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Denver's Dana Crawford Gears Up For New Wave of Development

With a Portfolio Spanning Decades, Crawford Now Tackles Five New Projects in Colorado
August 1, 2018
Dana Crawford, founder of Urban Neighborhoods.

Dana Crawford’s name is synonymous with historic preservation and urban redevelopment in the Denver area. But the woman who helped create the city's first historic district in 1971 in downtown Larimer Square, and who has a hotel named after her in nearby Union Station, is still working on preservation and ground-up development.

From her office in the Flour Mill Lofts, an adaptive reuse project she championed nearly two decades ago, Crawford is lining up her next set of city-changing projects in Colorado, including a riverwalk development in Pueblo, a new downtown for Broomfield and mixed-use in Trinidad that capitalizes on the town’s plethora of historic buildings.

Crawford is best known in Denver for her work as a preservationist, an effort that began in 1965 as the city’s historic buildings were falling like dominoes. When the wrecking ball came for the 1400 block of Larimer Street, now called Larimer Square, Crawford got to work to save the block that was home to Denver's first city hall and other landmarks, succeeding 47 years ago in her push for municipal reform that would protect buildings deemed historically significant throughout Denver.

Crawford also gathered community support to finance the acquisition of the buildings, and ultimately Larimer Square was redeveloped. The historic buildings and facades were preserved, creating one of the most vibrant blocks in the city, attracting top restaurants and retailers.

In the intervening decades, Crawford and her company, Urban Neighborhoods, have led the rehabilitation and development of more than 1 million square feet of real estate in the Denver area, including several of the city’s most prominent landmarks, such as Union Station, the transit hub where a five-year, $500 million facelift was debuted in 2014 and that now houses the Crawford Hotel.

In addition to a host of new projects, Crawford is also involved with redevelopment efforts at her signature Larimer Square project, the owners of which are looking at new development opportunities on the block.

Larimer Associates Chief Executive Jeff Hermanson, who has owned Larimer Square since 1993, earlier this year proposed the construction of two towers, including one up to 400 feet tall, for housing and a hotel. The project would have required amendments to city ordinance, which currently caps building heights on the block at 64 feet.

The proposal has since been paused while a group of more than 50 city officials, architects and preservationists -- including Crawford -- meet to discuss the future of Larimer Square. The Larimer Square Advisory Committee first met in June and is expected work for several months.

But with five projects in the planning stages, Crawford is not content to let her existing work speak for itself. While enjoying afternoons in Union Station’s Great Hall, she watches America go by, though that is one way she spends her scant free time.

Urban Neighborhoods’ lineup of projects includes:

  • Argo Mill and Mine in Idaho Springs. The historic property is located on 27 acres along Clear Creek, and Crawford along with her partners plan to redevelop it into housing, with both an affordable component and market-rate units that are reminiscent of Italian hill towns, according to Crawford. The project will be developed over the course of five years and is expected to include a mix of commercial space as well, bringing retail and a hotel and conference center to the small mountain town, as well as a gondola that will transport riders to various recreational spots.

  • Downtown Broomfield. Economic development in Broomfield has benefitted in recent years from its proximity to Boulder without Boulder’s notoriously high prices, but the city lacks a defined downtown. In 2008, city officials approached Crawford about creating a civic center, and a decade later plans are taking shape for a mixed-use district totaling 178,000 square feet of development including retail and entertainment uses, a hotel, row homes and apartments, a grocery store and co-working space.

  • Pueblo Riverwalk. Crawford, along with the Riverwalk North Alliance in Pueblo and local company International Engineering, is working on the adaptive reuse of two historic Black Hills Power Plant buildings in the city. Plans include a railroad-themed hotel, loft-style housing, office and education uses and retail. The historic buildings along the Arkansas River date back to Pueblo’s roots as a railroad hub and steel production town in the 19th Century.

  • Trinidad Arts District. The small town in southern Colorado sits in stark contrast to the urban environments on which Crawford has focused in the past, but the historic buildings there are in line with her dedication to preservation. In Trinidad, Crawford is working with the local government to create a mixed-use district with space for the town’s growing population of artists.

  • Clear Creek Transit Village. On a site near the intersection of 60th Avenue and Federal Boulevard along the Regional Transportation District’s G line, plans are in place for a 21-acre transit-oriented development that is expected to include 1,125 residential units. Incorporating both for-rent and for-sale units in the development, plans call for what Crawford calls an "urban resort," that would include a variety of programming for residents.

    The new projects on Crawford’s docket may be a bit removed from her more urban work in the past, but they bear one critical similarity, she said: They all have character and capitalize on a built environment that tells a story. They aren’t cookie-cutter.

    The nature of preservation and adaptive reuse, and of public-private partnerships, means that the steps leading up to the physical construction on any one of the projects in Crawford’s next wave of development take more time than a basic ground-up development. That makes it hard to say which one will get started first.

    The projects are in the preliminary to advanced planning stages, and their respective timelines depend in large part on the actions of various city councils and planning departments, Crawford said in an interview.

    "Patience is key," she said.

    Born in Salina, KS, in 1930, Crawford moved to Denver in 1954 after living in Boston and earning a business administration degree from Radcliffe College, now a part of Harvard University. She was living in Denver with her late husband, John, and raising four sons when she discovered that many of Denver’s historic buildings reminded her of those she’d known in Boston and started working to find a way to save them from the redevelopment efforts that were sweeping the city.

    She founded Urban Neighborhoods to manage the development of the other projects she’s taken on since saving Larimer Square. In addition to the projects with which she’s been directly involved, Crawford is also often consulted by communities as they confront development and preservation challenges.

    But to Crawford, the extra time and effort involved in preservation, as well as the occasional heartbreak, is worth it to maintain Colorado’s oldest buildings while creating new environments for people to live and work.

    "Preservation is so challenging," she said. "But I don’t get the logic of tearing down a building that has stood the test of time for plywood."

    Molly Armbrister, Denver Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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