Larimer Square, founded in the 1860s, has the distinct designation of being our city’s first-ever main street. And as Denver’s most historic commercial block, it’s fiercely defended from change.
So when Larimer Associates CEO Jeff Hermanson released plans for big, modernizing changes that include two new towers in the historic area in early February, it raised some alarms.
To make those proposed changes, they’d need permission to surpass Larimer Square’s 64-foot height limit.
Historic Denver has taken issue with the proposition of raising that height limit, which they argue would change a Larimer Square feature that makes Denver, Denver. Describing the area, Historic Denver Executive Director Annie Levinsky said, “It’s nationally famous for being the first commercially successful area.”
“It’s a slippery slope,” she said of development plans. “It requires partial demolition of buildings over 100 years old, no one would experience Larimer Square the same.”
Jorge Gonzalez, treasurer for Larimer Place condos, expressed similar concerns about the effect raising the height limit would have on the Larimer Square experience, noting that residents in south-facing units from the fourth floor and up would suddenly have their view blocked by a tower.
He is not, however, very concerned that that would be allowed to happen. He anticipates insurmountable opposition against the notion of raising the height limit.
Development plans currently include green space for urban agriculture on rooftops and in alleyways, as well as activating alleyways to foster more usable retail space for small-scale entrepreneurs.
They also include expanded housing options — adding around 300 residential units, 90 of which will be set aside for affordable housing. With the increased densification of downtown Denver, Hermanson would like to provide housing options for those who would want to live and work in the area but can’t afford the steep rent prices.
“Larimer Square has been a constantly changing entity throughout its history and we are proposing continuing that legacy through this creative new vision, which also preserves its historic character” Hermanson said in a statement sent to Denverite.
For Gonzalez, the activation of alleyways is an excellent use of space and a way to improve commercial traction in his area, an improvement he believes his residents will fully support.
As for Historic Denver, they view the rest of the proposed changes as constructive. They would, however, emphatically oppose any construction that fundamentally changes Larimer Square’s aesthetic. As Levinsky noted, “It is really important there to be sunlight in the city and human scales in places in downtown.”