These office buildings in the heart of Denver may be converted into apartments

The process is neither easy nor cheap.
3 min. read
The Symes building at 820 16th Street downtown. June 30, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

With office buildings struggling to fill vacancies and Denverites facing a housing shortage, the idea of converting office space into residential units has become increasingly popular.

In and around downtown Denver, at least three office buildings are being eyed for such conversions. Just this week, plans for two of those were submitted by Sarah Linback, a rising architect with Johnson Nathan Strohe Architecture and Interior Design, the firm behind the City Park Golf Clubhouse, the Crawford at Union Station, the Ramble Hotel and the Maven Hotel at Dairy Block.

225 16th Avenue in North Capitol Hill. June 30, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

City officials are encouraging developers to look for creative ways to reinvent outdated office buildings as apartments. Currently, less than 10 percent of commercial buildings in Denver's central business district are residential. Denver city planners envision that figure growing to as much as 40 percent over the next decade.

The owners of the Petroleum Building, which briefly reigned as Denver's tallest, were the first to file concept plans with the city, late last year. Now, Linback has added two more to the pipeline. There's a plan for the George, also known as the Symes Building, at 820 16th St., which is owned by Massandra Harbor George Owner LLC. If the project is approved, the eight-story historic office building would be converted into 96 units of housing, while ground-floor retail would remain.

A vacant space in the Symes building at 820 16th Street downtown. June 30, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Linback has also submitted concept plans to convert an 11-story office tower at 225 16th Ave. into a multifamily residential apartment building with 111 units, including apartments and co-working spaces.

On that block, an adjacent garage would be demolished to make way for an 11-story apartment building with 243 units. A two-story building on the southwest corner would remain.

Converting office space to apartments and condos is a complicated and costly endeavor. While Denver officials would like landlords to take on the challenge, it's not yet clear what incentives the city is willing to provide.

John Borst, the owner of the Petroleum Building, said his group has hired a new architect since the original concept plan was submitted and is rejiggering the design, though the scale of the project remains largely the same.

"The decision has been made to move forward with the conversion ... We feel it's a viable project," he said.

The aim is to break ground on the project early in spring of 2023, according to Borst.

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