Is the old Zuni Plant an Endangered Place? Sun Valley residents hope so

Residents, along with Historic Denver, submitted an application to the Colorado Preservation, Inc. nominating the plant for 2023’s Most Endangered Places list.
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Xcel Energy’s defunct Zuni generating station in La Alma/Lincoln Park. July 26, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Sun Valley residents are still working to preserve the Zuni Generating Station near the South Platte River, and they're hoping an Endangered Places nomination will help.

On Monday, residents, along with Historic Denver, submitted an application to nominate the site for the Most Endangered Places list that is published annually by Colorado Preservation, Inc., or CPI, a nonprofit that advocates for the preservation of historic places through out the state.

"We have been actively advocating for community engagement in these conversations about how this site would proceed with the owners and having the owners have those discussions with the community," said Shannon Stage, the manager of grants and preservation services at Historic Denver. "[The nomination] elevates the need for those conversations to be had."

The Zuni Generating Station in Sun Valley. Nov. 9, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Since the program's inception, CPI has highlighted 130 historic sites, several of which are in Denver or Denver County. Within those sites, 52 are considered "saved," including Cranmer Park's historic sundial and terrace. According to CPI's website, seven sites have been lost, including the Currigan Exhibition Hall that was demolished in 2002 to make way for the Convention Center.

While a place on the Most Endangered Places list is a tool for preservation, it's not the same thing as an historic landmark designation. It is possible for the community to apply for a landmark designation, but Stage said that currently isn't on the table.

The goal with the Most Endangered Places nomination is to shed light on a place that people feel may be in danger of being lost. The idea is that if leaders are aware of the site, they may focus on preserving it.

Which is what Sun Valley residents are looking for.

The 120-year-old Zuni site has sat idle since 2015. In the years since, residents have expressed interest in reusing the plant and turning it into a public market that would include a farmers' market-type space with access to fresh food and booths for local entrepreneurs.

However, Xcel Energy, which owns the site, planned to demolish the structure and possibly create a new substation.

Xcel Energy's defunct Zuni generating station in Sun Valley. July 26, 2022.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Once residents and community leaders became aware of Xcel's plans, Denver City Council and Historic Denver sent letters to the energy company last fall asking them to pause their demolition project and to work with residents on the future of the site.

Since then, Xcel and residents have met, and Xcel said they would halt all demolition for at least a year.

Stage said the letters brought attention to the situation and an Most Endangered Places nomination would bring even more awareness.

"It holds Xcel to same level," Stage said. "We need to have those conversations [...] So the nomination is really to create a mechanism for those conversations."

Even if CPI nominates the Zuni plant, Xcel can still do what they want with the site. But residents are hoping if the nomination pulls through, it would give Xcel more reason to consider their voices.

"It elevates the situation to a higher level of priority so we can bring the community, the owner and city officials together to have this conversation," Stage said.

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