Denver: Conventional Wisdom

Apr 1, 2008
Destinations / North America

Like the “UNSINKABLE” molly Brown of Titanic fame, many who came to Colorado seeking their fortunes in the 19th and 20th centuries eventually settled in Denver. Wander the city today and you’ll quickly note architectural details that, like tree rings, reveal a timeline of historic up-ticks: the Victorian era when silver was discovered in Leadville, the turn-of-the-last century when gold was found in Cripple Creek, and contemporary marking the oil boom of the 1980s.

Gold or silver may no longer be the city’s primary draws, but riches abound. Even when the rest of the country suffers an economic pinch, Denver thrives thanks to a diversified economy. With an active and lively urban center, you can really get business done, say local pundits. Energy is a driving force, but it’s not just limited to gas and oil. Colorado is a leading producer of wind power, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in nearby Golden puts Denver on the cutting edge of research into solar and other alternative energy sources.

Colorado is second only to California as a home to aerospace industries, and Denver serves as an intermountain regional hub for financial giants such as Wells Fargo, Janus, and Berger Funds. While Denver may have been a poster child for the software dot bust, it has boomed back with a host of small- and medium-sized companies.

One key to this success is transportation. Pioneers came here in covered wagons. Today’s citizenry wants to move from place to place — fast. Denver International Airport plans a $1.9-billion expansion to double the size of its main terminal, increase parking, add a terminal hotel and make way for a direct rail link to downtown. The $4.2-billion facility covers 53 square miles (that’s twice the size of Manhattan), and the potential exists to increase its six runways to 12.

Downtown Denver’s historic Union Station is being transformed into a regional transit hub for Amtrak; light rail; commuter rail; bus, shuttle and taxi service. Miles of beltways, toll roads and tracks are being added across the metropolitan area. By 2017 FasTracks, a $4.7-billion plan to build 122 miles of light and commuter rail and add 18 miles of bus service and 57 new stations, will be completed.

Even beyond rapid transit, the city is on the move. Not only has the Colorado Convention Center expanded twice now to 1 million contiguous square feet, but it also boasts indescribable views and a rail stop. Accolades pour in for Denver’s urban infill and multi-purpose communities like Lowry (on a decommissioned Air Force base) and Stapleton (site of the city’s original airport).

New downtown condominiums and lofts have young singles and empty nesters salivating at the prospect of living within walking distance of the 16th Street Mall and Lower Downtown (“LoDo” to locals) with its art galleries, restaurants, coffee houses, brew pubs and nightspots.

Some $4.3 billion has transformed an army medical center into the onesquare- mile, bioscience-centric Fitzsimons Life Sciences District, including the Anschutz Medical Campus incorporating University of Colorado Hospital and Children’s Hospital. Commerce City, an old refinery town, is reinventing itself with major new residential projects and Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, home to the Colorado Rapids and the largest outdoor soccer complex in the United States. Oh, and did I mention Denver is the No. 1 producer of beer nationally?

Is it any wonder Democrats chose this vibrant, progressive, environmentally sensitive city for its 2008 convention? Or why 80 percent of the companies that move here say the “decision-maker” responsible for the move visited first as a tourist? This is Denver’s second gilded age.


LODGING

BROWN PALACE HOTEL

Denver’s iconic grande dame has hosted almost every U.S. president since 1905, not to mention music royalty — Springsteen, the Beatles and Rolling Stones. But the lady certainly doesn’t show her age. A recent facelift to all 241 guestrooms means Victorian and art deco stylings mingle quite graciously with high-tech amenities and upgraded bathrooms. The most recent additions are a new spa and Brown Palace Coffee & Tea Co., offering 100-percent organic Allegro coffee and tea as well as baked goods. One thing that hasn’t changed: the nine-story central atrium topped with a glorious stained-glass canopy. And yes, every January in honor of the National Western Stock Show, the hotel displays a grand champion steer in the lobby during afternoon tea.$$$$
BROWN PALACE HOTEL
321 17th St.
tel 800 321 2599
http://www.BrownPalace.com

RITZ-CARLTON DEVER

Though it just opened its doors in January, the Ritz-Carlton is already causing a buzz. Just steps away from LoDo, the 19-story complex includes 155 guestrooms and 47 suites, topped by another five stories of private residences. Clearly the Ritz has gone all out. Rooms measure more than 510 square feet each and feature Frette bedding and linens, steam-free shower mirrors, Bulgari toiletries, iPod alarm clock/radios and clever motionsensor lights that turn on when you enter your room. Crave some Colorado beef? Signature restaurant Elway’s — named for Bronco quarterback and local legend John Elway — can satisfy with its steakhousestyle menu.$$$$
RITZ-CARLTON DEVER
1881 Curtis St.
tel 303 312 3800
http://www.ritzcarlton.com

HOTEL TEATRO
Teatro means theater in Italian, and this luxury boutique property takes its cue from the neighboring Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Elaborate costumes, props, set pieces and playbills add a touch of greasepaint to every corner of the hotel. Guestrooms and suites are designed for the business traveler with high-speed Internet access and WiFi, two-line phones with conference and speaker capability, personalized voicemail and a laser fax/ scanner/copier/printer. On-site fitness center, custom-stocked private bar, choice of up to four free newspapers delivered daily and local courtesy car service are nice touches. Hotel Teatro also houses two restaurants: Restaurant Kevin Taylor and Taylor’s more contemporary Prima Ristorante. Those who like a morning run can take advantage of the 10 a.m. guided jog or run on their own with a complimentary two-way radio to keep in touch with the front desk.$$$-$$$$
HOTEL TEATRO
1100 14th St.
tel 888 727 1299
http://www.hotelteatro.com


DINING

LIMELIGHT SUPPER CLUB

Limelight is the latest in a string of successes for Denver’s favorite restaurateur and award-winning chef Kevin Taylor. The chic, modern venue sits smack in the midst of the Denver Performing Arts Complex, making it a favorite among the pre- and post-theater crowd. Though the menu is fairly straightforward, Taylor’s deft touch is apparent from the pan-seared scallops with caper raisin sauce and “kickass” mahi-mahi to bison sirloin and pork chops with chipotle mash. Order a beverage at Limelight’s Patio before a show or at intermission and sip as you walk to your performance.$$$
LIMELIGHT SUPPER CLUB
1355 Curtis St.
tel 720 227 9984
http://www.ktrg.net

McCORMICK’S FISH HOUSE

Denver’s best seafood restaurant is neatly tucked inside the century-old Oxford Hotel. The menu changes nightly based on what arrives fresh at the chef’s door. Diners always find about two dozen choices on the “fresh list” available grilled to order. Specialties include crab bisque with dry sherry, salmon roasted on a cedar plank, oysters on the half shell, and grilled rainbow trout. For the best martini in town check out the adjacent Cruise Room. This retro-cool joint fashioned after one of the lounges on the Queen Mary opened the day after Prohibition was repealed.$$$
McCORMICK’S FISH HOUSE
1659 Wazee
tel 303 825 1107
http://www.mccormicksfishhouse.com

LOCANDA DEL BORGO
Located in Denver’s Hilltop neighborhood, Locanda Del Borgo is worth the 20-minute drive from downtown. Owner Giancarlo Macchiarella previously operated Aspen favorite Farfalla and brings a similar down-to-earth, friendly feel to this glass-and-brick trattoria. An open kitchen with wood-burning oven emits a delicious aroma. The fare is decidedly Italian, so count on delicious pizzas, pastas, soups and featured veal scaloppini preparations. Regulars laud the extensive wine list and the small meatballs (listed on the ‘‘To Share … or not’’ portion of the menu) as the best in town.$$-$$$
LOCANDA DEL BORGO
5575 E. 3rd Ave.
tel 303 388 0282
http://www.locanda-del-borgo.com


INFO TO GO

Denver International Airport (DEN) is the fourth-busiest airport in the country and 10th-busiest in the world. The airport, located 23 miles northeast of downtown, is served by taxis, limos, airport shuttles and public bus. All car rental agencies are located at one off-site center a few miles from the terminal. All companies provide courtesy shuttle service to their facilities and have service counters in the main terminal on Level 5.


At Home with Joe Hodas
Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Frontier Airlines

Global Traveler: What makes Denver such an attractive home for Frontier Airlines?
Joe Hodas: It would be hard to narrow to just one answer, so I’ll give you four: 1) Denver has one of the most educated workforces in the country. 2) Quality of life. It’s an overused term, but it’s true. There are mountains, great weather, arts, culture, dining and a great vitality. We have more parks per square mile than any other major U.S. city. 3) It’s comfortable, but I mean in the sense that it’s a small big town. You get all the benefits of a big city but you feel it’s manageable. You can know people and have a community. I never have to drive too far to get anywhere. 4) It’s progressive: we have shed the “cow town” image and are doing the right things for smart growth such as FasTracks. When this new light rail expansion was first passed, I believe it was the largest (and might still be) public transportation build-out in the country. We built DIA , which is now one of the nation’s busiest airports.

GT: Why do so many people want to live here?
JH: I think it ties to the answer to the first question. It’s a great place to live for all those reasons — parks, culture, quality of life, and being progressive. In fact, I had a discussion with a buddy of mine the other day about what cities we would “maybe” consider moving to, if we had to, and we couldn’t really come up with any. For some of us, Denver is IT! And—contrary to popular perception— we have over 300 days of sunshine a year.

GT: How has the city changed since you first moved here in 1992?
JH: Tremendously. I mentioned the “cow town” image. It was certainly that when I first moved out here. It was smaller, granted, but people still had this sense (both people in Denver and those judging it externally) that we were a cow town. Well, the community really came together and said, “We aren’t a cow town. However, we can hold onto our roots and still create a cosmopolitan, diverse city.” And that is what has happened. Winfrastructure (to wit: the new Children’s Hoe have world-class theaters, dining and spital at Fitzsimons, which is the largest urban redevelopment in the country. I had to go there yesterday with my 3-year-old. It was amazing!

And the city embraces its heritage and has more self-confidence now. Sure it’s bigger, we have more traffic issues, but I can also get sushi from a dozen places near my house whereas before there was just one. And by the way, it’s good sushi. And I have had sushi on both coasts, so I know what I’m talking about.

Housing is much more expensive, but it is so in the rest of the country. And what I feared most about development, which is that we would lose some of the great parks and open space, hasn’t happened.

GT: Denver will host the 2008 Democratic convention. What sort of impression do you think the city will leave on delegates? On the rest of the country?
JH: I think people will see Denver and if they don’t know it already, they will think, “Wow, pretty cool city in the middle of the country.” And those who do know will be saying, “I’m so glad the convention is in a cool place like Denver. What a great time.” We are very focused on supporting this convention as a city, and I think that delegates, as well as those who are watching, will see a city that knows its strengths, how to mitigate any weaknesses, and we are going to come off as a community that is welcoming, strong and vibrant. We are ready!


DIVERSIONS

The Denver Center for the Performing Arts (tel 303 893 4100, http://www.denvercenter.org) covers four blocks and encompasses nine theaters, including the Boettcher Concert Hall, the Denver Center Theatre Company and the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The Denver Art Museum (tel 720 865 5000, http://www.denverartmuseum.org) has gained a spectacular addition under the eye of über-architect Daniel Libeskind. The Museum of Contemporary Arts (tel 303 298 7554, http://www.mcadenver.org) opened its doors in October 2007. The history of flight, including a B-52 bomber, is well preserved at Wings Over the Rockies Air & Space Museum on the former Lowry Air Force Base (tel 303 360 5360, http://www.wingsmuseum.org). And some believe you can’t even call Denver home unless you’re a card-carrying fan of one of its eight professional sports teams, including 2007 World Series contenders the Colorado Rockies. There are more than 850 miles of paved bike trails, 70-plus golf courses and miles and miles of walking paths. If your idea of a contact sport is a day at the mall, Cherry Creek Shopping Center (tel 303 388 3900, http://www.cherrycreekmall.com) houses 160 stores including Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Coach, Burberry and Tiffany & Co.

 

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