If there’s one area synonymous with change in Denver right now — it’s the River North area. The development happened at such a breakneck pace that within the last five years the term for the new art district (RiNo) is now more commonly used than the historical neighborhood name (Five Points). That change doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. But this time RiNo has set its sights on a different part of Denver — downtown. From approving 16-story buildings to the arrival of major development projects, the arts district is attracting some serious commerce that’ll make it a contender as the new heart of the city.
RiNo Will Look and Feel More Like Downtown
RiNo’s rapid development first began (and continues) on North Larimer, but now the neighborhood will continue to grow up and out. Back in February, City council approved a new proposal that would allow developers to build up to 16 stories around 38th & Blake (by the light rail station). The deal only went through with a stipulation that these high rises must include affordable housing units or pay a fee to support affordable housing in Denver.
Andrew Feinstein, an area developer and chairman of the RiNo Arts District, had a hand in these new building rules. “I think it’s a win for both sides,” said Feinstein. “We want density, but we also want to retain the small businesses and the artists and the workforce that’s lived here for a long time and [this] way we can retain.”
However, opponents of the measure feel like this stipulation will be too little, too late and that most developers are likely to just pay the fine rather than include the affordable housing.
“I don’t think that it will actually address any of the issues because it’s an incentive instead of a mandate,” said Candi CdeBaca, an Elyria Swansea resident and candidate for Denver City Council District 9.
Of these developments, the largest and most anticipated is the World Trade Center Denver (WTC). The 16-story building is set to open in 2020 and will be a center of commerce. The campus will sit at 38th and Blake and will include 250,000 square feet of offices, a 40,o00-square-foot conference center, 30,000 square feet of retail and 15,000 square feet of rooftop restaurant/business club. There will also be a hotel and potentially a gallery and public outdoor space. Currently, Pura Vida — a fitness center — is one of the tenants that has signed on. According to FORMATIV, the real estate and development company behind the project, there is no decision yet on how the World Trade Center will address the new height rules in terms of affordable housing.
Alongside the WTC, several other developers have shown interest in the area including another 16-story mixed-use building and an eight-story hotel-apartment hybrid. There will also be a new “hub” near the station that will offer retail and office spaces right across the street from the station.
There are rumors of a new grocery store, as Feinstein confirmed that he is working on developing one for RiNo. Although he can’t disclose the location just yet, he said that it will be a part of a mixed-use building that will have affordable housing units. As earlier reported, another grocery store has struggled to connect with the surrounding lower income community due to higher prices and lack of diversity in selection. Feinstein said he hopes to combat similar pitfalls by creating a grocery store that aims to be accessible, mainstream and “affordable for the community.”
Brighton will look a lot more like Broadway… Someday
Although Brighton Boulevard has dodged the bullet on a name change to North Broadway, it doesn’t seem to have escaped its fate for becoming a major thoroughfare. The development here is not as hard to imagine since several massive apartment complexes, as well as the brand new Source Hotel, have already broken into the skyline. What seems much more like a distant dream is the end of the massive (and quite frankly ugly and disruptive) construction efforts to build Brighton into a bonafide boulevard. According to Nancy Kuhn, communications director for Denver Public Works, the project’s goal is to “reflect the changing character of the neighborhood and help establish Brighton as a safe and modern gateway to Denver. The work is constructing critical public infrastructure and adding much-needed improvements and amenities for people who travel and live, work, and play along the corridor.”
But even though Brighton celebrated a grand re-opening, a lot still needs to be done. Dubbed The Brighton Boulevard Redevelopment Project, the plan started in 2014 with goals to expand the road, add protected turn lanes, five-foot-wide continuous sidewalks, bike tracks, landscaping, benches, lighting and 80 on-street parking spaces. Construction is still very heavy in some areas and work between 40th and 44th is expected to continue through 2019. But once it’s done, the project hopes to rid Brighton of its former backdoor status and transform it into a new entrance to the Mile High City. This, in turn, will bolster the efforts to make the RiNo area much more accessible and possibly become a lot more like downtown.
It could have a lot more green space
RiNo may be known for many things but green space isn’t exactly one of them. The former industrial lots that litter the area, however, may soon become much greener thanks to the RiNo Promenade project. Although not fully funded, the park is expected to be up to a mile long and run along the South Platte from 29th and 38th streets. The linear park includes an extensive redevelopment of the area including adding space for “leisure, outdoor recreation, connection to the river, and flexible festival space,” according to the City website. Community involvement has called to keep the structures on site which could become artist/maker’s spaces, a library, food and beverage businesses or an events/office space. Also, a major hope for the project is to have more direct access to the water.
Because it is not fully funded and in part relies on the release of funds in a city bond, the whole project’s completion date is yet to be determined. However, one portion is underway as it has received full funding, according to Leesly Leon of the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative. RiNo Park, located at the 35th and Arkins intersection of the Promenade is set to start construction this year. The space will include trails, lawn and river access and will likely be the kickstart to the rest of the green space project in RiNo. According to Leon, the project is broken into three phases, starting at 30th to 35th then moving on to 35th and 38th street and ending on a southern portion at 29th and to 33rd. Keep your eye on this page to get updates on the construction timeline.
It could have a new sub-neighborhood
Although RiNo is also a product of another neighborhood (Five Points), it looks like RiNo has already grown up so quickly it may have a sub-neighborhood of its own. Dubbed Giambrocco, the eight-acre area is a direct product of developers attempting to create Denver’s newest trendy area. Located between 38th and 36th at Wynkoop and Wazee, Tributary Real Estate aims to build a “true 24-hour neighborhood” with office and retail space, 350 residential units, a hotel, art studios and public art installations. The developers for the project declined to comment but Greg Dorolek, the landscape architect for the project at Wenk, explained the area will be in “the spirit of RiNo with new next to old.”
Renderings of the space hint at a festival plaza for events and “The Wazee Woonerf,” which is said to be a European street design concept that makes pedestrians a priority while connecting them to the nearby transit stop. In addition, green space and landscaping will be a priority but in novel ways that aren’t similar to downtown (think more vertical landscaping).
The 178,000 square foot project doesn’t yet have a completion date and seems it like it hasn’t moved beyond conceptualization. But in the meantime, it is already home to bustling businesses separate from the project. Currently, it includes a gallery (Helikon), a forthcoming wine bar (Noble Riot, formerly Rebel ), an urban winery (Bigsby’s Folly) and a mixed-use office and food hall (Zeppelin Station). But in five years, don’t be surprised if the area has a new identity to boot.
North Wynkoop will be the new hotspot
This April, AEG announced that it will open a brand new music venue in North RiNo. Dubbed The Mission Ballroom, the state-of-the-art music venue is set to open next fall on 40th and 43rd Streets along Brighton Boulevard. With a flexible capacity of 2,200 to 3,950 people (similar to Live Nation’s Fillmore Auditorium), the Mission Ballroom will garner more big-name acts for the area.
However, this 60,000-square-foot venue is only a small portion of a much larger development called North Wynkoop. The ambitious project will consist of 90,000 square feet of retail at 4100 Wynkoop, artist-driven affordable housing via Artspace and shopping and dining inside the 80,000 square foot Market Halls. There’s also a phase two which will add on another 1,000,000 square feet of office space, 250 market-rate residential units and ground-floor retail — all located between 40th and 41st street. The area is also promising a boutique hotel and a total of 500 residential units and “ample parking.”
The 14-acre project is aiming to be the “new front door” to Denver and will likely come in hot and heavy — much like development on Larimer five years ago.
Change in RiNo isn’t fading any time soon — in fact it looks like it’s only speeding up. If you’re familiar with the old days of Larimer being an inconvenient one-way with few businesses, just look north of 38th street and you may feel like you’re watching history repeat itself. Soon enough people will lament the days when RiNo was once a colorful art-district and not the hub of industry it’s shaping up to be.