Longform

Evan Almighty

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"I think Evan is so genuine, and he's very good at finding a balance between an economic transaction and doing what's the right thing for the city and the neighbors around him," says Mike Zoellner, managing partner of RedPeak Properties, a Denver apartment building developer. "When you have strong roots here, you oftentimes make decisions about projects based on future projects. If you are reinvesting in the city, you are trying to make your overall portfolio and reputation better so you can make your next transaction easier to do. And I think Evan is a master of that. He genuinely wants to do the right thing, and he really puts all his years of experience into problem-solving."

For inspiration on how to do the right thing, there's a black-and-white aerial photo of mid-century downtown Denver hanging in Makovsky's conference room. It captures a bustling urban core, where every corner on every block is occupied by a building. Many of those same corners are now blanketed by unattractive surface parking lots, a remnant of the urban upheaval that launched his career. "There were whole series of buildings that looked like that," says Makovsky of the photo. "A lot of people looking back may have some regret that some of the gorgeous buildings in downtown were torn down and we'll never see anything like it again." Somewhere in the photo, right near the center, is Block 162.


Things were changing all along Block 162 during the early twentieth century. In 1911, the corner of 16th and California was adorned with the eye-catching McClintock building. The Colonial, Arena, Angelus and Standish hotels sprung up around the popular Orpheum, a Welton Street playhouse featuring everything from "knock-about comedians" Heeley and Meely to a coin-trick magician from Australia and "Gollman's trained dogs and cats."

In 1922, a four-story, full-service department store called Steel's opened at 16th and Welton, crowned by a large illuminated billboard announcing its name. American flags hung from most of the windows, signs promised "Nothing over $20.00," and electric billboards advertised the "Steel Persian Gardens" cafeteria in the basement. The building was designed by prominent Denver architect Merrill Hoyt (the brother of Burnham Hoyt, who received nationwide acclaim for his work on Red Rocks Amphitheatre). The structure was adorned with copious amounts of colorful terra-cotta detailing, from its Doric pilasters to the floral designs above its windows, and its first-floor entryways were covered by modern glass-and-steel awnings. Long after the short-lived Steel's department store faded from memory, the building in which it resided continued to be a downtown landmark.

Early twentieth-century Denverites, riding first in streetcars and carriages, then in automobiles, were greeted by a plethora of signs and billboards advertising all that Block 162 had to offer: Art Nook, United States Muskrat Ranches, the Ness Music Co., Colorado Food Comfort Station, Busy Bee Lunch Room, Castello's Hair Store, Toupees & Wigs.

The streets were paved and widened, and red and white street lamps were built along 15th Street.

In 1932, the Orpheum was replaced by a newer version, and before long, traffic patterns changed and combustion engines outnumbered horses. On June 3, 1950, Denver's streetcar service came to an end, pushed out by cars and buses. It marked a turning point not just for the thoroughfares, but also for the blocks in between. By 1951, two of Block 162's buildings had been torn down to make room for auto parking.


Word spread quickly through civic circles in March 2004: National developers were on the move to acquire Block 162. Target Corporation was considering the site for one of its new line of urban retail stores, while Lowe Enterprises in California had put some of the block's parking lots under contract and hoped to redevelop them into stores and offices.

Both plans made sense.

"I think that Block 162, after the completion of the convention-center hotel, was the key block in downtown that was holding back investment for blocks around it," says Don Hunt, owner of real-estate development consulting firm Antero Company and former chair of the Downtown Denver Partnership. "The block is right in the middle of the hundred-percent corner of downtown. It's the block, if it is done right, that will knit together the convention-center corridor. It will connect the 16th Street Mall with the emerging cultural corridor on 14th Street, and I think it will be a tremendous visitor asset."

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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