Denver holds valuable land in Ballpark, a hotel developer wants it, taxpayers may be cornered into handing it over for peanuts

Ulysses Grant was president when this story began.
3 min. read
The corner of a lot at 29th Avenue and Chestnut Place that currently houses a B Cycle station. Five Points behind the ballpark. Aug. 13, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

UPDATE: On Sept. 30, the Denver City Council voted to give the developer, Mortenson, more time to reconcile differences with residents.

The Council will hear the issue again Oct. 28.

A private hotel developer might get a prized, 5,000-square-foot chunk of publicly owned land in Ballpark for a measly $1,600 because of quirks in state law and city regulations.

Here's how: Cities like Denver have this thing called vacation. It has nothing to do with beaches, but it does have something to do with relinquishing a public right of way when it's no longer necessary for transportation or utility lines.

One of these parcels, a concrete island with a couple of trees and a B-cycle station at 29th Avenue and Chestnut Place, is up for grabs. Chestnut Place LLC owns the land next door and wants to use the island for a 192-room Marriott hotel. It applied for the vacation, and Denver Public Works says the site is technically ready to be handed over. The B-cycle station would move around the corner.

State law prevents Denver from selling the right of way, which Denver acquired in the 1870s from block owners Hoyt and Robinson, according to real estate records.

Here's the other catch: Local regulations prevent the Denver City Council from turning the land into a park, for example, because it's technically meant for transportation and utilities. The only way to change that classification is to vacate the land, and the only way to vacate the land is to award it to the adjacent property owner -- Chestnut Place LLC.

The developer's lot, about twice the size as Denver's, is worth more than $2 million, according to real estate records. The land Chestnut wants would only cost the developer $1,600 in fees.

A rendering of the proposed hotel. (Denver City Council Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee)

"I'm not looking necessarily to interfere with development," City Councilman Paul Kashmann said during a Land Use Transportation and Infrastructure meeting Tuesday. "I'm just horrified by giving away 6,000 square feet of land."

City Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval was in the same uneasy boat. Public Works hasn't updated its vacation fees since 2003. In other words, the cost to vacate land is nowhere near what that land is worth.

"These vacations have come through several times throughout different council districts and we have been pushing Public Works to update these fees to reflect market value," Sandoval said.

Several nearby property owners object to the vacation, according to the Union Station North neighborhood organization that represents the area. Fifteen of 21 adjacent property owners oppose the move in a poll by Public Works. The streets department registered 42 objections in all.

Locals said the area was a valuable gathering space and acts as a respite from the dense neighborhood.

"This matter is not about 'building a new hotel,' it is not 'antidevelopment' ... it is about the city providing a private developer the land to build a hotel for free when the neighboring community values that property," a presentation from the Union Station North neighborhood group states.

The council committee unanimously sent the matter to the full city council floor for debate later this month.

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