While it may not receive the hype heaped on other American cities, Colorado’s mile-high capital is doing just fine these days, with a thriving economy and a steady influx of new arrivals. Approximately 1,000 people move to greater Denver every week, making it one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the nation; plus, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau statistics, Colorado is the fourth fastest-growing state.
As 2006 gets under way, all indications are that economic growth will continue, which should encourage future development downtown and throughout the metropolitan area. With the peaks of the Rocky Mountains soaring above the horizon — the Rockies are less than an hour’s drive from downtown — Denver is blessed with a magnificent natural setting that averages 300 days of sunshine a year.
The city was founded in 1858, at the height of the gold rush, when fortune seekers flocked here in search of instant riches. Unfortunately for these miners, only small amounts of gold were ever unearthed in Denver and its vicinity, and the frenzy fizzled within a few years. However, the city was again the focus of a mad rush of prospectors beginning around 1880, when silver was discovered in nearby hills. Unlike the gold rush, the silver boom continued for more than a decade, during which the city’s population more than tripled. By the 1890s, Denver was well on its way to financial prosperity.
More than a century later, Denver has evolved into a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city with a vibrant cultural scene. The Denver Performing Arts Complex is the second largest facility of its kind in the United States, with 10 theaters seating up to 10,000 people for symphony, theater, ballet and opera performances. The Denver Art Museum is in the process of doubling its capacity with the completion of a new wing designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, due to open this fall. Denver also has the largest public park system of any American city, with more than 450 acres of parklands and 650 miles of bike trails. Augmenting the delightful urban ambience is Denver’s well-deserved reputation as a safe, clean city where crime and pollution are kept to a minimum.
Both the city’s and state’s economy are driven by tourism, as visitors from across the United States and Europe travel here year-round to participate in outdoor recreational pursuits. Winter is the busiest and most lucrative season, and as the gateway to world-renowned ski resorts such as Aspen and Vail, Denver reaps a substantial share of the state’s tourism revenues. Altogether, tourism brings in about $2 billion in annual retail sales and maintains more than 50,000 jobs.
Winter lures the largest numbers, but summer is also popular with tourists seeking fun in the form of hiking, bicycling, golf and tennis. Like their guests, Denverites love the outdoors, and most are involved in one or more recreational activities. Due to its physically fit population and the fact that it has the smallest percentage of overweight adults, Denver has earned a reputation as the “thinnest city” in the United States.
While tourism is vital to its economic well-being, Denver is also a leading banking center. Dubbed the “Wall Street of the West,” it is the nation’s primary financial hub between New York and Los Angeles. As such, it is home to offices representing more than 85 Fortune 500 companies and is also a prime place for corporate relocation due to its well-educated employee pool and reasonable operations costs. The city greatly enhanced its status as a site for meetings and conventions with the December 2004 completion of a $300 million expansion and renovation of the Colorado Convention Center. The project increased the size of the facility from 1 million square feet to 2.2 million square feet (including almost 800,000 square feet of event space). The opening of the new 1,100-room Hyatt Regency hotel this past December also boosted Denver’s appeal as a meetings destination.
Other flourishing industries in the Denver metropolitan area include high-tech space and military contractors such as Lockheed Martin, as well as computer and communications companies. With homes being built to accommodate the new arrivals, the construction business is booming, and there is also strength in the health-services sector and a demand for sales and teaching positions.
HYATT REGENCY DENVER
Open just since December, this brand-new 37-story hotel with 1,100 guestrooms (including 72 suites) is adjacent to the Colorado Convention Center. Guests have spectacular unobstructed mountain views in rooms facing the south and west. There is a full complement of specialty suites, including hospitality suites with outdoor terraces. $$$
HYATT REGENCY DENVER
650 15th St.
tel 303 436 1234, fax 303 295 5834
BROWN PALACE HOTEL
A national landmark and a member of the prestigious Historic Hotels of America, this Italian Renaissance–style structure with 241 rooms and suites was completed in 1892. One of the first fireproof buildings in America, it took five years to build at a cost of $1.6 million. It’s especially popular with CEOs and business travelers, who book the deluxe executive rooms and presidential suites. The newest addition is the spa, which features massages and skin treatments. $$$
BROWN PALACE HOTEL
321 17th St.
tel 303 297 311, fax 303 312 5900
THE OXFORD HOTEL
This 80-room hotel, another member of Historic Hotels of America,was constructed in 1891 during the silver boom. The original building contained a library, pharmacy, telegraph office, saloon and stables. It has since undergone several renovations, including an art deco makeover in the 1930s and an extensive three-year refurbishment, from 1980 to 1983. Today all guestrooms feature the latest amenities, including wireless Internet access and DVD players. $$
THE OXFORD HOTEL
1600 17th St.
tel 303 628 5400, fax 303 628 5553
Among the newest of the new Denver eateries, Downtown Aquarium boasts a unique interior featuring a 150,000-gallon aquarium. The menu includes an array of imaginative fish dishes, such as hickory-smoked salmon, saki-marinated sea bass, Thai-spiced shrimp and trout encrusted with macadamia nuts. Besides fish, there are pasta dishes, steaks, sandwiches and homemade desserts. $$
700 Water St.
tel 303 561 4450
This is a great place for carnivores looking to sample some of the best meat dishes in the city, including buffalo, elk and quality steak. Besides good, plentiful food, this local landmark contains an incredible collection of Western memorabilia. (Animal lovers, take note: The collection includes a number of mounted trophies.) Reservations are strongly advised; no lunch on weekends. $$
1000 Osage St.
tel 303 534 9505
THE BROKER RESTAURANT
Many of Denver’s financial movers and shakers dine here, along with sports celebrities and public officials. The unusual location — inside a vault of the old Denver National Bank, built in 1903 — adds to the restaurant’s panache as diners eat in booths once used by bank customers to inspect their safety-deposit boxes. Another unique aspect of eating here is that everyone receives a complimentary bowl of steamed gulf shrimp. The gourmet menu features entrées ranging from Colorado lamb and pork tenderloin to Alaskan seafood. $$$
THE BROKER RESTAURANT
821 17th St.
tel 303 292 5065, fax 303 292 2652
Although Denver’s heyday as a mining mecca is long past, the city’s preservation-minded citizens have restored and maintained many 19th century buildings, and several city museums house impressive collections of historic artifacts and relics. A good place to begin a self-guided tour is the state Capitol, an imposing white granite building that took 17 years to build (1890-1907) at a cost of nearly $3 million. Modeled after the U.S. Capitol, its stunning dome covered in 24-karat gold is a tribute to the gold-rush era. Climbing to the 13th step on the Capitol entrance brings visitors to an altitude exactly one mile above sea level.
Adjacent to the Capitol, in Civic Center Park, are two of the city’s finest museums: the Denver Art Museum and the Colorado History Museum. Housed in a 10-story building with 28 sides, the art museum contains an incomparable collection of Native American arts and crafts; the history museum provides a detailed look at the life and times of the prospectors, pioneers and Native Americans who played pivotal roles in the city’s past.
It’s just a short walk from the museums to the Denver Mint, which churns out more than a billion coins every year. (Be sure to note the machine-gun turrets that were mounted on the mint’s exterior in the 1920s, during the height of the Depression.) The Denver of yesteryear also lives on in Larimer Square, the central business district during the 1800s, where William Larimer erected the city’s first log cabin (destroyed in a fire a few years later). Today many Victorian-style buildings have been restored to their vintage elegance in this popular shopping area, which encompasses a flea market, flower stalls, galleries, bars and restaurants.
The 16th Street Mall, near Larimer Square, is a mile-long pedestrian-only mall lined with restaurants, nightclubs and movie theaters. The area is especially popular in summer, when locals and tourists congregate in its outdoor cafes. At one end of the mall is LoDo (short for “lower downtown”), a trendy historic district consisting of century-old brick buildings that house music clubs, restaurants and more than 90 brewpubs. A favorite destination of shopaholics is the Cherry Creek Shopping District, just two miles from downtown. Among its 500 shops, galleries, boutiques and department stores are several upscale venues, including Tiffany & Co. and Neiman Marcus.
Professional sports are another big draw in Denver, which has a rabidly loyal fan base as well as scores of supporters from neighboring states. The city’s well-designed, fan-friendly stadiums — all within walking distance of downtown — include Mile High Stadium, home of the NFL’s Denver Broncos; the new Pepsi Center, where the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the NBA’s Denver Nuggets play; and Coors Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Colorado Rockies. Denver’s number-one entertainment venue is the spectacular Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Hollowed out of red sandstone, it is located on a site high above the city and hosts a series of concerts every summer.
INFO TO GO
Denver International Airport (DEN) is located 25 miles from downtown. Completed in 1996, it has an exceptionally fast and efficient baggage-handling system. The trip from airport to downtown takes about 50 minutes on the city’s SkyRide bus (tel 303 342 2000); single fare is $6 to $10 depending on the destination. Tickets can be purchased at the SkyRide sales counter in the airport’s west terminal or onboard the bus, where exact change is required. Taxis are considerably more expensive, at around $50.
Exclusive Sailing with Global Traveler
Without visiting, it’d be easy to throw Chicago into any number of categories. Everyone thinks they know Chicago; after all, it’s the third-largest city in America, the most prestigious foodie city in the country, the city of jazz, a comedian’s playground, an architect’s dream, a writer’s paradise. The list goes on. Only when walking the streets themselves do you realize there’s nothing categorical about the Windy City, especially as it continues to evolve.
PHOTO: © ADRIAN OLSTAD
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