News organizations typically like to avoid becoming part of the story. But Denver7 is smack dab in the middle of a very public fight over proposed landmark designation for its headquarters building, located at 123 East Speer Boulevard.
The final determination on the landmark application, filed in late 2020 by Bradley Cameron, David Lynn Wise and Michael Henry, will be made during the next full Denver City Council meeting, scheduled for May 10. And Denver7 is so serious about persuading members to reject the proposal that it hired a public-relations firm, Sidecar PR, to help create a campaign explaining why it's a terrible idea.
Included in its portfolio is an open letter to the city's landmark commission, a so-called rebuttal report and a slideshow intended to demonstrate that the architectural attributes that Cameron, Wise and Henry want to preserve are actually commonplace around Denver and subpar versions of the style, known as brutalism. Furthermore, Dean Littleton, the ABC affiliate's vice president and general manager, who usually remains behind the scenes, has stepped out front to decry the potential move, which he says could hurt Denver7's ability to produce good journalism.
"We feel trapped," Littleton says. "If the building is designated, we may not be able to afford to move, because the designation diminishes the value of the property. But if we stay and have to make a change to the outside of the building due to being knocked off the air, we'd have to go through a lengthy process to get permission. We're a 24/7 operation, and I can't wait 24 hours to replace a microwave dish. That could be devastating to our station because of the minute-by-minute nature of our business."
The application for landmark designation's "statement of significance" makes six separate arguments for the preservation status. According to Cameron and company, the building "has a direct association with a significant historic event or with the historical development of the city, state or nation" because it's been part of the Denver media scene for more than a half-century; "it has direct and substantial association with a recognized person or group of persons who had influence on society" owing to its association with local broadcast pioneer Hugh Terry; "it embodies the distinctive visible characteristics of an architectural style or type," aka brutalism; "it is a significant example of the work of a recognized architect or master builder," the firm Fulmer & Bowers; "it represents an established and familiar feature of the neighborhood, community or contemporary city, due to its prominent location or physical characteristics;" and "it promotes understanding and appreciation of the urban environment by means of distinctive physical characteristics or rarity."
In Littleton's view, that's a load of baloney. "There are better examples of brutalist architecture" in the Denver area, he argues, including the William C. Muchow Federal Reserve Building, Denver Police headquarters, the Colorado Education Association building and Arapahoe Community College. Denver7's structure, meanwhile, "borrows from some brutalist concepts, but it's an amalgamation of different architectural styles," he contends. "And I don't think the architecture or the history of this building rise to the level of landmark designation over the owner's wishes."
Indeed, a sale of the property is in the works, with Property Management Group, or PMG, in line to take on the task of redevelopment — if the current building can go down. "PMG has a history of working with communities, and they would also allow us a couple of years to move, because, as you can probably imagine, moving an active TV station is a huge process," Littleton points out. "During that time, they can engage with the neighborhood and work collaboratively to come up with a plan that has the street-level activization that it needs to be a beautiful gateway to Denver. The corner of Speer and Lincoln represents an incredible opportunity to create a great structure that will welcome people to downtown."
In the meantime, Littleton contends that his staff's journalistic efforts will be hampered if Denver7 is forced to stick around. He refers to the current setup as "a 1970s-era TV station" that doesn't allow his various teams to work together in ways that create the best product. And then there's the matter of safety.
"Another part of the landmark designation would prevent us from making any changes we need to make for security reasons," he maintains. "As you know, journalists have often been the target of threats and negative statements directed our way, and if we decided we needed to boost security by replacing windows with walls on the first floor, for instance, that would create an issue for us if we weren't allowed to do it. And the security of our teams is vital."
Littleton is looking forward to addressing council during the May 10 meeting "so we can tell our side of the story," he says. "We've exchanged a lot of ideas" with the landmark-designation applicants, he adds, "and we're hard at work on some due diligence on a compromise that was discussed recently. We still want to find a way to work this out."
After all, Denver7 doesn't want to have to spend any more time covering itself.
Click to view the Denver7 building landmark designation application, the Denver7 rebuttal report, a Denver7 letter about allegedly adverse impacts on KMGH if the designation is approved, and a brutalism comparison slide deck.
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