Groundbreaking Meow Wolf art group announces Denver expansion in form of 90,000-square-foot immersive art space

The artists behind New Mexico’s wildly popular Meow Wolf exhibit want to recreate the magic in Denver in an enormous way.

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The Elitch Gardens' human resources building near Mile High Stadium, Jan. 3, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty; auraria; commercial real estate; colfax viaduct; meow wolf;

The Elitch Gardens' human resources building near Mile High Stadium, Jan. 3, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The artists behind New Mexico’s wildly popular Meow Wolf exhibit want to recreate the magic in Denver with a space near Mile High Stadium.

Meow Wolf announced plans for its new 90,000-square-foot Denver attraction Thursday. The Santa Fe-based arts and entertainment group behind the interactive art installation featuring a concert venue, neon trees, interwoven puzzle and full-scale replica home anticipates breaking ground later this year and completing construction in 2020.

The Meow Wolf location in Denver will be three times the size of the Santa Fe exhibition and feature a new concept, said Vince Kadlubek, CEO and co-founder of Meow Wolf.

“If Santa Fe is bringing audiences into a house, Denver is going to be bringing audiences into an entire world,” Kadlubek told Denverite.

Meow Wolf plans to build on a 3.75-acre site owned by Revesco Properties, a co-owner of the nearby Elitch Gardens Theme Park. After the current Elitch Gardens Human Resources Office is demolished, a roughly 70-foot-tall building will rise in a triangular space created by the viaducts of West Colfax Avenue and Interstate 25.

Altogether, Meow Wolf’s investment in Denver is initially anticipated to be around $50 million, Kadlubek said.  Denver’s Office of Economic Development is “going through a due diligence review” to determine whether the city will provide financial assistance to the project.

About 400,000 people visited Meow Wolf in Santa Fe during its debut year in 2016. That number grew to half a million last year, the organization said. Those visitor numbers easily make Meow Wolf one of the top attractions in New Mexico, even ahead of well-established institutions like the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe.

The anticipated location of Meow Wolf in Denver at 1338 First Street. (Courtesy of Meow Wolf)

The anticipated location of Meow Wolf in Denver at 1338 First Street. (Courtesy of Meow Wolf)

There’s nothing like Meow Wolf in Denver.

Meow Wolf is an arcade, escape room, art gallery, playhouse and concert venue all mashed together. When explaining the attraction to uninitiated, Kadlubek sometime describes it as “like walking inside a science fiction novel” or “virtual reality in actual reality.”

Chris Englert runs the Denver-based adventure company EatWalkLearn. She visited Meow Wolf with family and friends after Christmas. There was a line just to get in, she said.

“Because it has kind of a nature theme and an adventure theme and arts theme — three things Denver folks love — I can’t imagine it won’t be packed for years,” Englert said. “They should probably sell timed entries when it comes to Denver, honestly, because it will be so popular.”

Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return" exhibit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Courtesy of Meow Wolf)

Meow Wolf's "House of Eternal Return" exhibit in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Courtesy of Meow Wolf)

Many attractions moving toward Meow Wolf’s model.

The Denver Art Museum, Colorado Symphony, Denver Musuem of Nature & Science and other top attractions in the city are coming up with new ways to attract younger audiences. Part of the push to remain relevant includes collaborating and drawing outside artists to revitalize or bring new energy to programming, said Jayne Buck, vice president of tourism for Visit Denver.

“Meow Wolf will fit into that fabric completely perfectly,” Buck said. “It’s unique. The whole arts and culture world is looking for this experiential component.”

Thad Mighell is the vice president of the art nonprofit Birdseed Collective and heads up adult programming at MCA Denver. For the last several months, Mighell has been one of the advocates for luring Meow Wolf along with Denver developer Dana Crawford and local artists.

“A lot of the creative individuals that I talked to that were on the verge of leaving have found ways to sort of stick it out to see if this will allow them to stay in Denver,” Mighell said.  “It’s a totally brand new model for the art world.”

“Right now there’s a big shift in how people take in the arts. This is more accessible,” he added, “It’s more inclusive not only for the art patrons and guests but also the people contributing to creative artwork.”

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Business & data reporter Adrian D. Garcia can be reached via email at agarcia@denverite.com or twitter.com/adriandgarcia.