Shhhh! It’s supposed to be a secret

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Well, not really a secret, but the Larimer Square Advisory Committee has been meeting. It met in October. It’s meeting today. But no one from the public can attend. I wanted to be a fly on the wall, but that is not possible.

As you might recall, this past February, Larimer Associates and Urban Villages, Inc., announced they wanted to “revitalize” the one-block-long historic stretch of Denver’s early commercial area from the 1860s. Larimer Square is the city’s first designated landmark district. It’s one of those places you hope remains of its period – not frozen in amber, but not dramatically changed.

The original story, which ran in The Denver Post, kicked off the proposed redevelopment:

“Specifically, (Jeff) Hermanson (the CEO of Larimer Associates) and his development partners at Denver’s Urban Villages, Inc., are proposing two new buildings along Larimer between 14th and 15th streets. As outlined this week, those structures would utilize space on the block’s existing alleyways, behind the many historic buildings lining Larimer, adding density and bringing new uses to the commercial district, which dates back to the 1860s, while respecting its historic character.”

One building would house a hotel, bar and restaurant space and several stories of condominiums. Across the street, another building would house apartments, including “as many as 90” for family workforce housing. Of course, there is more. The plans announced would blast through the height restrictions for Larimer Square, which could set a precedent for new rules for other historic districts.

There was an outcry from preservationists and others, who consider Larimer Square a survivor of the urban renewal tornado that bore through Denver more than 50 years ago. Very quickly, Larimer Square landed on the 11 Most Endangered List compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

In June, the plans for revitalization were put on a shelf, and the developers announced a mega-committee to advise the owners. That’s mega, because there are like more than 50 members: city officials, preservation group and landmark commission representatives, neighbors, probably some developers and architects or engineers.

When I learned that these meetings were closed to the public, I thought: The public seems to care about Larimer Square, and not just because it is home to some fine  restaurants. Also, it’s my understanding that the owners have used tax credits for work there. I know it’s a tourist magnet, but it’s also a reminder of what Denver was all about before commercial entities moved into downtown, abandoning Larimer into Skid Row stars.

I called Jon Buerge, Chief Development Officer of Urban Villages, and left a voicemail: When will there be public input? And why are these meetings closed?

Buerge called back, and left a voicemail in which he said the committee would wrap up its deliberations “early next year.” Then, “Absolutely, there is going to be a public process for a while. There will be various forms of public engagement.”

As for why the meetings are closed, that was not in the message he left, but I’m sure it has something to do with allowing people to deliberate in a cone of silence. I look forward to learning more. But it’s too bad these meetings are not on the record. These are private buildings, but it’s the public that makes Larimer Square come alive.

Below are links to Historic Denver’s archive of Larimer Square information, and stories in The Denver Post and Denverite.

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