Council members look for compromise in Denver7 landmark fight

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

The fight over whether a television station building should be named a city landmark went before a Denver City Council committee on Tuesday, and members probed whether the two sides could meet in the middle.

“I hope that the two parties can come together and stop talking in absolutes … and start talking about maybe having a compromise,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said at the meeting. “Because it doesn’t work in our community having these absolutes, either demolition or 100 percent preservation.”

To recap: Denver7, the ABC affiliate also known as KMGH and The Denver Channel, wants to sell its building at 123 Speer Blvd., saying the structure custom-built for it in 1969 no longer fits its needs. The firm plans to relocate elsewhere near downtown.

New York-based apartment developer Property Markets Group is under contract to buy the station’s 2.3-acre block. The company wants to demolish the existing structure and build an apartment complex.

Three Denver residents, however, have asked the city to designate the building a landmark, which would effectively prevent demolition of the structure. Denver7 opposes the designation, saying it would make the property less valuable.

In recent years — as similar fights have erupted over Tom’s Diner, the Olinger Moore Howard Chapel and Carmen Court — the council has shown a strong reluctance to voting on owner-opposed landmark applications, hoping instead for the parties to hash out a compromise. That was the case again on Tuesday.

Bradley Cameron, Michael Henry and David Lynn Wise — the residents who applied for landmark status — have said from the start that their main goal is the preservation of one component of the building, the five-story octagonal office tower at the corner of Speer and Lincoln.

The block is currently zoned for up to 12 stories. But Andrew Webb, a Denver city planner, told the council’s Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Tuesday that Denver7 could have success if they requested rezoning that would allow Property Markets to build higher on the bulk of the site, in exchange for preserving the tower.

“If the owners were interested in applying, then it is possible that we could get support for additional height — potentially up to 16 stories, which is what is permitted in the Golden Triangle area, whose boundaries do technically include this site,” Webb said.

Cameron referred to the potential as a “win-win.”

But Brian Connolly, an Otten Johnson attorney representing Denver7, said a rezoning request potentially “trades one problem for another,” citing outreach to nearby registered neighborhood organizations.

“What we generally heard was that they would not be supportive of increased height on the site,” he said.

Connolly said that Denver7 and Property Markets did offer one alternative compromise of their own during a required mediation period — a “good neighbor agreement,” in which a developer agrees to build in accordance with some desires of nearby residents.

Cameron, however, said that offer wasn’t particularly relevant to the core issue.

“While the offer of a good neighbor agreement to talk about future designs was obviously good faith, that really is not the intent of our application,” he said. “We’re interested in preservation and reuse of the building.”

Sandoval said the building “does meet the criteria” necessary to be a landmark, and asked whether Denver7 had specifically sought developers with experience in repurposing buildings and using historic tax credits.

“I don’t think it has to be completely demoed to get the full use out of things,” she said. “I think a lot of places in the United States actually do repurpose better than Denver has, historically.”

Evan Schapiro, managing director of Property Markets, said at the meeting that the company has done some adaptive reuse in Manhattan, but “that is not our specialty.”

“We’ve done it before and we did look at it on this project,” Schapiro said. “For us, it wasn’t a feasible opportunity.”

This would be Property Markets’ first project in Denver, although the company was previously involved with X Denver, a massive apartment complex that was recently completed in Union Station North. That project’s developer, The X Company, was spun out of Property Markets as a separate company.

On Tuesday, the council committee ultimately voted to send the landmark application to be considered by the full council. A final vote is slated for May 10 if no compromise is reached beforehand.


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