Will the makeover of Writer Square be for the better or the worse?

David Scott is a fixture at Writer Square. He's part of the architecture — almost as integral as the red bricks that grace just about every surface of this nearly thirty-year-old cluster of shops, condos and offices.

Scott is the last original retail tenant left in Writer Square, which occupies the block between Larimer Square and the 16th Street Pedestrian Mall. He opened Triage, his men's and women's fashion boutique, in a cozy nook here on July 14, 1982.

At the time, the neighborhood was a mess; the mall had just opened, but most of the area was still a wasteland of empty lots. Banks wouldn't give Scott a loan for his endeavor, so he funded it himself, drawn in by Writer Square's unusual design — it was the first "mixed-use" project in Denver — and his gamble paid off.

As a vibrant downtown blossomed around him, Writer Square remained a unique outpost, its quaint central alleyway and two corner plazas lined with a mismatch of storefronts — including the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, Red Square Euro Bistro, Chez Cheese Gourmet Market and the Evil Bean Cafe — and a profusion of trees, statues, benches, oversized planters and massive flower baskets hanging from faux gas lamps. The block seemed to exist in its own time.

"I like the European feel, the garden atmosphere," Scott says. "What this design has done is created a sense of community. I feel like the open space in front of my store is like a front yard for the residents above me. They have a reason to come down here. That's the main thing that is different about Writer Square — the community it creates. I believe it's led to my success. It's about relationships."

And Scott, 54, is all about relationships. The impeccably dressed proprietor creates instant friendships whenever someone walks in the door, warmly welcoming strangers into his world of designer suits and elegant dresses. And when he steps into the plaza out front, he runs into his acquaintances — the resident from upstairs eager to introduce her new puppy, the worker from the office tower who unwinds on a bench every afternoon with a coffee and a book, the lawyer from a nearby firm striding by in a fetching lime-green blazer that just happened to come from Triage.

"You look great!" Scott calls out with a wink.

But lately, the view from Scott's storefront has been changing.

Last August, California-based ACF Property Management Inc. and Englewood-based GDA Real Estate Services LLC purchased Writer Square, and this past May they began removing nearly everything from the plazas and central pedestrian walkway: trees, statues, planters, benches, gas lamps and the hanging planters that Scott and other merchants helped pay for years ago. The new owners have proposed an ambitious new plan for Writer Square that city planners are expected to weigh in on soon.

The proposal, which originally included several twenty-foot-tall video-screen billboards and flashy LED screens, upset just about every resident, several store owners in the complex, and three city council members. While ACF and GDA now say they will scale back their sign plan, it's clear they have a very different concept for Writer Square than what has existed for 28 years, one they hope will bring in more traffic.

Scott loves to talk, but he's reluctant to address the proposed changes. "What I hope for is that with the help of the existing tenants, be it homeowners, retailers or businesses, the new ownership preserves in their design the sense of community that all of the entities share in Writer Square," he says, choosing his words carefully. "Let's hope the finished product serves us as well as it's served me in the last 28 years."

Then, he adds with a weary smile, "Change is hard."

One day in 1978, homebuilder George "Geoie" Writer got into his car, picked up his friend, architect Ron Rinker, and drove through the dreary parts of downtown Denver, looking for the perfect place to conduct a strange experiment.

They were lured by an offer they couldn't refuse. The Denver Urban Renewal Authority, as part of its Skyline Urban Renewal project, was offering downtown lots at a steal. But there was one catch: To get the best price, developers had to build projects that not only retained a considerable amount of open space, but also fused residential, retail and office components. Although Denver and many other cities had been founded on this layout in the 1800s, the tradition had died by the 1970s and become a novel concept.

Writer was an old hand at building residences. Since the 1960s, his company, Writer Corp., has filled metro-area suburbs with one housing project after another: Cherry Knolls, Dam West in south Denver, Castle Pines North, South Park in Littleton, Devils Thumb south of Boulder. But he'd never dabbled in office buildings or retail.

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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

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