Denver's multifamily housing market missed out on the boom times seen recently in much of the West. But no other city seems to reinvent itself every few years quite the way that Denver does, and big municipal investments focusing on infrastructure and economic development groundwork appear to have the area poised for another period of sustained expansion. Multifamily housing is positioned to play a big role in that future, reflecting revitalization of the city's urban core and emerging opportunities in transit-oriented development.
Many economists were ready to write off Denver during the past few decades, first when the oil bust of the 1980s pushed the local economy into recession and then again more recently when tech turmoil led to retrenching in the telecommunications sector since 2001. However, job growth now has been simmering at a moderate pace since early 2004, and the metro's total employment count has returned to its previous peak of 1.4 million jobs.
As Denver regains its economic footing, downtown is taking center stage in the recovery process, helped by more than $2 billion invested in the central business district's entertainment, cultural, and transportation facilities during the past 15 years. Downtown is home to all three of the metro's major sports facilities—the Pepsi Center for the city's professional basketball and hockey teams, Invesco Field at Mile High for the football team, and Coors Field for the baseball team. Also, a major expansion of the Denver Art Museum was completed in late 2006, and recent upgrades to the Colorado Convention Center substantially expanded meeting space capacity and also added the 1,100-room Hyatt Hotel.
MILE-HIGH MOMENTUM: Denver's multifamily market is improving in tandem with its economic and cultural growth.
Denver's urban core features about 7,000 housing units, according to the Downtown Denver Partnership. And it was the neighborhoods in and immediately adjacent to the central business district that added much of the metro's new multifamily housing during the past several years. The biggest urban completion during 2006 was the 333-unit 1600 Glenarm Place, found along the 16th Street Mall shopping district in the heart of the urban core. Local developer Red Peak Properties transformed a 40-year-old, 31-story office tower into one of the area's most upscale residential rental options. The project also incorporates ground floor retail space occupied by a specialty grocery store, a coffee house and a high-end restaurant.
Notable among the apartment properties now under constr uction in Denver's urban core, 816 Acoma Street is a 16-story tower in the Golden Triangle area that includes Civic Center Park and the Denver Art Museum. The 224-unit development by Houston's Hanover Co. should be completed in early 2008. This is Hanover's second community in the neighborhood: The firm finished The Boulevard, totaling 290 units, in mid-2006.
Other residential hot spots in the urban core are the LoDo (Lower Downtown) historic district and the adjacent Ballpark area around Coors Field. Most of the projects coming online in these neighborhoods are smaller developments, and the stock includes a mix of renovated warehouse buildings and new construction.
Student housing is a product niche beginning to be explored in Denver's urban core. Only a couple of student-oriented properties have been introduced to date, but there's a large potential audience. About 35,000 students attend classes at the Auraria Higher Education Center campus, which houses three separate institutions—the Community College of Denver, the University of Colorado at Denver, and the Metropolitan State College of Denver.
While urban core communities grabbed many of the headlines in Denver recently, transportation-oriented development has the potential to emerge as the next big thing. After Denver got its first taste of light rail service in 1994, the 19-mile line connecting downtown and the Tech Center area's huge cluster of suburban office space went into operation in 2006. Voters now have approved FasTracks, a $4.7 billion project that will add 119 miles of track and move Denver to a top five position nationally for light rail service. As the name FasTracks implies, build-out will occur quickly, with the project targeted to complete in 2016. Plans call for more than 50 transit stations, with all but a handful offering transit-oriented development opportunity.