Photos: Gates preservation bid rejected by landmark commission
College student Eugene Elliott's campaign to save remaining buildings at the old Gates Rubber factory on South Broadway from demolition, the subject of last month's feature "Trouble in the Rubble," has failed to impress Denver's Landmark Preservation Commission -- which voted 9-0 yesterday not to recommend landmark status for the property because of its highly limited preservation potential and concerns about the "integrity" of the site.
Elliott had filed an application seeking historic protection for the manufacturing plant, a warehouse and power plant, touching off public debate over what should be done with the ruins, which have been vacant for decades. At one point, development company Cherokee Denver had begun razing structures and doing extensive environmental cleanup on the heavily polluted site before losing its funding in the economic meltdown. The Gates Corporation has since reclaimed the property and contended that the buildings need to be taken down in order to address chemical contamination in the soil beneath the foundations.
Elliott's application drew opposition at the public hearing not only from Gates executives but neighborhood groups that had worked extensively on efforts to redevelop the site. "When the plant thrived, we thrived," said Richard Taylor, a 26-year resident of neighboring Athmar Park. "And we can thrive again with the redevelopment of this site."
Elliott, though, contended that Cherokee's plan to turn the forty-acre site into a high-density "urban village" built from the ground up isn't the only possible alternative for development. "How can it be said that you've exhausted all possible options based on one idea?" the University of Colorado senior asked the commission members.
Several of the opponents pointed out that Gates and community groups had already done extensive assessment of the environmental and structural hurdles to preserving the buildings. But other speakers supported Elliott's application, including West Washington Park historian (and former LPC member) Sarah McCarthy.
"I still get grief for letting Montgomery Ward come down in 1990," McCarthy told the panel, referring to the sprawling big-box development that now stands at Alameda and Broadway. "Preservation is a strong value in Denver. Preservation isn't easy, and clearly, some find it frightening."
But Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, said her group supported the Gates company's proposal to provide interpretive memorials of some kind within the new development while designating the remaining buildings as "non-historic" and expendable. Commission members acknowledged that the buildings met basic criteria for historic preservation but added that the environmental issues, neighborhood cries for action on the site, and the sheer scale of the deteriorating buildings made Gates a unique case.
"This is very different from LoDo," noted LPC chairman Dennis Humphries.
The application now goes to Denver City Council, which has the final say on any landmark designation. But it goes with no support from the commission, and councilman Chris Nevitt, whose district includes the Gates property, has vowed to oppose any further impediments in the long struggle to redevelop the site.
Look below for additional views of the Gates factory, and see more in our Gates slideshow.
More from our Environment archive: "Gates factory: Urban explorers still eager to prowl abandoned plant."
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