How Historic Preservation Turned Denver's Skid Row into a Success Story

Close to twenty five years after Denver debated the future of its historic, but blighted, Lower Downtown district, the city is reaping the benefits of its decision to preserve the “region’s largest collection of urban historic buildings.”
October 21, 2012, 5am PDT | Erica Gutiérrez
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The economic prowess of Denver's historic LoDo core proves the prescience of the visionaries who fought to preserve it from demolition in the 1980's. Edward T. McMahon asserts, "had Denver gone the other way and allowed Lower Downtown to disappear, it would be poorer both in dollars and in spirit."

In the 1980s, opponents to historic district designation feared property values would decrease in a then blighted and "already-depressed neighborhood", stifling future investment, while also limiting personal property rights. Yet in 1988, after months of intense debate, the city council passed the Lower Downtown Historic District ordinance, which established demolition controls and set up design standards for new construction and rehabilitation.

Today, Denver's LoDo district serves as a reminder of the city's early history, as well as an example of how political will and appropriate preservation can lead to increased investment and neighborhood revitalization. A 2011 report looking at preservation in Colorado, The Economic Power of Heritage and Place, found that spending on preservation creates jobs (to the tune of 32 new jobs for every $1 million spent) and that historic designation increased property values substantially.

For McMahon, "[t]he success of LoDo is a story of historic preservation's ability to generate real estate value and economic growth. Denver is a richer and more dynamic city because visionaries fought to preserve this iconic neighborhood."

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Published on Thursday, October 11, 2012 in Urban Land Magazine
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