WORDS: Kevin Criss
PHOTOS: Michelle Meunier Photography
Rising high at 2166 15th Street in Denver is The Confluence, an ultra-luxury, 34-story, 288-unit apartment community, aptly named because of its unique location at the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River.
“The Confluence is setting the bar for luxury renters,” says Bryant Nail, executive vice president of Houston-based PMRG. “There is nothing like it on the market.”
The three-building lineup of high-rise, low-rise and midrise is a dazzling mix of curves, glass, metal and masonry. And its location in the Central Platte Valley is as historic as it is ideal.
“Bryant has this amazing ability to, somehow, find the best sites in major cities around the country,” says Charles Gromatzky, Confluence’s lead architect, and founder and managing principle for GDA Architects in Dallas. “There’s no question that the site of The Confluence is the best one he’s found to date.”
The Confluence will offer studio, one-,
two- and three-bedroom apartments, along with two top-floor penthouses. Many apartments and the two penthouses will have direct elevator access and monthly rents will range from $1,500 to $12,500.
And it’s all quite a remarkable transformation for this legendary piece of land.
The historic significance of the land at 15th and Little Raven cannot be overstated and it’s rich with Native American and Denver history.
According to Tom Noel, history professor at the University of Colorado Denver, originally the land belonged to the Southern Arapaho under the terms of the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. For decades earlier it had been their winter home, but when gold was discovered in June 1858, Chief Little Raven and his tribe were pushed out as scores of prospectors and fortune seekers overwhelmed the area with tents, lean-tos and crudely constructed log cabins.
The first “store” in the camp opened there Oct. 29, 1858, and less than a month later Denver City was founded, named after Kansas Territorial Governor James W. Denver.
For the next 159 years, the location became an underutilized mess of rail yards, warehouses and strewn garbage. Now it’s a gleaming testament to Denver’s rise.
Design and a Blessing
From 2007 to 2009, developer Ray Suppa – of Palace Lofts and Waterside Lofts fame – worked with the city of Denver and the Urban Land Institute to change the zoning from R-MU-30, which required a boxy LoDo-style building envelope no higher than 90 feet tall to PUD (Planned Urban Development) zoning, which would push the density upward and allow for a high-rise up to 350 feet. Suppa sold the land to PMRG in 2013.
With zoning already handled by Suppa, PMRG moved fast on design.
“We quickly had to figure out how to design the building,” says Nail. “It’s a 52,000-square-foot site and the garage takes up a good chunk of that. We’re three and a half levels underground next to a river and a creek and that’s been a challenge all in itself. The zoning requirements were very tight, the floor plate of the tower is only 10,000 square feet, very inefficient size to build, it’s too small. There were a lot of challenges there.”
But that iconic location, while challenging, set the tone for the design.
According to Nail, they told Gromatzky, “Since we’re at the confluence, let’s look at water flowing, something like that. It’s got to have some curves to it, it can’t be square.”
“We knew that the building was going to stand out from the rest of the neighborhood by its sheer height,” says Gromatzky. “What we wanted to do was generate a shape to the building that began to move and have some motion as you went around it. It’s a really flowing shape. The building changes from every angle. It has a fluidity. It will never look the same from any area whatsoever.”
According to Gromatzky, some of the inspiration for the design also came from the zoning lines that were established years earlier.
“I think the actual lines of demarcation that cut across the site began to dictate the shape of the tower. And then when we saw the outboard diagrams we simply shaped some soft curves within those spaces to soften the tower shape and the tower itself began to resemble the beginning of a soft flower unfolding.”
Ground was broken in late November 2014 and Ray Suppa suggested PMRG host a Native American blessing, something he had done in the past. Given the site’s historic significance, Nail agreed and Benito Concha, a Taos Pueblo medicine man, performed a blessing ceremony at the ground breaking.
“This land has always been a crossroads for indigenous people,” says Concha. “Since our ancestors passed through this area and camped here, I thought it was important to perform this ceremony.”
At the ceremony, Concha presented Nail and his team with a cedar bough, a symbol for purity and cleansing to be kept until the building is finished. That cedar bough still sits in Nail’s office on-site.
Concha said that when the building is completed and people are moving in, Nail and his team are to “place the bough in the river to return it to nature.”
According to Nail, Concha was back at the topping out in December and will be in attendance for the grand opening later this year.
Construction Must Go With The Flow
With design nailed down and the project blessed, PMRG turned to longtime partner Clark Construction to tackle the many challenges and bring the vision to life. Some of the challenges were par for the urban infill course, like staging, phasing, keeping the neighbors happy and keeping the park open during construction. Some were more challenging.
“I think the interesting logistical challenge is that we’re sandwiched between the confluence of these two rivers,” says David Trolian, senior vice president for Clark. “We went down three to four levels below grade adjacent to the river with a secant pile foundation system. It was extremely challenging because there were enormous head pressures of ground water on the those walls.”
Another challenge Clark faced was the layout of a high-rise next to a low-rise. Due to forecasted differential settlement issues, they were forced to leave a pour strip around the high-rise and leave it separated from the low-rise until the tower reached 26 floors. And that called for a solution that Clark Construction, builders of Chicago’s Midway Airport, Washington, D.C.’s African American Museum, Nashville’s Music City Center, as well as the Denver Central Library, had never used before.
Trolian said that, with some trepidation, they utilized a European technology called a lockable dowel system. “This allowed us to go ahead and pour those strips monolithically, leave access for the dowel lock and once we reached the 26th floor, we came back and locked it in.”
“It’s a very ingenious and, frankly, helpful solution that mitigated some major logistical challenges.”
Beautiful Inside and Out
The tower is skinned in high-performance glass and random metal panels of blue and white, which gives the hint of falling water. Come nightfall, a series of white LED lights run down the side of the building to create the sense of water cascading downward. The lights will also be programmed to go solid blue and orange during Broncos games and other special events.
Inside, the high-rise is loaded with luxury features and amenities. But, no doubt the biggest draw is the breathtaking views of the Denver skyline and/or the mountains from almost every floor. And the views from the two penthouses are truly spectacular. When you’re looking down on Elitch’s Observation Tower, you know you’re pretty high up in the sky.
The low-rise spills out from the base of the tower and connects to a six-story midrise of more luxury apartments. The low-rise will feature four stories of apartments, along with common area amenities that include a large terrace with pool, cabanas for lounging, fire pits and heated spa. Inside amenities include a tenant lounge with professional-grade catering kitchen, fitness club with a large NanaWall that opens onto the park, dog-washing station and 24-hour concierge.
According to the Gromatzky, zoning rules helped create one of the more interesting architectural features of The Confluence. “We had to bridge over a cut through that was defined by the zoning diagram,” he says. “That cut through allows a view of the REI building and the park from the corner of 15th and Little Raven.
“Over the top of that cut, though, we have a gorgeous swimming pool cantilevered out toward the park with a glass wall,” said Gromatzky. “It’s really stunning.
“As much as I would like to take credit for (the cut through), I really have to give credit to the people, both with the neighborhood and the city of Denver for having the foresight to preserve that beautiful view down through the building out to the South Platte and the REI building. It’s going to create a gorgeous plaza space to draw people from the city to come through that space, to penetrate the building and then move on out to the park.”
Another public draw will be two restaurants, as yet unnamed, that will be on the ground level on opposite sides of the cut through will patios spilling out onto the park.
Brick and other masonry materials are used at the base of the midrise and low-rise, to create texture at the street level, but also to mimic the use of masonry elsewhere in the area.
According to Gromatzky, “We wanted something warm and textural for people to move against. The building itself, obviously, is a contemporary expression and we use high-performance glass and metal panels on most of the tower itself but the first four to five floors down below is a lot of masonry and, frankly, I think it’s going to marry perfectly with the neighborhood.”
Nail and Gromatzky both say the building was built with sustainability in mind and that it will achieve LEED Gold certification.
More Interest in Denver for PMRG, Clark & GDA
Nail is currently looking at sites in Denver for new projects to develop. And according to Gromatzky, “We see Denver really coming on now as a real estate power. The city has done a great job of continuing to foster beautiful neighborhoods, work with their parks department, pay attention to their open spaces and protect their historical venues that are treasures for Denver.
“I can’t say enough about the city of Denver and the building officials. They’ve been very, very accommodating and have worked well with us. I think both sides have really striven to deliver a high-quality project for the neighborhood. We’re really proud of this. We think this is going to be one of the nicest buildings we’ve ever done. I think The Confluence will set a new standard for Colorado multifamily.”
It will certainly set a record. As of press time, it will be the tallest for rent structure in the state of Colorado. \\