Wednesday, December 12, 2007

10 Economic Development Issues, Events, Trends and Questions to Watch for in Denver in 2008

2008 promises to be another exciting year for economic development in the Denver Region. Here are 10 issues, events, trends and questions to watch for:

1) Democratic National Convention. Will the convention go off smoothly? Can Metro Denver capitalize on the convention and raise the area’s profile as an international business and leisure destination? How much will the event contribute directly to Denver’s economy in 2008?




2) FasTracks & Union Station. The design and construction of the FasTracks system and its central hub, Union Station, is a key event in the economic history of Metro Denver and 2008 will be an important year for this massive infrastructure project. The Union Station final design, approval, and commencement of construction are scheduled to occur in 2008. Planning and construction on the West Corridor light rail line from Union Station to Jefferson County will accelerate in 2008 and planning for other corridors will continue.

3) Downtown Denver Construction Boom. Can the downtown construction boom in residential, hotel and office properties continue in the face of uncertain macro economic conditions and the credit squeeze?

a) Condo Projects. The fate of the Spire project (http://www.spiredenver/), a well conceived, nicely located condo building, targeting an under served niche - young, middle income buyers - will be a key signpost indicating whether the local downtown residential construction boom will continue or tail off in the face of economic and credit market headwinds. Construction started at the Spire site near the convention center but was suddenly halted in September when the German construction lender suddenly pulled out. The Great Gulf Group’s 1401 Lawrence Street (1401lawrence.com) , a 51 story luxury condo tower with a is another bellwether downtown residential project. If these two developments move forward it will be a powerful indication that Denver’s downtown residential boom can survive the current economic conditions.

b) Office Properties. There have been almost no new speculative office towers built in the Central Business District (CBD) of Denver since the 1980s oil bust. In recent years Denver’s office vacancy rates have been moving steadily downward in as the regional economy finally grows into the existing inventory. Another factor which should support office sector expansion in Metro Denver is the boom in oil and natural gas prices (see number 4 below) which is leading to increased employment in this sector. However, given the recent turbulence in real estate lending markets, the possibility of a recession, prospective increases in cap rates and other factors which could potentially reduce demand for and the value of commercial real estate, a cloud of uncertainty hangs over new office construction in many parts of the United States. Currently, there are several high rise office projects in Denver’s CBD which are in the pre-construction stages. If projects like Tabor Center II (www.callahancp.com/taborII.htm) at 17th and Larimer Streets are able to move forward it will be a key milestone in Denver’s economic recovery from the 1980s commercial real estate downturn.

4) The Price of and Demand for Oil, Natural Gas and Other Resources. The price of oil, natural gas and other resources has several effects on Metro Denver economic development. High oil prices could lead to inflation and a slow down in the U.S. economy by forcing the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates which could reduce overall U.S. economic growth. However, as oil and natural gas prices increase, regionally-based extractive companies, which are highly concentrated in Denver relative to the U.S as a whole, are likely to increase their operations and the metro area economy will get a boost from this increase in activity. As a point of reference, the oil and gas extraction sector employs more than 3,000 people in Metro Denver and is the second most highly concentrated industry cluster in Denver (see my July 4, 2007 blog entry for more information http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/07/analyzing-metro-denver-economic-base.html).

5) The Development of a Renewable Energy Cluster in Metro Denver and Colorado. The high energy prices (mentioned above in number 4) provide a strong market incentive for continuing investments in the alternative energy sector which is also well represented in Metro Denver and Colorado. The region has public facilities like the Natural Renewable Energy Laboratory (http://www.nrel.gov/) in Jefferson County, the University of Colorado and the Colorado School of Mines and private companies like Danish wind-blade manufacturer, Vestas (http://www.vestas.com/), in Weld County and Denver based ethanol producer BioFuel Energy Corp (http://www.bfenergy.com/). With these types of resources, the Metro Area is poised to attract additional alternative energy businesses. However, despite having a supportive governor who sponsored a helpful package of state legislation in the Spring of 2007 to promote renewable energy, competition is fierce to host green energy clusters. In addition to Metro Denver, Boston, Austin, Silicon Valley, New Jersey, Arizona and Toledo, are all working to attract these businesses. Right now Denver is behind several of these other regions.



6) Who is Buying the Former Storage Technology Headquarters in Louisville from Sun Microsystems? It was announced in November 2007 that the former Storage Technology headquarter campus is under contract to be purchased for $60 million by a closely held “mystery” buyer. Rumors include Google (who purchased Boulder’s @Last Software in 2006), Apple, or E-bay. An acquisition of this strategic property by any of these technology heavy-hitters would be huge news and a boon to Metro Denver’s technology cluster.

7) Merger Questions: Will the U.S. corporate headquarters of MillerCoors, the joint venture of Molson Coors (http://www.molsoncoors.com/) and SABMiller to be finalized in 2008, be located in Denver or Milwaukee? Will the potential tie-up between United Airlines and Delta be consummated and how will it impact United’s Denver hub? Is AT&T going to acquire Englewood-based EchoStar Communications Corp? What other mergers are out there that will impact Metro Denver headquarters and jobs.?





8) Progress on Museums.
As the Clifford Still Museum design and planning process ramps up for its 2010 opening we should get more detailed information on the building next year. Additionally, there should be a final decision in 2008 on the new location for the Colorado History Museum, currently proposed to be sited in the city-owned McNichols Building in Denver's Civic Center Park.

9) Spending City and County of Denver Infrastructure Property Taxes and Bond Revenue from November Election. The recent successful passage of Questions 1-A through H for the City and Country of Denver will raise millions of dollars in public funds which will help boost infrastructure and promote economic activity in Denver. The city and county should begin to spending some of this revenue in 2008. Over time these funds will go toward maintaining, repairing and upgrading city parks, buildings, roads, libraries, health and human services facilities, and cultural facilities (such as the Botanic Gardens, Boettcher Concert Hall, the Museum of Science and Nature).

10) NCAA Mens Hockey Frozen Four. In 2008 Denver will host the NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey National Championship. This event is a natural fit for Denver given its status as a prominent hockey town with the University of Denver’s national powerhouse hockey program and the NHL's Colorado Avalanche. This event is being heavily promoted by the Metro Denver Sports Commission (http://www.denver.org/FrozenFour/default.htm).


The images in this blog entry are from the Callahan Capital Partners, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Molson Coors, and the Denver Sports Commission web sites as referenced above in the text. The image of Union Station is from the Wikepedia entry on the station. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Green Rail Platform Canopy for Union Station

This blog entry is a follow up to my most recent entry from November 25, 2007 on the proposed design changes to the Union Station transit hub (http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/11/big-changes-to-union-station-design.html).

The Friends of Union Station have released a good outline of the new proposed design of Union Station (www.friendsofunionstation.org/news) which I highly recommend interested parties review to better understand the revisions. [Update from December 9, 2007. For a set of drawings showing the new Union Station design see the presentation from the December 5 Union Station Advisory Committee meeting visit the following link: http://denverunionstation.org/pdfs/meetings/USAC_Presentation_120507.pdf)]

I am still assessing the pros and cons of this new design compared to other options and don't have much more to say about this topic yet.

However, assuming that the basic premise of the new design won't be changing, I think the above grade commuter rail and Amtrak station does present some interesting opportunities for creating a landmark canopy to cover the rail passenger platforms at Union Station.

One idea which I find appealing (which I first saw suggested in the skyscraper page forum http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=127820&page=11) is to follow the motif established by Denver International Airport's (DIA's) Jeppesen Terminal roof. Said to remind viewers of the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountains, the translucent, teflon-coated fiberglass fabric covering at the airport has become emblematic of transportation in Colorado. Including this motif from DIA at Union Station will help to symbolically tie these two transportation hubs together just as they are physically being connected by the electric commuter rail FasTracks East Corridor. (http://www.rtd-fastracks.com/ec_1). Additionally, a white peaked roof with masts poking through could help tie Union Station to the surrounding Central Platte Valley and Highland neighborhoods by evoking the colors and lines used in the Millennium, Platte River and Highland pedestrian bridges.

The Union Station rail canopy should be designed to combine the DIA motif with green building features such as interspersed solar electric panels and a system for collecting and recycling rain water at Union Station. This combination would create a regional icon which embodies civic virtues like public transportation, commercial vitality, and environmentally sustainable economic development.


The photograph above of the roof of DIA used in this blog is from the DIA web site "photo provided courtesy of Denver International Airport." The photograph to the right of the Millennium Bridge is from the Wikepedia entry on the bridge.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Big Changes to Union Station Design. More Information Required.

The public-private partnership team working on the design of Union Station has recently announced major changes to the transportation component of the project. See the Friends of Union Station web site for a high level written description of the new design.(http://www.friendsofunionstation.org/news.htm). Additionally, see Figure to the left of this paragraph from The Denver Post for a partial graphical representation of the new plan.(http://www.denverpost.com/ci_7501540)

Some of the important changes include building the commuter rail station at-grade instead of in an uncovered below-grade trench, a plan for integrating a commercial bus terminal at the Union Station site (see my blog from November 4, 2007 which calls for this integration: http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/11/including-commerical-bus-depot-at-union.html), changes to the 16th Street Mall Shuttle and the Downtown Circulator routes and stops near Union Station, the opening of 16th Street from Wynkoop to Chestnut Streets to private automobile traffic and other changes.

Putting the commuter rail at grade instead of below grade is one of the biggest changes and this apparently has to do with both safety and cost issues.
Obviously these changes raise a number of questions and concerns. Are they good for the utility and operations of the transit junction? Will the new design facilitate easy transfers among the various transportation modes served by the site? How will the changes impact the building density and other aspects of the mixed use redevelopment planned for the site? Will the new plan provide a world class experience for transportation users both in the short-term and in the long-term? Why are these design changes happening so late in the planning process? Will the public have an adequate opportunity to provide input and feedback on the changes? How will these changes impact place-building, aesthetic considerations and other civic aspects of the project's design? How will these changes impact the neighborhoods surrounding Union Station? And many others.

These changes have also generated a great deal of discussion and criticism from some online forums. See for example the Mountain West Forum on Skyscraperpage.com(http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=127820&page=15).

A View of the Rockies believes that the redevelopment of Union Station will have a critical impact on Metro Denver over coming decades and must be done with great care and foresight. Until we learn more information about the specifics of the new plans, we are holding off on providing an assessment of these design changes.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Infrastructure Investments and Global Competitiveness

The past Thursday evening I was at a Northern New Jersey Urban Land Institute (ULI) meeting where, Bob Dunphy, ULI Senior Resident Fellow for Transportation and Infrastructure, gave a fascinating presentation on infrastructure investment in the United States and around the world. Its incredible how much money China is pouring into new infrastructure projects including high speed rail, airports and local infrastructure. Its also quite astonishing how much deferred maintenance has built up in the U.S. and how large the capital deficits are becoming on our core infrastructure. This has been a challenge in the U.S. since the 1980s and continues to get worse and worse. According to Mr. Dunphy the Federal Highway Trust is going to be bankrupt by 2009 under current policy and funding trends.

Where I live in Northern New Jersey and New York, there are many pressing infrastructure needs such as expanding commercial air capacity, improving freight movement, building commute corridors and strengthening the electrical grid and power supply. This got me thinking how foresighted Metro Denver has been in terms of core infrastructure investment over the last decade or so. Here are a few examples I came up with along with the rough costs of the projects (not in consistent year dollars):

  • Building Denver International Airport (DIA) from scratch in the 1980s and early 1990s. The current plans to expand the terminal, build more gates, add rail transport etc. ($5.2 billion + $1.2 billion) See my July 30, 2007 blog entry (http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/07/dia-expansion-fullfilling-vision.html).
  • The innovative transportation expansion (T-REX) project which jointly expanded light rail and the I-25 freeway along the same right of way ($1.67 billion);
  • The ambitious FasTracks program, over 12 years, to construct 137 miles of new commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit service throughout the Denver Metro Area.($6.1 billion);
  • The November 2007 infrastructure bond package approved by the voters at the City and County of Denver ($550 Million).

As Metro Areas around the world compete with each other for footloose talent, capital, businesses and jobs, having world-class infrastructure is a key source of competitive advantage. The Metro Denver Area is on a solid path of maintaining and improving its infrastructure and needs to continue moving in this direction in the coming years and decades. This is an issue I hope to follow closely in A View of the Rockies.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Wild Oats Layoffs in Boulder: An Economic Development Opportunity for the Natural Foods Cluster

I am excited to finally write a blog entry about my hometown of Boulder Colorado which has been neglected to date by A View of the Rockies. Boulder, with the University of Colorado, high tech and bio tech employers, numerous scientific facilities, a highly educated population and a tradition of attracting entrepreneurial and innovative activities, is a key part of the Metro Denver Economy.

Note the two images in this blog entry are from the Naturally Boulder Web Site (http://www.naturallyboulderproducts.com/).

The article in the November 14, 2007, Daily Camera (http://www.dailycamera.com/news/2007/nov/14/wild-oats-layoffs-coming-boulder-cuts-to-come-in/ ) about layoffs at the former corporate headquarters in Boulder of the natural and organic grocer Wild Oats, resulting from its acquisition by Whole Foods, got me thinking about Boulder’s industry cluster of natural foods companies.

An industry cluster can be defined as the spatial concentration of a group of horizontally or vertically related companies which benefit from their proximity to each other due to spillover effects such as access to suppliers, customers and business partners, knowledge transfers, the availability a well trained labor pool and other factors. Classic examples of clusters include the advertising business on Madison Avenue in Manhattan and software and Internet companies in Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Clearly Boulder’s loss of the Wild Oats’ corporate headquarters and roughly 250 well paying jobs is an economic blow to the local and regional economy. Employees, residents and local officials would all have preferred to see Wild Oats remain an independent corporation based in Boulder. Having been laid off myself, I understand the stress, uncertainty, and adverse financial and emotional impacts that an unanticipated job loss can have on employees and their families.

However, these layoffs can ultimately plant the seeds of future growth and innovation. Boulder has a well established natural foods cluster with a rich, ground breaking history stretching back to the 1970s and earlier. This cluster has been recognized by the Boulder Economic Council (BEC), a local community and business-based non-profit, as one of the City’s “Key Industries” (http://www.boulderbusiness.org/index.php?task=view&option=content&id=15 )

According to the BEC, the natural and organic products cluster in Boulder County consists of 65 company’s employing 2,100 workers at an average salary of $42,000 per year. I believe this data is from 2004 but the exact date is not clearly specified on their web site.

The local cluster includes retailers, wholesalers, restaurants, manufactures and other types of companies. Well established companies like Celestial Seasonings, Horizon Organics, White Wave Inc., as well as start-ups like Fiona’s Natural Foods, Inc., and Justin’s Nut Butter are part of the group.

I believe that the talented headquarters staff from Wild Oats will generate new natural foods businesses and make powerful contributions to existing young businesses in Boulder. Clusters are notoriously hard to start from scratch and they tend to evolve based on specific localized economic, demographic and geographic characteristics but existing clusters such as the natural and organic foods cluster in Boulder can be supported and promoted by local governments and non-profits. To date, I think that Boulder has done a solid job of promoting this cluster. To maintain and strengthen the cluster and help redeploy laid-off Wild Oats staff, civic leaders should:

--Continue to fund the existing city business incentives through the Economic Vitality Program including the Flexible Rebate Program and the Employee Training Assistance and target a substantial portion of these funds to natural and organic foods business.

--Expand the innovative and successful Naturally Boulder Task Force, including the annual Naturally Boulder Days and related events (http://naturallyboulderproducts.com/). Add a formal mentoring program to Naturally Boulder which connects established industry professionals with emerging entrepreneurs.

--Establish additional classes and workshops at the Boulder Chamber of Commerce specifically designed to assist natural food entrepreneurs.

--Collaborate with the University of Colorado to establish a business case competition for natural food products where the winner receives financial and operational assistance in launching their business in Boulder County.

--Develop additional forums to connect natural foods entrepreneurs with local business incubators, angel investors and venture capitalists in the Denver Metro Area.

While the loss of Wild Oats is undoubtedly a set back, Boulder has proven to be fertile ground for natural and organic food companies. I believe the cluster is strong enough to rejuvenate itself and it will continue to play a dynamic role in the local economy. With ongoing support from the public, private and non-profit sectors, Boulder will maintain its place as a leading edge innovator in the organic and natural products sphere.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Including a Commerical Bus Depot at Union Station

The redevelopment of Denver’s Union Station as a multi-modal transportation hub as part of the overall FasTracks effort is one of the most exciting development projects in Denver (and the United States as a whole). A primary benefit of this project is that it will create convenient linkages between different modes of transportation—light rail, commuter rail, Amtrak, the Ski Train, local and regional mass transit buses, commercial buses, private van services, taxis, the 16th Street Shuttle and Downtown Circulator, bicycle and pedestrian access and others. Each new transit service which interconnects at the junction increases the value of all the other transport modes, creating a positive “network effort” or externality. To maximize the social benefits of the transit system as a whole, as many modes as possible should be co-located at Union Station.




The master plan for Union Station includes the idea of locating Denver’s main commercial bus terminal, serving carriers like Greyhound, at the Union Station site ( http://www.denvergov.org/Portals/514/documents/structuring1.pdf). This terminal would likely be above grade (i.e. elevated above street level).

Greyhound’s current Denver bus terminal is a low rise building located at 1055 19th St., taking up the whole city block defined by 19th, 20th, Curtis and Arapahoe streets at a location ripe for redevelopment to a higher and better use. According to press accounts, Greyhound has been approached by the developer of Ritz-Carlton which is located across 19th street from the bus depot. (http://www.bizjournals.com/denver/stories/2006/06/12/story1.html?jst=s_cn_hl)

Based on some of the publicly available status updates on the Union Station project, it appears that Greyhound, the primary commercial bus carrier in Denver, and the public agencies involved in the Union Station project have not yet been able to come up with a plan to ensure that Greyhound moves from its current location to Union Station due to the high cost of constructing a new commercial bus terminal at Union Station.

According to the Denver Union Station Redevelopment Project Update – July 24, 2007, posted on the Friends of Union Station Web Site (http://www.friendsofunionstation.org/DUSUpdate072307.pdf ):


“On June 21, 2007, Cal Marsella on behalf of the EOC sent a letter to Greyhound
to determine their level of interest in participating on a financial basis at
DUS. On July 9, 2007, Greyhound returned the correspondence stating that
they would prefer a location on or near the site that is at-grade, and that the
cost of the facility at $40M to $50M would be too high for them to provide their
portion of a local match. They also suggested that the partner agencies
apply for additional federal funds (5309 FTA funds) for the intercity bus
portion of the project. RTD has already applied for a Federal 5308 grant
funds for the RTD regional bus facility. Greyhound stated that while they
are comfortable in their current facility, they would be happy to work with the
Partner Agencies to be a part of the DUS project.

At this point in time there is not an acceptable at-grade location on the 19.5 acre DUS site for a commercial bus facility. The commercial bus providers will not be able to provide sufficient funding to develop a private facility for their uses on site at or above grade. To the extent an adjacent site is found and developed by Greyhound, the project will work with them to connect it to the facility. The Partner Agencies will also continue to work with Greyhound and the other commercial bus providers to provide access at DUS….if they are interested.”


I do not know for sure if this information from the past summer represents the current status of the negotiations between Greyhound and regional public transit officials but I think it is very important for Greyhound and the transit authorities to work out a way for Greyhound to be located on site at Union Station. Even if Greyhound can not be moved to the Union Station location when the transit hub is first launched it must be part of the long term plan. Because Greyhound and the public at large (including the public transit agencies) will be better off if Greyhound is co-located with other carriers at the site, both parties should be prepared to make appropriate financial contributions to the costs of including a commercial bus depot at Union Station and other necessary compromises.

I strongly encourage both Greyhound and the public authorities to work together to find a “win-win” solution to fulfill the promise of making Union Station the true multi-modal transit hub in the Denver Metro Area by maximizing the number of transit modes operating at the station, providing additional passengers for Greyhound and advancing the public good.

Note, the photo of Union Station in this blog entry was taken from the Wikepedia entry for “Union Station (Denver)”

Saturday, November 3, 2007

United Announces Daily Denver to London Flight


After years of speculation, United has announced the launch of a daily non-stop flight between Denver and London starting March 30, 2008. This is great news on several fronts: it will keep competitive pressure on the existing British Airways Denver to London route, promote global economic and cultural linkages between Denver and other parts of the world, increase Metro Denver’s international competitiveness as a location for global corporate headquarters, provides evidence that recent “open skies” treaties negotiated between the United States and other nations are starting to remove regulatory barriers to expanding international flights and may be an indication that United is planning to expand Denver International Airport’s role as an international hub instead of just using DIA as its second largest domestic hub.

In blog entries from September 23, 2007 (http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/09/relatively-low-international-air.html ) and September 5, 2007 (http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/09/international-air-traffic-at-dia.html) I discussed the relatively low volume of international flights into and out of Denver International Airport She the following Denver Post story for additional details regarding this announcement ( http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_7345275 ).

Monday, October 22, 2007

A National Media Triple Play for Denver in 2007

The Metro Denver Area has achieved a national media triple play in 2007 with three big media events each showcasing a different dimension of the Mile High City's character:

  • The year started out with a bang when Denver was chosen over New York to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention 100 years after the last time the city hosted a national political convention (see my July 18, 2007 blog entry on the opportunities and risks of the hosting the Democratic Nation Convention http://aviewoftherockies.blogspot.com/2007/07/con.html).
  • Then in the early Summer, Georgia resident, Andrew Speaker, who was infected with a dangerous strain of tuberculosis (TB), was brought to Denver's world-famous National Jewish hospital for treatment.
  • Finally, the Rockies are in the World Series for the first time in franchise history.

Denver's selection as host city for 2008 Democratic Nation Convention helps solidify the "Queen City of the Plains' " role as the "Capital of the Rocky Mountain Empire," the eight interior western states of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada. In 2004 these states, which represent 44 electoral votes, all voted for George Bush but they are emerging as potentially key swing states which could help decide future presidential elections. This convention, the resulting media attention and the anticipated competitiveness of the Rocky Mountain Region in the 2008 Presidential Election are likely to dramatically raise the Metro Area's national and international profile, increase the region's national political influence, and showcase the exciting changes and new construction which have come to downtown Denver in recent times.

When Andrew Speaker was sent to Denver's National Jewish Hospital (http://www.njc.org/), it helped profile Denver's role as a center for high tech research and innovation and world class scientific resources. For several weeks there were regular reports on the national broadcast and cable networks live from National Jewish Hospital with press conferences being held by National Jewish Hospital Doctors on Mr. Speaker's condition. Hospital Doctors even corrected the diagnosis, originally provided by the Centers for Disease Control, of the precise strand of TB Mr. Speaker was suffering from. The fact that National Jewish Hospital was widely reported to be the best respiratory hospital in the world and the preferred location for treating the worst forms of TB was a tremendous prestige boost for the Denver Metro Area.

Finally, the Rockies surge to the World Series highlights Denver's position as a sports town par excellence and a very exciting place to live and do business in. The metro area is one of only 13 such areas to have a professional sports “grand slam” with teams in each of the four major leagues. Metro Denver has the smallest population of any metro area with a grand slam. Additionally, the Mile High City is one of only four cities which have a team from each league located within the city’s municipal border. The three main sports venues in Denver --Invesco Field at Mile High, the Pepsi Center, and Coors Field are all located within a few miles of each other in a compact area near the Central Business District. The Rockies and their home venue Coors Field symbolize Denver's emergence as a "major league city" and the provided an economic catalyst for the redevelopment and revitalization of Lower Downtown Denver (LoDo).

Consider for a moment the professional sports contests being hosted over a five day period in Denver starting this Saturday October 27:

  • Saturday October 27, Game 3 of the World Series, Rocks v. Sox, (national TV Fox);
  • Sunday October 28, Game 4 of the World Series, Rocks v Sox, (national TV Fox) and Colorado Avalanche v. Minnesota Wild (local TV);
  • Monday October 29, Game 5 of the World Series, if required (national TV Fox), & Denver Broncos v. Green Bay Packers (national TV ESPN Monday Night Football);
  • Tuesday October 30, no games in Denver
  • Wednesday October 31, Denver Nuggets v. Seattle Supersonics (national TV ESPN).
Over the five days between October 27 and October 31, there are six different games occuring in Denver, featuring all four Denver major professional sports teams, of which 5 are being shown on national telecasts. The highlight, Monday October 28, could see downtown Denver filled with more than 126,500 ticket holders and countless thousands of partying fans as the Rockies and the Red Socks and the Broncos and Packers play simultaneous nationally televised World Series and Monday Night Football games. This could turn out to be the single greatest night of live sports ever in Denver and the greatest five day stretch. Thank goodness for the breather on Tuesday October 30 before the Nuggets complete the stretch.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Protecting the View Plane at Coors Field Through Transfer of Development Rights

As a native Coloradan, its been exciting watching the Colorado Rockies catch fire and roll through the the end of the baseball regular season and beginning of the playoffs. My vantage point in the New York Metro Area is particularly interesting because baseball is so socially and culturally important here.

During this same time period, I have also been following the intense debate about protecting the views of the Rocky Mountains seen from Coors Field. Given that the title of this blog is "A View of the Rockies," I feel compelled to comment on this issue.

From Denver media accounts, I understand that Bill and Paula Leak, long-time owners of the Light Bulb Supply Company at 2010 Delgany Street want to sell their property to a real estate developer. Much of the value of their property to a developer derives from its location and the fact that it could be zoned for a 14 story building. However, if a building that tall is built on the property, it could seriously degrade views of the Rocky Mountains from from parts of Coors Field such as the view beyond the left field wall above the third base line from Section 22 on the club level. (See, for example this story from the Rocky Mountain News, http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/real_estate/article/0,1299,DRMN_414_5717928,00.html


Figures 1: View of Coors Field at Sunset with the Rocky Mountains in the Background (note this photograph is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended to reproduce the view plane being discussed in this blog entry).


Photograph from http://www.baseballpilgrimages.com/national/colorado.html

The views from Coors Field create a unique sense of place in the stadium and are an important amenity for the Denver Metro Area, helping to define and communicate what is unique and wonderful about region --a thriving urban scene in close proximity to one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in the world. As the baseball Rockies make their run through the playoffs this year and national telecasts show views of the mountains from Coors Field, it provides enormous promotional value for the Metro Denver Area.

This is a classic conflict between private property rights and the public interest. These issues can be very thorny and difficult to resolve in a way that is fair to both parties and is consistent with legal and economic principles. My guiding framework for resolving these types of conflicts is to use the minimum of amount of government power needed to resolve the issue and to establish market-based solutions whenever possible.

One solution, advocated by some neighborhood residents, would be for the City of Denver to establish a view plane ordinance which restricts the height of buildings near Coors Field. The problem with this idea is that it is unfair to the Leaks who have been present at this location for many years before Coors Field was built, running a business that generated economic value for the city when the neighborhood was extremely underutilized. The Leaks have a legitimate right to profit from the area's increase in property values and a simple view plane ordinance by itself could be construed as an unconstitutional "taking" of their property without providing just compensation.

Alternatively, the Denver Metropolitan Major League Baseball Stadium District, a public entity, could purchase the Leaks' land and would then control future development there. The problem with this idea is there are other properties which could also be developed which might cause view obstructions at Coors Field and this precedent could encourage private interests to attempt to coerce metro area tax payers into buying their property at inflated prices, even when there are no near-term development prospects.

However, there is a clear and obvious compromise to resolve this issue --the combination of a view plane ordinance with the use of Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) also referred to as Transferable Development Rights. This idea was mentioned in a very thoughtful article by Bob Reuteman in the October 13, 2007, Rocky Mountain News (http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/business_columnists/article/0,1299,DRMN_82_5721588,00.html).
TDRs, commonly known as "air rights," allow the owners of a low-rise property, built shorter than maximum zoning would normally allow for, to sell the right to build additional stories to a developer who wants to build a structure at another location that is taller than is permitted by that site's zoning.

TDRs can be a powerful tool for historic preservation and economic development. For example in New York City where TDRs are commonly bought and sold, the sale of air rights from a near-by church, allowed the 55 story Millennium Hotel to be built across the Street from the World Trade Center, bolstering the church's endowment and ensuring its survival in the high cost environment of the lower Manhattan commercial district near Wall Street. Additionally, Broadway Theatres in Manhattan have sold their TDRs, for use in near-by high-rise developments, preserving the theaters' economic viability as low rise, special use buildings in a neighborhood with some of the highest land prices in the world (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: In 2006, Developer SJP Residential Agreed to Purchase the Air Rights from the Al Hirschfeld Theatre in New York, Pictured Below, to Increase the Permitted Height of its 42 Story Condominium Project in Manhattan.


Photograph from Al Hirschfeld Theater entry in Wikepdia.


In the case of protecting the view plane from Coors Field, buildings in the view plane could be limited to six stories or less and property owners could be granted TDRs for the additional eight stories which they normally would have been entitled to build. Then owners like the Leaks could sell those TDRs to other developers in Denver who want to construct taller building in parts of town where view planes are less important.

According to Bob Reuteman, there is already an allowance for TDRs in the Platte Valley in the Denver Municipal Code. This code should be carefully examined and, if necessary, modified to create enough economic value for the Leaks and other property holders near Coors Field to be able to recover the full economic loss they suffer from having their properties height restricted to protect the Coors Field views. For example, in some jurisdictions, TDRs have limited value because they can only be sold to neighboring or adjacent sites and can not be marketed to developers across town. In the Coors Field case, the City of Denver needs to permit the TDRs to be marketed to a wide enough area in downtown Denver and streamline the approval process to ensure that their value is high enough to adequately compensate impacted landowners.

This is a winning, taxpayer friendly, compromise solution which balances individual private property rights with the public interest and minimizes harmful government interference in the workings of the private market.

Lets hope the baseball Rockies can also find a winning solution.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Re-establishing a Chinese Cultural and Historical District in LoDo

As I pointed out in my September 30th blog entry, the LoDo block bordered by Market, Blake, 20th and 21st Streets was the final location of Denver's Chinatown. The Chinatown buildings were torn down in 1940 and today the area remains underutilized despite the fact that it is prominently located across the street from Coors Field. See photos in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Various Perspectives on the Underutilized Block Bound By Market, Blake, 20th and 21 Streets







The Denver Infill web site, written by Ken Schroeppel, also points out how underutilized this site is: (http://www.denverinfill.com/block_pages/northeast_downtown/block_037.htm)

"Isn't it ironic that a block directly across the street from Coors Field, a
facility that is hailed as the great facilitator of LoDo redevelopment, a block
that sits facing the front door of our major league baseball stadium, would
remain, ten years later, as a weedy, litter-filled, vacant lot? Most of
the Blake Street side of this block is owned by Public Service Co. of Colorado
(Xcel Energy) who also owns the electric-substation-wrapped-in-brick at the
corner of 21st & Market. Is there a reason they haven't sold this
property or redeveloped it at great profit? Are they holding it for some
future electric substation expansion project? Is this the best use of this
particular vacant land? Why must we have an ugly, weed-filled, vacant lot
across the street from the grand entrance of our beloved Coors Field?"

Denver Infill description of Block 37 in Northeast Downtown Denver

I am thinking that this site should be redeveloped into a Chinese Cultural and Historic District which would pay homage to the history of Denver's Chinatown and promote economic and cultural linkages between Denver and the Pacific Rim. I would envision this project having public, private and non-profit components. I am not sure of the exact mix of land uses for this site but they could include outdoor public sculpture, a museum/cultural center, retail, food service, and economic development/trade promotion services.

Over time, 20th Street between Market and Lawrence could evolve into an Asian cultural hub with the Japanese American cultural center, Sakura Square (at 20th and Lawrence Streets), at one end and the Chinese Cultural and Historic District at the other end. This idea is consistent with many of the objectives in the 2007 Downtown Denver Plan(http://www.downtowndenverplan.org/) such as Chapter 3, C4b "Encourage businesses that reflect ownership of and cater to culturally diverse markets such as Sakura Square," the idea of redeveloping Arapahoe Square as a densely populated mixed use neighborhood, "Cultivating a Mosaic of Urban Districts," and providing a pedestrian oriented neighborhood linkage between the Ballpark neighborhood and Arapahoe Square.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Family Connection to Lower Downtown Denver

As a follow up to my blog "Remembering the Destruction of Denver's Chinatown..." from last Sunday I wanted to write a short entry about my family connections to Lower Downtown Denver. After WWII, in approximately 1945, my maternal Grandfather, Fred Hosken, and Uncle, Ed Hosken, purchased the Refrigeration Service Company (RSC).

RSC was located at 1509-1515 Blake Street near the corner of 15th in LoDo for approximately 10 years until they moved to a York Street location north of Downtown Denver. At the time, Blake Street was part of Denver's Skid Row and every morning when they opened up the shop they had to chase homeless people away from the entryway. This portion of Blake Street had also been part of the original Chinatown District in Downtown Denver (See Areas "a" and "d" in Figure 1 below in the September 30th blog entry on Denver's Chinatown).

Of course, this area is now part of trendy LoDo. The current street address of the old RSC building is now 1517-21 Blake Street and houses Wahoos Restaurant on the ground floor and offices on the upper floors.

Contemporary Photograph of 1517-1521 Blake Street, former location of Refrigeration Services Company in LoDo.




Sadly, both my Grandfather and Uncle have passed away so I can't ask them for stories about the old neighborhood.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Remembering the Destruction of Denver’s Chinatown and Avoiding the Mistakes of the Past

Remarkably, today there is no evidence that Chinatown ever existed in what is now the Lower Downtown (or LoDo) Historic District—apart from a small plaque placed by Lower Downtown District, Inc., on the site of a building at 20th Street between Market and Blake [http://www.lodo.org/walking_tour/hopalleychineseriothtm.htm]. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine that LoDo, with its high-priced condominiums, upscale boutiques, and gentrified neighborhoods, once housed a thriving working-class Chinese-American community.”

From “History of and Memory: The Story of Denver’s Chinatown,” William Wei in Western Voices: 125 Years of Colorado Writing, Colorado Historical Society, 2004

A View of the Rockies supports urban infill and redevelopment efforts in Denver and believes that making Denver a denser, more transit-oriented city will promote the metro area’s physical, economic, cultural, environmental and social well being. Of course these changes to the built environment need to made in a way that is respectful to the cultural, historical and architectural context of the neighborhoods in which they occur. As we promote and celebrate the exciting changes that are happening in Denver today, we should always keep in mind that we want to avoid the mistakes of the past by preserving historically and culturally important places.

Let’s also keep in mind that building and maintaining a unique “sense of place” and promoting cultural and demographic diversity are keys to making cities attractive places to live, work and visit. These benefits enrich the city for residents, keep people from moving out to the suburbs, attract young, creative knowledge workers who crave idiosyncratic urban environments, draw in tourists and convince business travelers to stay over for the weekend to explore the city.

When I visited Denver a few weeks ago I spent time researching the history of Denver’s Chinese population in Lower Downtown and also exploring the Five Points neighborhood, the historic, cultural and economic center of Denver’s African American Community (more on Five Points in a later blog entry).

Many cities have destroyed or damaged unique urban neighborhoods in the name of “blight removal,” “slum clearance” and “urban renewal.” These neighborhoods were disproportionately populated by minority and lower income communities. Examples include the Fillmore District in San Francisco and the Hill District in Pittsburgh, which were vibrant regional centers of African American life. In Denver, urban renewal impacted many neighborhoods and communities. In this blog I focus on Denver’s Chinese district in Lower Downtown, which was chauvinistically known as “Hop Alley.”

Figure 1: Map of the Chinese Community in Lower Downtown Denver


Figure 1 from Master’s Thesis of Gerald E. Rudolph at Denver Public Library.


This district was originally located between Wazee and Blake and 15th and 17th Streets (see area "A" in Figure 1 above) but around 1900, the Chinese settlement moved to the alley between Blake and Market between 20th and 21st Streets. (see area “E” in the Figure 1 above and Figures 2a-c below). Also visit http://www.denvergov.org/Portals/142/documents/BallparkSummary.pdf ).

Figure 2a: The Alley where Denver’s Chinatown was located between Blake and Market looking from 20th Street toward 21st Street in 1929.





Figure 2b: Group of People in Alley Between Blake and Market Streets in 1920


Figure 2c: Denver's Chinatown in the Alley Between Market and Blake and 20th and 21st Streets.



Figures 2a-c from the Photography Collection of the Western History/Genealogy Department at Denver Public Library. Copyright © 1995-2007

The Chinese community began arriving in Denver in substantial numbers in approximately 1870 and worked in railroad construction, gold mining, clothes laundering and other occupations. From the beginning, the Chinese suffered from hostility and discrimination including an infamous race riot on October 31, 1880 where one laundry worker, Look Young, was lynched and tens of thousands of dollars of damage was done to Chinese-owned property. The local press engaged in yellow journalism, writing sensationalized stories about opium dens, Tong wars and other vices ascribed to the Chinese population.

Despite these injustices, Denver’s Chinese community persevered and developed a culturally unique micro-neighborhood in Lower Downtown Denver. Although the neighborhood’s population was never as large as San Francisco’s Chinatown (estimates of peak population range from 1,000 to 3,000 people), it was a vibrant, culturally and historically distinct district which made contributions to early Denver’s history, economy and culture.


According to Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from Denver in the early 20th Century, Denver’s Chinatown contained residences, businesses, retail stores and other Chinese-owned properties. According to William Wei, as the Chinese population grew larger, the Chinatown district began to offer imported speciality Chinese products and provided a home for Chinese doctors, butchers, cooks, cigar makers and grocers, adding vibrancy and culture to Denver and bringing tourists to the city.

In 1882, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which prevented new Chinese immigrants from entering the United States. Over time this Act caused the Chinese population of Denver to decline. In 1940 many buildings in the near-empty Chinatown were razed “before the army of social betterment…under the orders of Lyle D. Webber, chief city building inspector,” (Denver Post, June 14, 1940, page 1) forcing the remaining Chinese population to disperse. According to The Denver Post, the condemned property, from 2021 to 2047 Market Street ,was owned by Chinese-American families up until the time the buildings were destroyed.


Figure 3: Headline from June 14th 1940 article in The Denver Post.






Today all that remains of Denver’s Chinatown neighborhood are memories and photographs. After the buildings which made up Chinatown were demolished, the alley between Blake and Market and 20 and 21st Streets, which was once the heart of the Chinese district, was filled in by the construction of warehouses and industrial buildings almost as if to permanently prevent the Chinese from ever returning to this location. Note, in the contemporary photograph in Figure 4 below, the alley is blocked by the large red brick "Public Storage" warehouse which was built across the right of way where the alley previously ran.



Figure 4: Contemporary Photograph looking from 20th Street toward 21st Street, where the Chinatown Alley Once Ran Between Market and Blake Streets.






The alley between Market and Blake Streets still exists between and 19th and 20th and 21st and 22nd Streets providing a hint as to what the alley would have looked like between 20th and 21st Streets if it was still in existence today. See Figures 5 and 6 below.




Figure 5: Contemporary View of Alley Between Market and Blake Streets Looking From 20th toward 19th Street.




Figure 6: Contemporary View of Alley Between Market and Blake Streets Looking From 21st Toward 22nd Street.




Ironically, today many of the lots which contained the buildings which made up the Chinatown district are vacant or underutilized as is demonstrated by the contemporary photograph (Figure 7) below of the block between Market and Blake and 20th and 21st Streets. We lost a unique historical and cultural neighborhood and more than 65 years later we still don’t even have much to show for it.

Figure 7: Contemporary View of Underutilized Property on Blake Street Street from 21st Street Looking Toward 20th Street Where Chinatown Buildings Once Stood.




If the neighborhood had been left architecturally intact, it is difficult to say if Denver’s Chinatown would have organically rejuvenated itself as new cohorts of immigrants arrived in Denver or would have dwindled out of existence? If the neighborhood had survived, imagine how much more interesting and vibrant LoDo would be with a thriving Chinese-American economic and cultural district located across Blake Street from Coors Field? Sadly we will never be able to conclusively answer those questions because the neighborhood was destroyed.


As we celebrate Halloween this year, let’s remember that it will be the 127th anniversary of Denver's infamous anti-Chinese riot and more than sixty-seven years since the physical buildings of Chinatown were destroyed. We can use these memories to guide us in future efforts to preserve and protect Denver's historically and cultural important neighborhoods as the city is redeveloped and reinvigorated.

The following sources were used in this blog entry: The Denver Post, “Denver ‘Chinatown’ Ordered Torn Down,” June 14, 1940,” and “Hop Alley, Tong War Now Dim Memories," April 26, 1949; The Chinese in Colorado, 1869 – 1911, Master’s Thesis of Gerald E. Rudolph at the University of Denver, August 1964; “History of and Memory: The Story of Denver’s Chinatown,” William Wei in Western Voices: 125 Years of Colorado Writing, Colorado Historical Society, 2004. Denver Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps from June 1912, updated 1925, Volume 2, Map 183 and 184. Denver Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from 1929, updated 1961, Volume 1, Map 183. Special thanks to Bruce Hanson, reference librarian in the Western History and Genealogy Department in the Denver Public Library main branch who helped me uncover many of these sources.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Relatively Low International Air Traffic at DIA: Part II

In my September July 13th and September 5th blog entries I discussed the fact that Denver International Airport (DIA) (the 5th busiest airport in the U.S.) “punches above Metro Denver’s population weight” (the 19th largest consolidated metropolitan statistical area (CMSA)) in the United States). However, in my September 5th entry I also pointed out that, domestically, DIA is the 4th busiest airport but for international passengers DIA “punches below Denver’s population weight” because it is only the 22nd busiest airport for international passenger originations. In this blog entry I explore the reasons underlying this dearth of international passengers at DIA.

To validate the data cited earlier on DIA international originations, I reviewed the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Tourism and Travel Industries (http://tinet.ita.doc.gov/ ) data on overseas visitors to select U.S. cities. This data is based on the Survey of International Air Travelers (In-Flight Survey) Program and the Visitor Arrivals Program (I-94 Form). According to this data, Denver is the 28th most popular City in the U.S. for international visitors.

I theorize that there are four primary interrelated factors which drive metro areas’ international air traffic density:
1) the location of metro areas within the United States relative to international destinations;
2) the absolute number of U.S. metro area residents with ethnic ties to overseas destinations;
3) the amount of international business linkages between overseas destinations and U.S. metro areas;
4) the amount of tourism between domestic metro areas and overseas destinations.

One of the reasons Denver ranks so high for domestic air traffic is because it is centrally located in the western United States between the large cities of the west coast and the mid-west making it an ideal domestic air hub. However, from an international air traffic perspective, hub cities in the United States tend to be located on the U.S. coasts, closes to the international destinations they serve as a hub for. For example, New York is a large hub for transatlantic European flights, Los Angeles for transpacific destinations and Miami for flights to Latin America, the Caribbean and South America.

Additionally, cities with large absolute numbers of ethnic residents with strong ties back to ancestral homelands have a ready made demand for direct international flights and are likely to have high international flight densities. The City of Denver which is a reasonable proxy for the Metro Denver area as a whole, has the 24th highest percent of foreign born population among U.S. cities. See Table 1 below.

Given that the Denver Metro Area is the 19th largest area in overall population, Denver does not have a large absolute number of foreign born residents driving demand for international flights compared to larger metro areas with higher percentages of foreign born populations.

Table 1: Large Cities Ranked by Percent of Foreign-Born Population in 2002



(Source: http://usgovinfo.about.com/cs/censusstatistic/a/foreignborn.htm)

Another key factor in driving international air traffic to U.S. metro areas is international business linkages between overseas destinations and U.S. metro areas. For example, New York City’s status as a global financial capital clearly drives demand for international air flights to and from New York. One possible proxy for measuring international business linkages is the size and number of multi-national corporations with headquarters located in an area. The State of Colorado is ranked 13th highest among the states in terms of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the state (most of the Fortune 500 companies in Colorado are in the Denver Metro Area).

Table 2: States Ranked by Number of Fortune 500 Headquarters in 2007



(Source: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune500/2007/states/CA.html )

Although I have not found good hard data on Denver’s ranking as an international tourist destination compared to other U.S. metro areas, some broad conclusions can be drawn. With its ski industry and year round alpine recreation amenities, Metro Denver and Colorado have a substantial tourism industry. However, Metro Denver is not as big a draw as coastal metro areas in states like California, New York, Florida, and Massachusetts.

Given, Denver’s land locked geographic position in the Western United States, its relatively low absolute number of foreign born residents compared to larger cities and other factors cited above, it is not too surprising that Denver has a relatively low density of international air traffic. There is probably not a “magic bullet” for Denver to rapidly increase the number of international destinations that are served by DIA. Instead, over time, as the Denver economy grows and develops additional international linkages I predict there will be a slow but steady incremental gain in international air traffic ultimately resulting in direct international flights between Denver and the Pacific Rim and additional cities around the world.

If I am missing any of the key reasons for DIA’s relatively low international flight density please send me a comment or email.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Global Credit Squeeze and Metro Denver Real Estate Development

I am doing a short blog entry this week because I am headed to Denver tomorrow for a visit with family and friends and to spend time enjoying the Denver Metro area and exploring new developments around the region. This should give me lots of new material for future blog entries.

I am very excited about my visit to Metro Denver but wish I had a more optimistic blog topic than the one I am thinking about today: Will the global credit squeeze derail any of the large privately financed development projects underway in Metro Denver?

Today’s Rocky Mountain News reports that German lender HypoVerinsbank has pulled its $175 million construction loan for Spire (http://www.spiredenver.com/) , the 41-story residential condominium tower, in downtown Denver. (http://www.rockymountainnews.com/drmn/real_estate/article/0,1299,DRMN_414_5694959,00.html ). This news story made me very nervous.

According to the Spire development team, they believe they will be able to find a new lending partner and the loss of this financing will not impact the tower’s construction which has already begun. I hope they are right on both accounts.

Ultimately this incident raises the question: Is this an isolated occurrence or the first in a series of adverse consequences stemming from global capital market corrections which will impact locally in Colorado? Only time will tell but, as a Denver booster, I am hoping it is the former. Denver is poised to make important strides in improving the quality of its downtown built environment through private capital investments and it would be a huge shame if momentum was lost due to forces beyond local control. A View of the Rockies will be paying close attention to this issue in the coming weeks and months.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Relatively Low International Air Traffic at DIA

Denver International Airport (DIA) was the 5th busiest airport in the United States in 2006 based on the number of passengers on non-stop flight segments originating in Denver per data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (http://www.transtats.bts.gov/).


Total Passengers on Non-Stop Flights in 2006

by Originating U.S. Airport


However, as I have flown in and out of Denver over the years, I have always noticed how relatively few international flights DIA has compared to other large airports in the United States. According to the DIA website 18 international cities can be reached from DIA via non-stop flights including London, England, Frankfurt and Munich, Germany and numerous cities in Canada and Mexico. (see http://www.flydenver.com/diabiz/info/research/faqs.asp for the complete list). The Munich flight was just launched in March of 2007. Denver is working to initiate direct flight services to Tokyo and Beijing in Asia.

When you look at the BTS data, it turns out that although Denver is the 5th busiest overall airport in the United States and the 4th busiest airport in terms of originating domestic non-stop passengers, it is only the 22nd busiest airport in the United States in terms of originating passengers on international flights.

Domestic Passengers on Non-Stop Flights in 2006

by Originating U.S. Airport

International Passengers on Non-Stop Flights in 2006

by Originating U.S. Airport



Per the two tables immediately above, there is clearly a large drop off from being the 4th busiest airport in terms of domestic non-stop passengers to being only 22nd busiest for international passengers. This large disparity between international and domestic air traffic densities at DIA merits analysis and discussion which I plan to provide in a future blog entry.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Denver Office of Economic Development Podcasts

I wanted to devote a short blog entry to the Denver Office of Economic Development Podcast web page (http://www.denveroedpodcasts.com/). This is a great source information on economic development issues from key leaders in Denver. Podcasters include: Tom Clark, Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation (MDEDC), Mary Rose Loney, DIA Partnership (which is planning to merge with MDEDC and become a special purpose entity with a continuing focus on DIA development issues see http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_6703391), Tom Gleason, Forest City Stapleton, Michael Hancock, President, Denver City Council, Sandy Bracken, Bard Center for Entrepreneurship at CU Denver, and others.

I thought Tom Clark's podcast did an excellent job of explaining the role of the MDEDC in supporting a cooperative regional approach to economic development in Metro Denver. I also found the other podcasts to be extremely informative. Here's hoping that the Denver Office of Economic Development continues to update this web page with additional information.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Denver’s Train to Plane: Lessons Learned from Personal Experience and Other Transit Agencies.

As part of the FasTracks rapid transit build out, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) is designing the East Corridor from Union Station to Denver International Airport (DIA) (http://www.rtd-fastracks.com/ec_1 ). RTD has announced that this Corridor will be built with electric commuter rail technology and it is targeted for construction between 2011 and 2014 with the rail system becoming operational in 2015. This line has the potential to dramatically improve transportation to/from DIA, reduce road congestion and provide a reliable way to get to/from the airport in adverse conditions.

However, for this transit option to fulfill its full promise, RTD must design the corridor with the needs of air travelers clearly in mind and should pay attention to the lessons learned from other transit systems. Even small considerations and amenities can substantially improve the overall experience and increase ridership particularly given the stressful nature of air travel today.

I have the following suggestions: provide a “one seat ride” between Union Station and DIA (i.e. not requiring any transfers from the commuter rail to an airport people mover train or buses to reach the airport terminal); make sure the DIA rail station connection to the airport terminals is convenient to air travelers; configure the rail car interiors and station platforms to accommodate passenger luggage; provide paid long term parking capacity on the East Corridor and at stations throughout the FasTracks system and ensure that the facilities at Denver Union Station promote smooth intermodal connections between the East Corridor and other transportation methods.



To my knowledge RTD and DIA have not released detailed design information for the DIA rail station but RTD has posted a rough schematic that shows the proposed DIA rail station will be located underground, on Level One, below a proposed future DIA terminal to be constructed south of and across 84th Avenue from the current Jeppesen Terminal. The new terminal will provide additional departing passenger ticket counters(http://eastcorridor.com/meetingminutes/CorMtng11-8_9-06/CorMtng_11-8_9-06_StationRecom-DIA.pdf).

RTD explains that further detail is not offered in its proposal because

“[s]tation location characteristics for DIA are not evaluated as part of the [East Line Environmental Impact Statement] EIS because it is being done as part of the DIA expansion project.”

In the recently released Preliminary Official Statement Dated July 25, 2007 for DIA Airport System Revenue Bonds, the airport also reveals some information about its rail station plans (http://www.flydenver.com/diabiz/stats/financials/reports/bonds_2007ABC.pdf).

“The airport plans to spend slightly more than $26 million on “Train System Projects” between 2008 and 2013….The 2008-2013 Capital Program also includes a terminal complex project that will provide access from a new rail station to be constructed by the Regional Transportation District...to the Airport terminal. RTD…is currently in the environmental processing and preliminary engineering phases of providing commuter rail service from Denver Union Station…to the Airport….RTD is planning to fund, design, build and operate a rail line to the Airport, as well as station platforms and other rail transit amenities at the Airport Station. The City…is planning to design, build and operate the rail station facilities required to provide access from the rail station to the terminal building including the elevators, escalators, baggage checking and security requirements necessary to accomplish this access.”

So between the information from RTD and DIA provided above, it appears the current design proposal will meet the “one seat ride” criteria unless passengers going to Jeppesen Terminal are required to board a people mover train which seems unlikely based on the information in the bond statement. The design of the connection between the airport rail station and the new airport terminal and the Jeppesen Terminal should facilitate easy pedestrian access. For example moving walkways, ramps, escalators and elevators could be employed.

I have found the connection between Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and the Metro Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) heavy rail transit system, to be very convenient and easy to use. It’s a short walk from baggage claim or the ticket counters to the MARTA trains. This contrasts with the less convenient connection between San Francisco International Airport and the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) trains which requires use of an escalator and the airport people mover train to connect between BART and the domestic terminals at San Francisco International Airport. Additionally, the airport rail links to John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, Newark-Liberty Airport in New Jersey and Logan Airport in Boston are also inconvenient because they require transfers from the mass transit system to an airport-based transit mode before connecting passengers to the airport terminal.

The rail cars on the East Corridor should be designed to accommodate luggage with luggage racks and floor space suitable for larger luggage. Additionally, East Corridor rail stations should have ramps and elevators leading to elevated platforms so that passengers can easily get their luggage from the street level onto the rail cars without ever climbing up any steps. Union Station itself should be designed to provide quick, easy connections between different transportation modes including light rail, commuter rail, buses and other modes.

Finally an important amenity which can be used to attract riders to the FasTracks airport rail link is to offer paid long term parking at rail stops. RTD is planning to have more than 3,000 parking spots at four different park and ride stations on the East Corridor. (see http://www.rtd-fastracks.com/media/maps/index.html for details). I am not sure how many, if any spaces, will be available for long-term, overnight use by air passengers. Obviously priority should be given to daily users who park at the stations during work-day commutes. However, in the context of appropriate land use considerations, RTD should provide long-term parking spaces to attract airport passengers.

The BART connection to San Francisco International Airport has not met its ridership expectations since its opening in 2003. However, the system is now offering long term parking at stations near the airport in an effort to increase ridership. (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/07/13/BAG5CR00AJ1.DTL&hw=BART+SFO+Parking&sn=008&sc=497) . RTD should follow this idea and provide paid long-term parking spaces on FasTracks at East Corridor stations and stations on other connecting corridors where feasible.

The Denver Metro Area will maximize the benefits from the East Corridor as long as common sense design decisions are made which provide a comfortable and convenient experience to air travelers.



All images in this blog entry are from the RTD FasTracks web site http://www.rtd-fastracks.com/ except images of the Plane taking off and the DIA terminal which are Courtesy of Denver International Airport http://www.flydenver.com/.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Creating a Signiture Public Art Attraction in Denver: A Call for Suggestions

Two years ago I spent a summer weekend in Providence, Rhode Island and attended WaterFire (http://www.waterfire.org/ww.waterfire.org/). Equal parts public art installation, seasonal festival, public spectacle, and performance art, WaterFire has evolved into a Providence icon.



The WaterFire web site provides an excellent description of this attraction:

“WaterFire Providence, the award-winning sculpture by Barnaby Evans installed on the three rivers of downtown Providence, has been praised by Rhode Island residents and international visitors alike as a powerful work of art and a moving symbol of Providence’s renaissance. WaterFire’s one hundred sparkling bonfires, the fragrant scent of aromatic wood smoke, the flickering firelight on the arched bridges, the silhouettes of the firetenders passing by the flames, the torch-lit vessels traveling down the river, and the enchanting music from around the world engage all the senses and emotions of those who stroll the paths of Waterplace Park. WaterFire has captured the imagination of over ten million visitors, bringing life to downtown, and revitalizing Rhode Island’s capital city.”

WaterFire has drawn thousands of visitors into Providence, helped reinvigorate the downtown area and provided a substantial economic boost to the city which is estimated to be in the millions of dollars each season.

Civic leaders in Denver such as Mayor Hickenlooper and staff in the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs clearly recognize the powerful economic devleopment impact that the arts can have on the city. Denver is already blessed with an outstanding series of annual events, festivals, and artistic and cultural organizations. The City of Denver also has a strong public art program (http://www.denvergov.org/Default.aspx?alias=www.denvergov.org/Public_Art_Program ). Metro Denver voters have wisely supported the regional Scientific and Cultural Facilties District (SCFD) (http://www.scfd.org/ ) through a tenth of a percent sales tax in the seven county Denver Metro Area.

However, I believe that the City of Denver and the metro area would benefit enormously from developing a signature public art attraction that is analogous to WaterFire. Such an attraction would need to be both spectacular and intellectually stimulating. It should be created by an artist who has a deep understanding of Denver so that it fits contextually into the local geography and built environment using media formats that are organic to Colorado. The attraction would need to generate strong support from the local community including residents, businesses and civic leaders. Making this attraction “green” (i.e. environmentally friendly) would also be important These are not easy requirements to meet but the payoff for Denver could be tremendous if a successful attraction was launched.

This attraction would serve as a powerful brand building campaign for Denver, and help to fulfill Mayor Hickenlooper’s vision that “Denver will ascend to be the cultural capital of the west.” It could draw in tens of thousands of visitors to Denver and provide enjoyment to local residents. Other local artistic and cultural entities would gain spillover benefits from the publicity and traffic it generates as Denver’s profile as an artistic destination is raised.

Blog readers, what do you think of this idea? This blog is making an open call for suggestions and opinions on this topic? Please provide your feedback on this idea and also let Denver civic leaders such as the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs( http://www.denvergov.org/HomePage/tabid/378071/Default.aspx) know what you think.


The WaterFire photographs in this blog entry are from http://www.waterfire.org. WaterFire installation & musical compilations © Barnaby Evans 1997-2007.