Denver taxpayers won’t hand over millions of dollars worth of Ballpark land for a hotel after all

The City Council denied a request to turn public right of way into a hotel, even with public space and other amenities for the neighborhood.

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)

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)

staff photos

Elected officials stamped out a developer’s hopes of erecting a 192-room hotel on a concrete island in Ballpark on Monday.

After a whirl of complex testimony from lawyers, Ballpark locals and the developer, the Denver City Council voted 11-2 to deny handing over the lot at the corner of 29th Avenue and Chestnut Place, a 5,000-square-foot slab of hardscape with a B-cycle station and a few trees on top, to developers.

Because of quirks in state law and city regulations, Minnesota-based Mortenson Development Inc. would have paid a one-time fee of just $1,600 for the land, which is worth more than $2 million according to real estate records. State law and city regulations prevent Denver from selling the land because it doesn’t exactly belong to taxpayers, which is a story in itself. The city controls the land at 2099 Chestnut Place, but does not exactly own it.

Basically, the council was legally bound to either leave it as a public right of way or hand it over to the developer, which can and might build on the adjacent property. Members chose the former.

“It is manipulative to suggest that this is for a common good when this is very clear that they are increasing buildable square footage … in one of the most expensive commercial and residential neighborhoods in our city,” said Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca.

Council members Chris Herndon and Kendra Black voted for the measure. Every other member voted no.

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

But board members from Union Station Neighborhood North supported the project, though not all of their members agreed. The group worked with Mortenson and its lawyers to become an official nonprofit entity just in the nick of time — they got their papers Thursday — and hashed out a development agreement that guaranteed public neighborhood space among other amenities.

The agreement was enough to sway Councilman Herndon. He said when developers and neighborhood groups come to an agreement, it should be honored.

“This could send the message to future (registered neighborhood organizations) that two parties can agree and the Council still says no,” he said.

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