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Apr 9, 2014

Spotlight on Denver’s South Platte River Corridor

Category: General
Posted by: rita

The South Platte River has been an important source of Denver’s prosperity ever since gold was discovered there in 1858. Soon after the gold rush, smelters located along the river refined the mineral wealth from the Rocky Mountains, and railways along the river delivered it to other regions. Over time, the mineral industry gave way to other industries that grew to serve the western US.  Since at least the 1970s, the City and County of Denver along with many partners have been undertaking a number of efforts to address the environmental legacy of this late 19th century and early 20th century industrialization. Recently, there have been big plans and investments in revitalizing the 11-mile section of river that bisects the city. 

In the 1990s through the 2000s, river revitalization efforts were focused on the 1.5-mile downtown area of the river valley – the Central Platte Valley. Following an agreement between Denver and railroad companies to consolidate expansive switch yard and maintenance operations within the area and a master plan to redevelop the resulting land area, public and private investment flowed into the area. Currently the Central Platte Valley boasts some of the highest land values in Colorado. Although this revitalized area has been exceptionally successful, the rest of the corridor has not seen similar success.

Confluence Park in Downtown Denver (before and after)


In 2010, an EPA Brownfields Area‐Wide Planning grant, which is a part of the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities, was awarded to Denver, in partnership with the Greenway Foundation and the Colorado Brownfields Foundation. As one of 23 grant recipients nationwide, Denver has used this funding to study the potential cleanup, river-oriented redevelopment, and neighborhood revitalization along the urbanized South Platte River corridor in Denver. The project study area is a 0.5‐mile wide corridor along an 11‐mile stretch of the river (corridor) from the southern to northern city boundaries (totaling 3,500 acres), with a specific focus on five catalytic areas along the river. This corridor study area includes about 7,500 residents ‐ just over 1% of Denver’s population of 620,000 ‐ and roughly 21,000 employees ‐ about 4% of Denver’s workforce of 560,000. With an extensive history of industrialization along the river corridor, there is great potential for environmental cleanup and subsequent reuse or redevelopment of property.

Typical example of industrial, rail, and highway land use domination within the corridor

Existing site conditions and conceptual site plan for one of the five catalytic sites


The area-wide plan draws from promising trends in investment in the corridor. By 2016, build out of the $7 billion dollar transit rail system within the corridor will be completed.  To build on that, the Mayor’s Smart Jobs: Development Plan designated the river corridor as one of three focus areas for future economic growth. Over the next two decades, the Platte River corridor is expected to generate 22,000 jobs (including 1,800 jobs during the construction period), $550 million in additional economic benefits to Denver residents and businesses, and up to $4.3 million annually in new revenue for the city as a return on the investments made in the area. Beyond the Mayor’s Smart Jobs plan, the city is developing a master plan for redevelopment of the 107-year-old National Western Stock Show Complex. This planning area encompasses 130 acres in North Denver along the river in the environmental justice communities of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, where three historical smelters sites are located.

The area-wide plan for brownfields plays an important role in all of these redevelopment efforts. By working collaboratively with property owners, neighborhood organizations, and the development community, area-wide planners are providing vital brownfields-related information for this process of transformation.  By tapping into existing environmental information and taking an area-wide view into account, planners inform the market about feasible, buildable brownfields redevelopment opportunities. Planners can also conduct conceptual site designs, informed by site pro forma and fiscal impact analysis. In the future, Denver hopes to receive a brownfields assessment grant to support environmental due diligence work for redevelopment projects. Denver will also seek funding to incorporate public health planning into brownfield redevelopment work in the corridor.

According to Zachery Clayton, NALGEP Board member and Denver’s Manager of Environmental Land Use and Planning, “The rejuvenated river corridor will transform diverse neighborhoods and create beauty and opportunity from a vastly under-utilized natural resource.”

For more information click here: South Platte Corridor Study