“River Mile” plan eventually replaces Elitch Gardens with new urban center

If approved, their plan would bring the same scale of development to the Elitch Gardens area that we’ve already seen near Union Station and Brighton Boulevard.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
A rendering of potential development envisioned as part of "The River Mile" in the Elitch Gardens area. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

An early rendering of development for "The River Mile" around the Elitch Gardens site. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

The owners of Elitch Gardens just put their cards on the table. Their newly released development plan would put blocks of high-rise housing and parks along the South Platte River west of downtown Denver, creating a new “urban district” over a 25-year period.

If approved, their plan would bring the same scale of development to the Elitch Gardens area that we’ve already seen near Union Station and Brighton Boulevard.

And, eventually, it would require the demolition of Elitch Gardens itself, though the developers insist that won’t be in the near future.

“When the time comes to move, we’ll find an even better home,” said Sean Duffy, a spokesman for the developers.

They’re not naming a shutdown year yet, and they have already announced plans for programming at the amusement park through 2020.

But the site presents an enormous opportunity in the long run, according to Rhys Duggan, CEO and president of Revesco. His company is an owner of close to 60 acres, including the park and surrounding parking lots. The land, he said, is a “donut hole” within the dense center of the city.

“The fact that this piece of land is under one ownership is extraordinarily unique in an urban setting,” he said in a promotional video.

A map of the first planned section of development for "The River Mile" around the Elitch Gardens site. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

A map of the first planned section of development for "The River Mile" around the Elitch Gardens site. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

The development, called “The River Mile,” would happen in phases, potentially over decades.  First, the developers would build a parking deck for 1,400 cars. Later, new construction could replace the surface parking lots with high-rise buildings.

A sketch on the project website shows clusters of tall buildings where the parking lots are now, as well as on a lot near the Pepsi Center. The website also describes a bridge over the rail corridor at 7th Street and a pedestrian tunnel under Speer Boulevard.

A later phase of the development would replace Elitch’s itself. Renderings show glassy high-rise buildings alongside plazas and parks on the bank of the South Platte River.

“You’ve got a mile of the river that will now be public and an amenity,” said Duffy.

A conceptual rendering of River Mile. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

A rendering of potential development envisioned as part of "The River Mile" in the Elitch Gardens area. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

The plans call for:
  • A daycare, a recreation center and a school
  • Two bike/ped bridges over the South Platte River
  • Two pedestrian bridges over the rail corridor at rail stations
  • Three riverfront parks in the area
  • A mile of “South Platte River improvements”
  • A focus on affordable housing

The developers haven’t said how many people or buildings could fit in this new “urban district,” but the renderings show buildings that could easily top 20 floors.

“Let’s not grow out into the suburbs and into the farmland. Let’s grow up, and close-in,” Duggan says in the video.

” … As the city has grown around this site, we see an opportunity to fill in the last major piece of downtown Denver.”

A rendering of potential development envisioned as part of "The River Mile" in the Elitch Gardens area. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

An early rendering of development for "The River Mile" around the Elitch Gardens site. (Courtesy Revesco Properties)

What’s next:

A project of this size would need approval from the Denver City Council. The wheels for that are in motion already: Revesco is one of the players in a city process called the “Downtown Area Plan Amendment,” which appears to be laying the groundwork for major development.

A draft of the plan states: “The location next to the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek features the opportunity for open space, recreational opportunities, healthy living, and bicycle infrastructure as defining characteristics and attributes for the whole neighborhood.

The plan calls for creating zoning and regulations for the area that promote “an active, livable neighborhood.” The plan also recommends allowing taller building heights in areas that currently have height maximums and inviting pedestrian-friendly areas and apartments, offices and other buildings.

The developers hope that the area plan is finalized in April. They’ll then seek to rezone the entire site, including Elitch Gardens, which could happen this summer or fall, Duffy said.

Meanwhile, the developers certainly aren’t skimping on the marketing push for the project. Their promotional material includes some notable figures in Denver’s civic and development circles, such as Tami Door, the president of the Downtown Denver Partnership; developer and conservation legend Dana Crawford; and river conservationist Jeff Shoemaker.

Revesco bought Elitch Gardens in 2015, along with Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and Second City Real Estate. Duffy declined to say how much financial support the developers have secured for the potential project.

The developers will talk about their plan on Tuesday, March 13, at a meeting of Jefferson Park United Neighbors at Riverside Baptist Church at 6:30 p.m. They’ll also appear on March 28 at 6:30 p.m. at a meeting of La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association at Museo De Las Americas.

We’ve reached out to Revesco for comment and will update this post when we hear back.