High-Rise Anxiety at the St. Anthony Redevelopment Site

Alan Prendergast with Westword writes:

On a frozen Wednesday evening last month, hundreds of residents of Denver’s west side squeezed their way into an open house held at a former yeshiva on Quitman Street, just a short walk from a new light-rail station. Cold cuts and cheese plates were available, but most of the visitors were there for something else entirely: a glimpse of the future.

Hosted by EnviroFinance Group, the company that acquired the shuttered St. Anthony Central hospital site early last year for $9.5 million, the event was EFG’s way of announcing the first wave of developers involved in reshaping the property into a mix of condos, apartments and retail.

Many of the design details of the first phase of development have yet to be worked out, but that didn’t deter the visitors from crowding around preliminary drawings and models and peppering company reps with questions. There was plenty to ask about; what EFG was showing off was not just a new building here and there, but the creation of a new neighborhood from the ground up.

The first phase, encompassing four blocks of the seven-block site, will be parceled out among three developers. One of those blocks, on the north side of West Colfax Avenue, is slated to be the future home of an eight-screen Alamo Drafthouse theater complex, as well as office space, restaurants and other retail. An existing parking garage to the north will remain, abutting a new 372-unit apartment complex stretching over two blocks, dominated by one-bedroom and studio units, with retail on the ground floor. And north of that, on the opposite corner of the site from the theater, an old dormitory for hospital nuns and nurses will be rehabbed into a boutique hotel, with some additional apartments, restaurants and retail.

The drawings, however conceptual at this stage, produced a steady stream of oohs and murmurs of approval. They suggested a bright and shiny Next Big Thing, a land of spotless streetscapes and gracious contemporary urban living, a time warp away from the grit of West Colfax, with its squalid legacy of cheap motels, used-car lots and porn arcades. But what many of the curious seemed to like most about the sketches was what wasn’t there.

“How tall is that?” asked one guest, white-bearded and bemused, pointing at the drawing of the apartment complex behind the theater.

“Four stories,” the rep from Trammell Crow replied. “Five for this section over here.”

The reps fielded lots of questions that night about height and density. The old St. Anthony was five stories at its highest point, and the site is currently zoned for a similar scale. Nothing the phase-one developers are proposing would break that barrier. But it’s the second phase of the project, involving parcels not yet sold, that has some neighborhood groups experiencing a touch of acrophobia — and outrage.

Continue reading here.

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