Study of 70 downtown Denver office buildings shows possibilities

Denver hopes converting office buildings to apartments is the key to revitalizing downtown.

Although some employees have returned to the office since the pandemic spurred the switch to working from home, the Downtown Denver Partnership said employee counts downtown were only 60% of 2019.

Although fewer workers are commuting, vehicle traffic is 2% below 2019. But much of that happens on nights and weekends, the latest traffic analysis from INRIX shows.

If people are willing to come downtown to eat and play, providing more options for them to live there makes sense.

So, Denver spent $75,000 in federal money to hire Gensler to score 29 downtown office buildings on whether they’d be likely candidates to convert to apartments.

The Gensler study shows 16 buildings are prime conversion candidates while 13 have potential.

“Downtown towers are a different animal to demolish. It would be a shame to waste them,” Jennifer Ramsey, adaptive reuse administrator at Denver’s Department of Community Planning and Development, told The Denver Post.

With 40% vacancy rates in the Central Business District, converting the office towers could keep some of Denver’s signature buildings out of foreclosure.

The study examined about 70 buildings and calculated a conversion “compatibility” score for 29. The study classified 22 as “good candidates,” the top four — 910 16th St., 899 Logan St., 1875 Lawrence St., and 1775 Sherman St. — earned a 91% compatibility score.

A building’s owner may not want to convert it into residences because it is a “good candidate.” All buildings are privately owned except for the city-owned 303 W. Colfax Ave.

Ultimately, the building owners will decide whether to convert or hope office traffic resumes. Or they could sell the buildings to developers interested in converting to residential space.

The study didn’t include the Petroleum Building at 110 16th St. or The George at 820 16th St. because their owners already submitted plans to the city for possible conversion.

Denver also launched an “adaptive reuse pilot program” for Upper Downtown, a five-building pilot project to support apartment conversions.

Converting offices to residential space isn’t new. And Denver isn’t the only city considering this change.

In August, New York City unveiled a plan to spend $24 billion to convert empty office buildings into affordable housing units and create 20,000 homes.

The news and editorial staffs of The Denver Post had no role in this post’s preparation.

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