Historic properties embrace modern amenities

The 300,000-square-foot Denver Club Building, constructed in 1954, underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation to provide modern amenities, including an industrial-chic bowling alley and social space, all without compromising the historic nature of the design. Courtesy Unico Properties

Austin Kane
Vice president and regional director, Unico Properties

As a burgeoning top-tier city, Denver boasts a rich history steeped in entrepreneurship, collaboration and commerce. These historical roots are evident in the numerous brick buildings throughout the downtown area that bear witness to Denver’s role as a key industrial and transportation hub more than a century ago.

Today, as Denver continues to attract trailblazing companies and individuals seeking the enviable Colorado lifestyle alongside opportunities for growth, the impulse to do away with the old and carve a new path is tempting. When not approached with care, that impulse can lead to the loss of the historical integrity of this city as well as a big part of its character.

In fact, owners in Denver spent the first half of the 1960s demolishing buildings all over town, many of which had rich historical significance. It wasn’t until 1967, with the passage of the Denver Landmark Preservation Ordinance, that the city embarked on an intentional urban renewal movement that redeveloped areas like Larimer Square, Lower Downtown and other adjacent neighborhoods. Today, the central business district is approaching the development, redevelopment and overall built environment with similar intentionality.

Commercial real estate firms are actively working on solutions that both preserve what makes Denver unique and support the next generation of residents and tenants. Preserving communities is at the core of our real estate philosophy, and one of the ways that happens is through the thoughtful renovation of older buildings – from historic 1880s warehouses to 1980s office buildings. By developing a vision for what these older spaces can be for future generations, many of these buildings are finding new life.

While older buildings can come with challenges that new construction might avoid, many now are being renovated to provide the perks of a modern office with unique historical charm. These stalwart structures offer owners a chance to differentiate their properties in Denver’s increasingly competitive office market and – when approached correctly – offer a unique opportunity to build on Denver’s legacy of thoughtful historic preservation.

Consider one of Denver’s first skyscrapers, the 300,000-square-foot Denver Club Building. Constructed in 1954, The DC Building remains an architectural landmark along 17th Street, one of only four examples of International Style architecture in the urban core.

While older buildings can come with challenges that new construction might avoid, many renovated properties can provide the perks of a modern office with unique historical charm.

Through a careful multimillion-dollar renovation, tenants now enjoy modern amenities such as state-of-the-art conference rooms, a fitness center with spa-like showers and lockers, a bike-sharing program, and even an industrial-chic bowling alley and social space for their exclusive use – all without compromising the historic nature of the design.

The result is an iconic, mid-century modern Class A office building that nods to Denver’s past while incorporating modern upgrades, restoring the building to a place of relevance within the greater office market. With the amenities’ arms race alive and well, meaningful renovations that incorporate in-demand amenities like these add to the ever-growing supply of forward-thinking office space that helps put Denver on the map for global businesses.

Companies flocking to the urban core today have a dynamic mix of newly built and adaptive reuse projects from which to choose. While new construction has a number of benefits, companies looking for office spaces reflective of their brand can find plenty of options within newly renovated properties throughout downtown Denver.

The historic Elephant Corral building, for instance, recently underwent a major renovation to appeal to modern tenants. This storied brick-and-timber 66,200-sf office building originally was constructed on Wazee Street in 1880 and renovated in 1983.

While the 1983 renovation provided much-needed upgrades, including the iconic steel and glass façade, more recent improvements include upgrading the building’s energy efficiency to align with Denver’s commitment to sustainability as well as creating a more inviting and functional gathering place in the building’s center courtyard. This meaningful approach to historic preservation helped attract growing companies looking to build-out spaces that capture the spirit and vibrancy of their brands.

Many tenants who seek historic properties are eager to help maintain the historical integrity of these buildings, while putting their own stamp on the structure. Since renovation is already necessary, it provides an opportunity for tenants to tailor their spaces to better align with their individual company culture, values and needs. For example, MeetMindful jumped at the opportunity to create a more flexible layout to accommodate a greater variety of working styles by knocking down the sea of private offices that existed in its 5,000-sf space in the Elephant Corral building. The company is now better positioned to recruit and attract the type of top talent needed to continue growing as a company.

Throughout Denver, there are countless examples of historic preservation and renovation done well. While it might not always be the easiest route, it often is the most rewarding; ensuring future generations retain ties to Denver’s rich past while building toward an even brighter future.

Featured in CREJ’s September 2018 Office Properties Quarterly

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.