The Urban Land Institute’s fall conference underway in downtown Denver, is expected to pump $10 million to $12 million into local coffers by the time it ends on Friday.
But the ULI conference at the Colorado Convention Center, brings developers, designers, planners, financiers, investors, and others from the metro area, the entire U.S., as well as Asia, Europe, South America and elsewhere around the globe.
ULI, however, has a claim to the convention center that no another group holds. It played the critical role in its birth.
“This one, ironically, is why the convention center is where it is,” noted Rich Grant, spokesman for Visit Denver, the city’s convention and visitors bureau.
Twenty five years ago, Denver was looking to replace the way-too -small Currigan Hall along 14th Street into a convention center that could draw more and bigger conferences, conventions and meetings.
It looked like the new convention center would be built in the Golden Triangle.
At the 11th hour, Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz presented another option for the site of the new convention center – rail yards in a flood plain bordered by railroad tracks and the South Platte River, property that had been largely forsaken and underutilized.
After much discussion, Mayor Federico Peña’s administration called in a panel of experts from the ULI to determine the best place to build the convention center.
The smart money was betting on Anschutz, with others thinking the Golden Triangle had the edge, because so much due diligence had been done to champion that site, which had not yet undergone its Renaissance and was filled with empty warehouses and surface parking lots.
But a dark horse proposal along 14th Street and Speer Boulevard by developer David French was chosen by ULI as hands down the best site., given the ease of reaching all of the attractions to downtown and the 16th Street Mall. The idea also was that it could pump life into 14th and 15th streets, which had neither the cachet nor the activity found along the mall and the financial district along 17th Street.
“I remember that room was packed and everyone was flabbergasted by the decision,” Grant recalled. “I just happened to be standing next to David (French.) I didn’t know him then, but I know him very well now, of course. All of the TV cameras pointed to David. No one saw it coming.”
Without a doubt, ULI made the right choice, he said.
“Oh, God yes,” Grant said. “We really look at the Colorado Convention Center as one of the key catalysts that turned downtown around.”
Indeed, there has been more than $1 billion in public and private investment along 14th Street, since the convention center opened in 1990.
“We have a Four Seasons, we have the Hyatt Regency, the Embassy Suites,” Grant said. “Before the convention center was built, we had 4,000 hotel rooms downtown and now we have 8,400. You look at what we have achieved in private investments in downtown thanks to the Colorado Convention Center and compare that to the heavily subsidized proposal for Gaylord’s convention center in Aurora, and it is simply amazing.”
The Colorado Convention Center was designed by Denver architect Curt Fentress, who also designed Denver International Airport, coming up with the distinctive Teflon-coated tensile fabric roof at DIA. The convention center is no aesthetic-slouch either, having won at least 18 design awards. Fentress once compared it to a gateway structure for Denver, the way the Sydney Opera House identifies that Australian city.
But don’t feel sorry for Anschutz – or Denver, for that matter.
He later sold the land where he wanted to put the convention site for what is the Pepsi Center. Today, most people with institutional memories of Denver’s growth during the past quarter of a century, believe that everything worked out in the best possible way, with the Colorado Convention Center anchoring downtown on one side and with the Pepsi Center being built in the former rail yards in the Central Platte Valley.
Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com. InsideRealEstateNews.com is sponsored by Universal Lending, Land Title Guarantee and 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.
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