Reimagining the Denver Performing Arts Complex

Reimagining the Denver Performing Arts Complex
Denver Performing Arts Complex
Photo Courtesy of Evan Gearing (Evan’s Expo) via Compfight cc

It’s no secret that the Denver Performing Arts Complex is a grand structure…it’s an institution in Denver that everyone knows.  Recently, Architect Magazine published an article that discusses the renovation of the DPAC, and it’s a great read.  The article mirrors much of my opinion of the Complex – it’s dated, beautiful, and empty.

Originally, the glass structure above the Complex connected the surrounding buildings, although I’ve appreciated it the most when the weather is bad because you don’t get rained or snowed on!  Hair is such a priority around here. ;) The glass structure is pretty from Speer, but the 14th St. side isn’t quite as visually beautiful.  I’ve always thought the entrance to it seems a bit unwelcoming and small.  You don’t feel the Complex until you’re about to go into the Buell, which is perhaps a block into the Complex.  which was originally the Beaux-Arts auditorium and the Auditorium Arena.  They held the 1908 Democratic National Convention here, there were Denver Rockets games, and the Denver Symphony Orchestra called it home.

In the early 1970’s, Denver officials such as Denver Post publisher Donald Seawall and Mayor William McNichols Jr thought to put in a concert hall, theater halls, a parking garage, and added the glass roof.  Before then, Denver was not a place you hung out in after work – it was very much a commuter city.  When the Complex opened in 1979, they hoped to bring nightlife back to the city.  However, bringing in suburbanites meant bringing in suburbanite cars, and suburbanites are always complaining about lack of parking.  If there’s no parking, they’re intimidated by downtown, and they’ll avoid it all together.  The solution here was to build a massive parking garage next to the Complex – which is great – but doesn’t it seem like the parking garage just towers over you?  It does to me, and apparently more people, because demolishing it is one of the main suggestions Denver officials are now looking into with the redevelopment of the Complex.

Denver has attempted to revitalize the Complex with the Ellie Caulkins Opera House.  Restaurants have come and go in this space, because they’re only busy on nights the Complex is holding shows.  There’s a retail shop called Dandoo’s Fine Imports, and there’s also the Limelight Supper Club and Lounge.  Unfortunately, however, Kevin Taylor at the Opera House is only open on Ellie, Buell, or Boettcher performance nights.  Backstage Coffee is the only retail that pulls people in from off the street because it’s actually on 14th street.

Jerome Kern, the Colorado Symphony CEO, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have been two spearheads to revitalizing this space.  They want problems fixed, and want people to think big.  Hancock has put together a group of 29 “arts leaders, planning experts, Denver residents”, as well as Jerome Kern to help fix this.  They gather once a month, and have hired H3 Hardy to give the committee suggestions.  The suggestions are pretty obvious – The Complex is closed, it’s cold, the garage is giant, needs more restaurants, needs a hotel, make it busier, etc.  The main goal is to get more traffic.  H3 Hardy helped transform New York City’s Bryant Park into what it is today, and they’re confident they can help our Performing Arts Complex.

Denver has seen such revitalizations lately – Union Station, RiNo, Jeff Park, Highlands – it makes sense that we need a strong arts complex that is not just a once-in-a-while destination.  My suggestion?  A hotel that replaces the parking complex.  A super cool boutique hotel – much like the Art Hotel – would be especially cool.  Name it the Symphony Hotel.  Or the Liz Richards Hotel because this was clearly my idea first.

It’s exciting to see how Denverites are constantly looking for ways to make our city better.  The growing population is demanding changes like this, and Denver is stepping up to the plate. Keep an eye out for what’s going to happen here – you can be sure we will, and let us know if you want any more information.  This will not be a fast process so stay tuned!

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