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
  • 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 (, 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,,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

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 (,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: (

"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( 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.