Denver’s Federal Boulevard — ever the “next” hot locale — could be in for big changes with new projects

A wave of revitalization that includes hundreds of additional homes and a new multi-million-dollar state facility is about to hit Federal Boulevard.
7 min. read
Federal Boulevard at 23rd Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) federal boulevard; development; planning; bid; kevinjbeaty; denver; denverite; colorado;

A Federal Boulevard shop window. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A wave of revitalization that includes hundreds of additional homes and a new multi-million-dollar state facility is about to hit Federal Boulevard.

Several projects are planned on or near the boulevard including the redevelopment of the Sun Valley community, the Colorado Department of Transportation's new headquarters and traffic improvements along the corridor. The Federal Boulevard Partnership says the projects will pave the way for a promising future for one of Denver's most historic thoroughfares.

"We've been saying that for a while, to be honest with you," said Marshall Vanderburg, president of the Federal Boulevard Partnership.

New construction and an old neighborhood, seen from 26th Avenue near Federal Boulevard. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Federal Boulevard seems to eternally be Denver's next up-and-coming area.

The area is stereotypically known as industrial and flooded with traffic. Even the new Mile High Stadium did little to change the area's reputation when it opened in 2001, community members say.

Residents and businesses on and near Federal started the Federal Boulevard Partnership more than a decade ago to advocate for new development, transportation improvements and better aesthetics along Federal Boulevard between West 52nd and West Sixth avenues.

In 2010, the group successfully changed zoning rules in the area partly to attract new developments along the corridor. But few developers took the bait, Vanderburg said.

"If you look up and down Federal, you see what you did back in the early '80s," Vanderburg said. "It looks and feels exactly the same. It's like we haven't moved one inch."

In 2012, property owners on Federal between West 22nd and 27th avenues agreed to tax themselves as part of the Federal Boulevard Improvement District. The district expects to collect $52,737 in 2017 — in line with the approximately $50,000 annually so far — to attract new businesses to the area, install banners, public art or other visual enhancements and advocate on behalf of the corridor.

"Our vision and mission have always been to make Federal a more livable place where you can live, shop and have everything close to home," Vanderburg said.

Projects on the way

Several big projects might help make that vision a reality.

The city of Denver is expected to start traffic improvements on the boulevard in the fall. The goal is to make the stretch from West Seventh Avenue to Holden Place safer and more accessible for drivers and pedestrians who live in the nearby communities, said Heather Burke, city spokeswoman.

Planned improvements include adding a third northbound lane between West Seventh Avenue and Holden Place, a raised median along the corridor to improve mobility and safety, and sidewalks improvements for better access to public transit options.

"Adding a third northbound lane, as well as making other multimodal improvements, will keep commuters moving along the corridor safely as Denver’s population continues to grow," Burke said in an email.

Federal Boulevard sees about 41,300 vehicles on the average day making it one of the most traveled arterials in the city. By the year 2035, traffic models predict an average of 13,700 more vehicles will be added to the corridor.

Some of the new commuters in the area will include the more than 600 employees expected to work at CDOT's planned headquarters at the northeast corner of Howard Place and Federal Boulevard.

The new facility could cost up to $48 million to develop and is expected to include a 175,000-square-foot office and four-story parking garage that will be shared with the nearby Mile High Stadium on game days, said Stacia Sellers, CDOT spokeswoman.

The move is expected to take place in early 2018 and will allow CDOT to sell five existing building structures and pieces of land, according to a state memo.

The project is "a catalytic centerpiece of Denver’s Sun Valley and will help develop this community," Sellers said in an email.

Federal Boulevard at 23rd Avenue. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Sun Valley community — one of the poorest in Denver — sits just east of Federal between West 20th and West Sixth avenues. In December, the Denver Housing Authority announced plans for $240 million in investments in the community.

"What the real driver behind the project is, is removing the years of isolation that surrounds Sun Valley and unlocking the South Platte River as an asset for the community," said Chris Parr, director of the Sun Valley EcoDistrict.

Just under 1,500 people live in the community now. That population is expected to double or even triple as redevelopment takes place over the next seven or so years.

Sun Valley could see investment from multiple development partners delivering over 2,000 new housing units. That number includes approximately 750 units of mixed-income housing which will replace the 333-unit Sun Valley Homes public housing development, Parr said.

Two-hundred-seventeen units of affordable workforce housing and approximately 200 units of market rate housing are also planned.

"Key infrastructure improvements, particularly street realignments, will open up the Sun Valley neighborhood to Federal Boulevard to the west and the river to the east," he said.

Construction on Eliot Street in Jefferson Park. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
All those new people will force Federal Boulevard to change.

At least that's what Nikki Mohaupt thinks. Mohaupt is on the board of the Federal Boulevard Business Improvement District. She and her husband opened Federal Bar and Grill in 2013 in the empty building that once held the Denver staple Micky Manor.

"I just don’t know if there’s any way to describe how quickly things are being torn down and rebuilt in the (Sun Valley) neighborhood," Mohaupt said. "Federal Boulevard is sort of forgotten because it’s busy. It’s not walkable and there’s nothing appealing to come down for."

New residents will want nearby coffee shops, cleaners and other amenities, she said.

Federal Boulevard has a higher concentration of Hispanic-owned or oriented businesses than other areas of the city. Plus nearby Sun Valley is currently one of the more diverse, and poorer, areas in the city.

It's unclear how those demographics would change if the wave of redevelopment actually does land. Generally, up-and-coming areas, like the Welton Street corridor, see property values rise which is good for those who own because it boosts their overall wealth. Those higher property values mean more taxes to pay and sometimes more rent to collect from residents and businesses owners. That can force longtime businesses and some family shops to look elsewhere.

"I wouldn’t want to see everything torn down for something like a shopping center, but maybe some of these older building could use new paint," Mohaupt said. "Even our building on the outside has a certain look that’s dated."

"The growth of the neighborhood is going to force Federal Boulevard to change itself."

Due to a source error, a previous version of this article gave the wrong location of the third lane being added to Federal Boulevard. The lane is going in between Seventh Avenue and Holden Place.

Subscribe to Denverite’s newsletter here. Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at [email protected]

Recent Stories