Denver Planning Board to consider controversial Writer Square sign plan today

One of the most noticeable -- and controversial -- changes to downtown lately has been the transformation of Writer Square, the longtime pedestrian shopping center that has lately seen all of its trees, benches and other landscaping removed as part of its new owners' plan to modernize the property. Residents and merchants in and around the development aren't happy with the new look -- especially its owners' proposal to install LED light bands and large-scale video billboards on the site. This new, comprehensive sign plan spurred dozens of complaint letters when it was submitted to Denver's Community Planning and Development Department -- and today, starting at 3 p.m. in rooms 4.F.6 and 4.G.2 of the Webb Municipal Office Building, 201 West Colfax Avenue, Denver's Planning Board will decide whether or not to sign off on it.

Possibly in response to the outcry, Writer Square's owners -- California-based ACF Property Management Inc. and Englewood-based GDA Real Estate Services LLC, which purchased the property in August 2008 for $58.3 million -- have recently toned down their sign proposal. Gone are the two 250-square-foot digital billboards that would've been installed on the sides of Writer Square's central clock tower, and the remaining proposed digital billboard, a ground-level sign that will face into Larimer Square, has been shrunk from 290- to 96-square feet and will be limited to changing graphics no more than once per hour.

The tweaks were apparently enough to appease concerns the city's planning staff might have had about the signs. They recently recommended to the Planning Board that the proposal be approved with conditions, noting that the proposal "has exhibited design excellence and inventiveness."

Writer Square residents disagree, however -- and they plan on being at the hearing this afternoon to encourage the Planning Board to reject the sign plan. "We are gonna tell them we are a little disappointed that the planning staff's report doesn't even mention that over a hundred people have either written letter or signed petitions in objection to the comprehensive sign plan," says Dave Hannes, president of the Writer Square Condominium Association.

While Hannes and his neighbors are happy about the changes made to the proposed digital billboards, they still feel the modern, flashy vibe of the overall sign plan doesn't mesh with the property's "quaint, strongly pedestrian flavor," as it's described in the planning staff's memo to the Planning Board. It doesn't help that it's still unclear what, exactly, the new-and-improved Writer is going to look like -- though sleek, new rectilinear lampposts have been installed on the property in the past few days. Some merchants and residents have taken to calling these elements "bug zappers," says Hannes.

"We are still unsure of the whole direction of the project," Hannes adds. "What does this developer want to do with Writer Square?"

Residents should learn more this afternoon, when plenty of sparks are expected to fly. Zap!

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner