BU

 Yes, and because Keloid spelled pusillanimous correctly, that makes him some kind of genius?

 

Here's the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary: pu·sil·lan·i·mous/ˌpyo͞osəˈlanəməs/Adjective:Showing a lack of courage or determination; timid.

 

Maybe you'd better explain how BackOffImStarving's comments were lacking in courage?

 

I think you have no clue what you're talking about. The Urban Dictionary? You attached a link to the Urban Dictionary?!? That's hilarious.

sux2Bstupid
sux2Bstupid

 @Sux2BU

 You attached a link to the Urban Dictionary? Seriously? LMAO.

Factually
Factually

 @Keloid

 Also, I don't think you know the definition of pusillanimous (I think you're guessing), because you didn't really use it correctly.

Factually
Factually

 @Keloid

 ActuallyBackOffImStarving is correct. It is "pleb" -- short for

plebeian, which means someone regarded as ill-educated. A "plebe" is a first year military student.

Keloid
Keloid

Spare me your self righteous indignation. How many homeless you got squatting in your apartment? 50? 100? You renting Porta Potties for them to use, or just letting them beshit your doorway? That's what I thought, you're nothing but another good German, beating your chest about community and corporate greed while you blog on your iPad and sip lattes and smoke kindy in your skinny jeans and hoodie. Go hop on your fixie and pedal your baby nuts around the block a few more times before you spout your ridiculous fucking nonsense to me, junior. Oh, and it's spelled 

P-L-E-B-E, you pusillanimous asshat.

Sux2BU
Sux2BU

Don't you have an Occutard Camp to go stink up?

BackOffImStarving
BackOffImStarving topcommenter

 @Keloid Heil Hitler.  Right, Keloid?  We can't have the unclean coming into contact with the chosen ones.  I'm surprised you stooped to talking to plebs like us.  Was that your contribution to society for the year of 2012?  I guess that means you don't have to give your single can of beans to the food drive this holiday season.  Fucking piece of shit douchebag.

 
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