DENVER — On paper, the plans Jeff Hermanson and partners floated in February to redevelop a historic block of Denver’s Lower Downtown offered lots of upside for a maturing city. The longtime restaurateur and commercial real estate pro talked about adding affordable housing, something the city’s elected leaders have been pushing for downtown for years. Plans called for rooftop gardens likely to please the 54 percent of city voters who passed a green roof initiative last fall.
There was a catch. A big one. Hermanson, the CEO of Larimer Associates, was talking about redeveloping Larimer Square, a collection of buildings he owns in the 1400 block of Larimer Street in LoDo that also represent the city’s first and most storied historic district. Opposition from preservationists, city leaders and others catalyzed with speed.
A few months after unveiling them, Hermanson and his team have spiked — or at least paused — those plans, which called for two new buildings likely to dwarf their historic and legally protected 1800s predecessors. Instead of diving into the standard development process, the development team on June 18 will convene the first meeting of 50 to 60 area residents, civic leaders and experts — a group dubbed the “Larimer Square advisory committee.” The committee’s task sounds simple, even if it isn’t.
“Meeting over several months, the goal of the committee is to identify a workable plan that helps both preserve Larimer Square’s historic qualities while also evolving the Square for the next generation of Denver residents,” Hermanson and his partners with development firm Urban Villages Inc. wrote in an email to The Denver Post this week. “We are excited for this group to come together, and are committed to working with the community in an open and transparent fashion as we engage in this important discussion.”
Dana Crawford, the mother of local historic preservation, will have a seat at the table. It was Crawford who in 1965 brought together local investors to save the 19th century buildings in the 1400 block of Larimer amid a wave of downtown demolition in the name of urban renewal. Her efforts culminated in the creation of Larimer Square historic district in 1971 and the adoption of design standards for the block three years later. She sold Larimer Square to Hermanson in 1993.