Commission backs landmark status for Denver7 building against station’s wishes

Denver7’s building at Speer Boulevard and Lincoln Street. (BusinessDen file photos)

The effort to designate the Denver7 building at Speer and Lincoln a city landmark, against the wishes of the television station, has cleared its first hurdle.

The city’s Landmark Preservation Commission voted 6-1 at a Tuesday afternoon meeting to forward the application submitted by three Denver residents to the City Council, and recommend that it be approved.

Landmark status would effectively prevent the structure, the most prominent part of which is a five-story octagonal office tower, from being demolished. And it would complicate the station’s efforts to sell its 2.3-acre lot to New York-based Property Markets Group, which wants to demolish the structures and build a residential project. The station itself plans to relocate.

This is the fourth high-profile, owner-opposed landmark application to be submitted since mid-2019. The others were for the Tom’s Diner building at 601 E. Colfax Ave., the Olinger Moore Howard Chapel at 4345 W. 46th Ave. and the Carmen Court condo complex at 900 E. 1st Ave.

In the previous three cases, the commission voted unanimously to recommend approval. On Tuesday, however, commissioner Brad Gassman was a “no” vote.

Structures must meet at least three criteria to be designated a city landmark, and the three applicants — Bradley Cameron, Michael Henry and David Lynn Wise — argue in their application for Denver7’s building that it meets six.

Gassman expressed concern that the commission was interpreting the criteria too broadly.

“For me, I’m looking at a lot of these categories and I want us to be critical about this and what it really means,” he said.

The building at 123 Speer Blvd. was built for what is now Denver7, an ABC affiliate also known as KMGH and The Denver Channel, in 1969. It consists of three parts: the five-story octagonal tower, a five-story stair/utility tower and a two-story boxy building that largely lacks windows and houses the station’s actual studios. The lot is zoned for up to 12 stories.

The applicants argue that the building exemplifies the Brutalist style, although Denver7 leadership and its representatives disputed that on Tuesday.

“They were trying to create a television studio, and borrowed a few tricks from a story that was hot at the time,” said Andy Rockmore, a principal at Shears Adkins Rockmore Architects who spoke on behalf of Denver7.

Cameron, one of the three applicants, praised the building’s “wonderful red color,” which comes from crushed red Colorado sandstone. But Brian Connolly, an Otten Johnson attorney representing Denver7, said the hue was never intended to be a statement.

“The red rock was a cost-saving measure, not a nod to the Front Range,” he said.

City staff reported they received 16 letters or emails regarding the application, 14 of which were in support. Three members of the public spoke at the Tuesday meeting, two of whom were in favor of the designation, including Historic Denver Executive Director Annie Levinsky.

Mirroring comments he previously made to BusinessDen, Denver7 General Manager Dean Littleton told the commission that what the station has that should be preserved is not its building but rather thousands of hours of archive footage, which he said is being digitized and shared with the Denver Public Library.

He said the station’s staff count has been increasing, and the layout of the structure no longer works well for the organization.

Dean Littleton is the general manager of Denver7.

“With this application, we feel trapped,” he said.

Denver7’s building is not the oldest one purpose-built for a television station in the city, Littleton noted. That title belongs to CBS Denver, or KCNC, which operates a few blocks north along Lincoln Street.

But Gary Petri, one of the commissioners, described CBS’ building as “relatively nondescript.” Whereas Denver7’s building was “clearly intended to make a statement about broadcast TV in its time,” he said.

Commissioner Anne Wattenberg said the tower’s “six-sided form really responds to the shift in the grid of the city.”

“I think there’s probably a really amazing adaptive reuse purpose for it,” she said.

The decision on whether to designate the building as a landmark is ultimately up to the City Council.

But none of the aforementioned previous three cases actually made it to that stage.

For Tom’s Diner and the Olinger Moore Howard Chapel, alternate buyers were found for the properties, ones committed to preserving the structures.

Those looking to preserve Carmen Court, meanwhile, opted to withdraw their application, saying they weren’t confident in their chances of council approval.

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