Construction Watch

Section of Larimer Could Get Major Mixed-Use Development Overhaul

A section of Five Points where RiNo meets Curtis Park could soon get a major makeover, adding to the rapid growth that has taken place in this part of town.

"When we think about our retail in a place like this, it's really about creating a place where the community can come together and bringing together the uses so that if you live within fifteen minutes, which is walking, driving, whatever, from this area, that you don't have to go anywhere else," says Tom Kiler, the Denver managing director for EDENS, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate firm that has offices around the country, including in the Mile High City.

EDENS plans to redevelop nearly the entire 2600 block between Lawrence and Larimer streets and a section of the 2500 block between the same streets, transforming the property that now holds several Volunteers of America Colorado facilities into a mixed-used development composed of ground-level retail with residential above — up to seven stories in some sections, with setbacks to stagger the increased height.

The project calls for up to 110,000 square feet of retail space and 335 market-rate residential units, as well as 32 units at 60 percent or less of the area median income. EDENS wants to turn the Lawrence Street aspects of the development into "neighborhood-serving retail," with such businesses as a small grocery store, a hardware store and a pet store. Meanwhile, in a complicated deal, VOA Colorado will vacate all but its headquarters space.

"We grew dramatically, and the surrounding community grew even faster than we did," says Dave Schunk, CEO of VOA Colorado, which has had a presence on Larimer Street for over 125 years and built its current home in 2000, long before the area was a hot real estate market. VOA Colorado paid $176,666 for the corner property at 2660 Larimer Street that now houses its three-story headquarters, and built other facilities around the rest of the block — carving out a spot for Joe's Liquors, whose owner did not want to sell at the time.

EDENS began investing in the neighborhood four years ago, acquiring the 2600 block between Larimer and Walnut streets, home to the Denver Central Market, Be a Good Person, False Ego and Patagonia. Ken Wolf had developed the Denver Central Market, which opened in September 2016 at 2669 Larimer. After selling the market and other properties to EDENS in 2018, Wolf ended up suing EDENS, his new landlord, over a lease-term dispute in 2021. Wolf eventually dropped the case.

With help from EDENS, VOA Colorado will move its kitchen and food bank on Larimer Street to a much larger space that VOA Colorado purchased in Commerce City. "We do about a million meals a year statewide. About 600,000 of them are for Meals on Wheels for seniors. The rest of those meals, roughly 400,000, are being provided for the food bank, primarily directed at people experiencing homelessness," says Schunk.
click to enlarge As seen in this conceptual painting, Larimer and Lawrence streets could get a makeover. - TRYBA ARCHITECTS
As seen in this conceptual painting, Larimer and Lawrence streets could get a makeover.
Tryba Architects
Schunk declined to say what EDENs paid for the VOA property on Larimer. But the $4 million EDENS purchase of Joe's Liquors — whose owner finally agreed to sell in May 2021 — suggests that this was a big-ticket deal. Even though VOA Colorado is selling most of its Larimer Street property, the nonprofit's headquarters will remain where it is now, and VOA Colorado will retain ownership of that portion. And to sweeten the deal for VOA Colorado, which denied initial offers from EDENS, the developer is committed to renovating the first floor of the organization's headquarters. EDENS has also promised to repair and maintain the Joe's Liquors facade.

Securing the property was just one of the challenges the developer has faced. For this project, EDENS needs rezoning approval from Denver City Council for a planned unit development classification.

On April 20, the Denver Planning Board voted 6-1 in favor of recommending approval of the rezoning request. On May 3, the Denver City Council Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee voted to advance the rezoning request to the full Denver City Council for a public hearing and final vote on June 20.

The April 20 Planning Board hearing featured a robust debate. Although neighborhood organizations such as Curtis Park Neighbors have signed on in support of the project, dozens of neighbors oppose it.

"If you look at the project, it looks pretty. No one is saying, 'This is ugly.' It just does not belong where they’re proposing to put it," says Julie Rubsam, the lone boardmember of Curtis Park Neighbors to vote in opposition to the project. "There’s literally no parking, so it’s all — to me — it’s too bad."

EDENS says it plans to construct around 550 underground parking spaces; Kiler also wants to tap into existing parking for Coors Field that often goes unused when the Rockies are not playing home games. Still, that's not enough to placate Rubsam, who notes that the traffic in the area can be a major problem, too. "I would recommend that anyone go on a Friday or a Saturday night to that particular corner. It’s almost frightening, the traffic and the scooters and the Ubers, and the bicycles. It’s just way too crowded," Rubsam says.

Beyond neighbors' concerns, the project faces another challenge: The proposed rezoning doesn't jibe perfectly with existing planning documents. The Department of Community Planning and Development found that the proposal fits well within the circa 2019 Blueprint Denver designs for this part of town. However, the Northeast Downtown Neighborhoods Plan from 2011 calls for three-story buildings in this section, far below the maximum seven-story top point of this development proposal. Still, CPD concluded that there's language in that 2011 plan that allows for seven stories, too.

"Sometimes, we have to really try to analyze and understand the original intent of area plans — and, of course, we also look at what has happened since the adoption of an area plan and the continued evolution of downtown," says Andrew Webb, a senior city planner who managed this rezoning case for CPD. "We try to take into consideration the totality of plan recommendations."

"Blueprint Denver only trumps when there is not an existing area plan," counters Rubsam. "We have an existing area plan. It was a very surprising reversal on the part of the Planning Board."

Kiler says that he and his team have been canvassing the neighborhood for fourteen months, and found the biggest concern expressed by neighbors to be "concerns around congestion or just bringing more stuff."

"Our argument obviously is, what better place to bring more stuff to? You're on Larimer Street, which is one of the major transportation corridors, you're equidistant between two of the largest train stations in the city, and you have multimodal connections everywhere," he says. "So you're plugging into all this transportation network. You should be bringing density to places like that."