DENVER — When a building is saved, it's not just saved once.
It's saved over, and over, and over again.
That's according to Barbara Pahl, senior vice president for field services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The organization works to protect significant places through direct action and inspiring public support.
The buildings in Larimer Square are no different, and a recent development plan calling to partially demolish some of the historic buildings that characterize the area led the National Trust for Historic Preservation to name it to its 2018 listing of "America's Most Endangered Places."
The development proposal in question is one proposed by Jeff Hermanson, president and CEO of Larimer Associates, and Denver real estate company Urban Villages, last year.
Under their plan, two new tall buildings were proposed, according to the Denver Business Journal. That proposal has since been withdrawn.
"We were concerned [it] would really destroy the historic character that has worked so well for Larimer Square since it was first protected by the city in the 1970s," Pahl said.
Larimer Square has a rich history. It was home to the Denver's first bookstore, post office and photo studio, but lost its magic in the late 19th century. Eventually, buildings fell into disarray and by the mid-1950s, it was commonly thought of as "skid row."
By the 1960s, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority had the area on its list to be demolished — and that would likely have been its fate, had it not been for local preservationist Dana Crawford.
Crawford worked with private investors and helped the block land on the National Register of Historic Places, protecting it from demolition. Crawford also worked closely on the area's redevelopment, ensuring the area retained the cozy charm it continues to have today.
"The problem is that saving a building isn’t something that you just do once. It’s a decision that has to be made generation by generation," Pahl said. "Every time a building needs some major investments, capital investments, you have to recommit again to another 30 or 60 years by reinvesting in those buildings — and that’s where I believe Larimer Square is today."
Pahl added that Larimer Square is a special place to Denver, and is also one of the earliest examples of historical preservation in the country.
Urban Villages has been meeting with city leaders, neighborhood associations and local businesses to discuss the area's future.
"For the last several months the [Urban Villages] team has been leading a wide public listening process that includes the opening of a community engagement center on Larimer Square, multiple neighborhood meetings, telephone town halls, social media engagement, and much more," said a spokesperson for the company in an email. "There have been hundreds and hundreds of pieces of input from the broader Denver community about the block."
"There’s a lot of talk about 'saving Larimer Square,' and I guess we have different points of view on what that should look like," Pahl said.
Pahl said the "preservation toolbox" is rich with incentives, tax credits that exist both in the federal level and on the state level that can be used to help subsidize the cost of restoration.
"I would just like to underscore the importance of protecting Larimer Square the way it is," Pahl said. "I think that is a treasured, beloved place. It is like the family jewel, if you will, and I think it’s important for anybody who wants to invest in Larimer Square to respect it the way the citizens of this city and this state have for the last 40 years and I think would like to for the next 40 to come."
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