On July 26, Denver Union Station will celebrate the fifth anniversary of its reopening after a massive renovation that turned the historic terminal into "Denver's living room," as well as a multi-model transit hub for buses, light rail and trains.
But that's not all, of course: The Union Station project also sparked a land grab and subsequent building boom in the area behind the station, once a vast wasteland with nothing but tracks, a few empty warehouses, and a lot of tumbleweeds. Today, every possible square inch of the area is occupied or under construction.
People who last ventured here five years ago find the place unrecognizable. It's filled with office buildings, apartments, restaurants, bars, a Whole Foods, even a rare condo complex, The Coloradan. In fact, it seems to lack just one thing: a name.
Denver got its start in 1858 at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek, and the Central Platte Valley was the heart of the new community. But over the decades, development moved out and up, and by the middle of the last century, the area stretching from the circa 1881 Union Station past the Platte to the bluffs of Highland had turned from a mixed-use neighborhood into a railyard and increasingly grimy industrial area. When Interstate 25 cut through the area, the last residents of what had been known as the Bottoms, the floodplain along the South Platte where some of Denver's poorest lived, moved out.
In 1988, the area in front of Union Station was declared the Lower Downtown Historic District (the boundary ended at Wynkoop Street, conveniently skipping the station), and LoDo slowly started developing as a residential and entertainment area. In the late 1980s, Denver began replacing some of the infrastructure behind Union Station, adding Commons Park. The construction of Coors Field fueled much of the next boom, as more developers began spilling into one of the last open spaces left in Denver. Then came the renovation of Union Station, and the building boom exploded.
In April 2019, the city finally adopted the official Central Platte Valley — Auraria Design Standards and Guidelines for the area it defined as between I-25, Speer Boulevard and the Auraria Parkway. "CPV-Auraria has largely remained underutilized and separated from Denver’s Downtown urban fabric," the report reads. "In the past, it was predominantly used for freight rail and its services, partly due to its convenient location along the River. While the River still supports a diverse ecology, the area’s industrial past and railroad-related uses have greatly affected the quality of the River and adjacent riparian areas over time. More recently, the area has been occupied by large entertainment and cultural venues served by acres of surface parking. This land use pattern has resulted in an unusually large and significantly underutilized land area within Downtown. The area’s position within the Downtown context provides an opportunity for a high level of allowed building intensity and mix of uses to promote a vibrant neighborhood that serves as a place to work, live, and play. "
But by the time those guidelines were adopted, the area directly behind Union Station was already fully developed, with all the land beyond claimed, too.
Now, what to call it? On Denver's official neighborhood map, it's labeled "Union Station" — but on that map, the name of the big area directly to the northeast is "Five Points," with no accounting for the Ballpark neighborhood, no RiNo. And for that matter, there's no LoDo in front of Union Station. In other words, the map doesn't align with what people who live in the city call those neighborhoods.
And it certainly doesn't help visitors who wander around, lost, looking for a business that they think is Inside Union Station but might be blocks away on Little Raven Street, or up near the ballpark. There have been attempts to define certain parts, such as Union Station North, but since no one can ever remember that this part of Denver is off the east-west grid, directions are no help.
Surely this shiny, spanking-new part of town deserves a name of its own, like the unofficial nicknames of RiNo, LoDo and LoHi, on the hill just beyond...beyond what, exactly?
Here are some possibilities:
Central Platte Valley
Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.
Behind Union Station
Says it all, but wordy.
Short, but clunky.
Historic, but no longer accurate.
Also historic, but awkward for a place that's looking up.
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This area is leading Denver development, not bringing up the rear.
Accurate, but icky.
Have you looked around?
Which nickname do you like? Have a better idea? Post a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To mark the fifth anniversary of Union Station's renovation, let's give its home a proper name.