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Denver wants to infuse its downtown with dense housing and public spaces

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A new high-density neighborhood would remake the Mile High City

Denver skyline
This week, city leaders in Denver approved a decades-long plan to replace Denver’s Elitch’s Gardens amusement park, seen here, with new mixed-use development.

With an evolving urban core, plans for a proposed 90-story skyscraper, and speculations that the city could be an Amazon HQ2 frontrunner and a potential future Olympics host site, Denver, Colorado, is a mid-size U.S. city with New York-sized ambitions. But despite increasing density and rapid population growth, there are still sections of the Mile High City where 1980s-style surface parking lots—not trendy mixed-use developments—reign supreme.

A revamped downtown neighborhood plan aims to change that. City leaders this week supported a plan for a new Denver neighborhood—tentatively called the River Mile—that would drastically transform both the city’s urban center and its redeveloping riverfront. It’s a trend seen throughout the country as both large and mid-size cities aim to reclaim waterfronts from industrial use and increase density in an effort to combat rising housing costs.

In Denver, it would take about 20 years to redevelop an area on the west side of the city currently occupied by the 62-acre Elitch Gardens amusement park and event parking lots that serve the Pepsi Center, the Downtown Aquarium, and the Children‘s Museum. The owners of the amusement park, Revesco Properties, first announced their interest in redeveloping the sites last spring. This week’s approval from Denver city leaders paves the way for the proposed redevelopment to move forward.

Although still in draft form, the new plan includes skyscrapers as tall as 59 stories with housing for as many as 15,000 residents. A revitalized South Platte riverfront is a key part of the proposal, with a focus on new public spaces, parks, and a mix of building sizes and land uses. The River Mile neighborhood wants to maximize its connections to already existing light rail stations, and the plan proposes parking maximums rather than parking minimums to encourage residents to use public transportation, biking, and walking.

Other ideas include better connections to bordering neighborhoods, like new pedestrian and bike bridges over the busy Interstate-25. Eventually, the amusement park would be relocated and replaced with higher-density buildings, but that would happen in the plan‘s later stages.

During a city council meeting this week, Revesco developer Rhys Duggan remarked that he was dedicated to creating a “complete city,” with affordable housing, units geared towards families, and even daycares and schools. The development could also be a chance to make that section of the South Platte river more resilient against flooding.

After this week’s 11-0 vote in favor of the plan, the next step for the River Mile neighborhood is to get a rezoning approval which will take at least six months. The entire development will also be at the mercy of market forces over the coming two decades.

But for a city that‘s recorded both huge population gains and a booming real estate market, a dense, mixed-use neighborhood well-served by transit could alleviate some of the Mile High City‘s recent growing pains.