The owners of Sakura Square are taking early steps toward redevelopment of the downtown Denver block, while cautioning it will be years before physical work begins.
The block bounded by Lawrence, Larimer, 19th and 20th streets is home to a Buddhist temple, a 20-story apartment building known as Tamai Tower and some retail and restaurant space, as well as a parking garage.
The church was completed in 1949, according to a recent report by Denver city staff. The remainder of the block’s buildings were completed in the 1970s.
The church building is owned by the Tri-State/Denver Buddhist Temple, and the remainder of the block by Sakura Square LLC. The latter entity is solely owned by Sakura Foundation, a nonprofit set up to support the temple and celebrate Japanese-American heritage, according to its website.
Late last year, both ownership entities requested certificates of demolition eligibility for the structures on the block. Those certificates essentially make it easy to demolish a structure for five years from the date they are issued.
A certificate was issued for the temple building at 1947 Lawrence St. earlier this month. Certificates for the apartment building and commercial space are poised to be issued later this month.
Sakura Square CEO Gary Yamashita said in a statement to BusinessDen that the block is “the only remnants of the once-thriving, multi-block Japanese and (Japanese-American) community that evolved after World War II” in Denver.
“As to be expected, the buildings are reaching the end of their useful life,” he said.
The ownership group hired Danish design firm Gehl in 2020 to help envision a new look for the block. That and community meetings resulted in a “guiding vision” for the redevelopment that includes building a new temple and community center that serves as the centerpiece of the block, according to Sakura Square’s website.
“The construction of the new joint temple and community center building will allow us to continue our religious services and beloved cultural events,” Yamashita said. “When the project is completed, an even richer backdrop will enable expanded community programming. New and improved retail and office space will allow community neighbors to thrive.”
A design team for the temple could be chosen early this year, according to the block’s website.
Yamashita said the owners have identified “development groups with a local track record” that could work on the project, but declined to identify them, saying agreements have not been signed.
“Please note that demolition and construction are still years away,” he said.
It could be three years before it’s fully completed once construction begins, according to the block’s website. The effort would be funded in part by a capital fundraising campaign, which has yet to launch.
One business anchor of the block is Pacific Mercantile Exchange, an Asian grocery store. The owners hope the business will become part of the redeveloped block, according to the block’s website.