Practicing Planner — Fall 2003

Conference Goers Help Define Redevelopment Options for Denver Hospital

By Martin J. Landers, AICP

The main campus of Children's Hospital in Denver, Colorado, sits on about 20 acres of land. Yet its impact extends far beyond its reach of providing specialized pediatric care. Serving as a major employment center and a symbol for the community, the campus of Children's Hospital includes medical buildings, parking garages, and open space in central Denver's Uptown neighborhood. In addition, the site is adjacent to two other major health care facilities and surrounded by a dense residential neighborhood of mid-rise apartment buildings, small-scale retail businesses, extensive office space, and historic single-family homes.

In the last decade, the City of Denver also made a significant investment by rerouting Downing Street to accommodate the expansion of Children's Hospital. So, once the hospital decided to move its campus to the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center Fitzsimons Campus in Aurora, 10 miles directly east of its current location, the future redevelopment of the 20-acre site became a unique challenge for hospital administrators, area residents, and city planning staff.

Some of the challenges include reintegrating the blocks into the residential neighborhoods, determining appropriate future land uses, reusing historically significant Tammen Hall, and achieving desirable urban design. How should the site be reintegrated into the surrounding neighborhoods? Should the health care facility buildings be reused or demolished? Will a street-grid pattern improve connectivity and integrate with the site's redevelopment?

Fortunately, the neighborhood doesn't have to answer these questions. A coordinated effort among citizens, hospital administrators, and planners is under way to assess redevelopment options. The main objective is to bring together neighborhood and hospital interests, ensuring a thorough assessment of options with an end goal to effectively integrate people and place.

With this challenge at hand, the American Planning Association (APA) and the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) conducted a one-day charrette on March 29, 2003, for the administrators of Children's Hospital to explore various reuse scenarios.

Approximately thirty APA members from around the country joined representatives from eight area neighborhoods, staff of the City and County of Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, and students from the University of Colorado at Denver's School of Architecture and Planning to examine redevelopment possibilities and make recommendations for future planning decisions. The charrette was conducted to create a forum for planners attending the National APA Conference to contribute their time in assisting a host community, in furtherance of AICP's Community Planning Team concept.

Planners participating in the charrette started the day with a bus and walking tour of the neighborhood and campus. Along with the other medical facilities and neighboring housing, two elementary schools, two middle schools and a library also are in the area. The hospital campus includes Tammen Hall, a historic former nursing quarters that has been part of Denver's cultural history for more than 70 years, as well as an 184,000 square-foot health facility, two parking garages, Ronald McDonald House and a power plant.

Three Alternative Scenarios

Following the tours, the group began the charrette with a review of three alternatives prepared by Professor John Prosser's graduate students. The scenarios considered included demolishing the buildings and starting anew, preserving the historic buildings and restoring traffic patterns, and a combination of both approaches. The premise for each scenario is described below.

Scenario A: Conservation/Preservation

This scenario explored mandating that buildings in poor condition be demolished, leaving appropriate life-cycled facilities to be refurbished for adaptable reuse and incorporating additive mixed-use development. This concept plan proposed restoring all of the 1874 street grid and two-way traffic movements. A single large neighborhood park would fulfill the original nineteenth century concept. An overall density of 35 dwelling units per acre would be planned in structures ranging from three to ten stories, with emphasis on concentrating density and retail by the park. Parking facilities would be retained for adaptive reuse, and Tammen Hall would be renovated, potentially as a hotel.

Scenario B: Clean Slate

This scenario investigated planning for a phased demolition and complete new development of the site. In this scenario, only Tammen Hall, the east parking structure, and the Ronald McDonald House would remain. A parking structure along the edge of a new proposed one-block park square would be placed contiguous to the north neighbors. Special regard would be given to improvements along the greenways. A full roundabout was suggested for two interconnecting streets that converge. Commercial space, programmed at 45,000 square feet, would be concentrated along 19th Avenue nearest to the proposed park and would wrap around the corner at 18th Avenue and Ogden to Tammen Hall. The transitional parcels east of Marion Street would be slated for medical, parking, retail, and other commercial uses.

Scenario C: Hybrid

This scenario explored a mix of both scenarios A and B. The two parameters in this scenario included the retention of the existing Downing Street curvature layout and planning for an average residential density of 60 dwelling units per acre. Except for the partially modified short block of Marion Street, the remaining street network would be unchanged. This scenario would retain the power plant, Tammen Hall, the health center, the parking facilities, the Ronald McDonald House, and Kempe buildings.

Breakout Sessions

Following the overview of the three scenarios, four breakout discussion groups focused on each of the scenarios so that planners, hospital administrators, and community residents could examine more closely the pros and cons. Some of the issues explored included the potential loss of an employment base, the appearance of the parking structure, and the overall transition between the Children's Hospital site and the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Each group explored the alternatives and outlined their ideas for possible redevelopment of the site.

Group Report, Discussion, and Consensus

During the group report and "next steps" discussion that followed the individual breakout sessions, most of the participants concurred that fostering a mix of uses and enhancing the existing park space available should be part of the final development plan. The issues which proved most contentious were how to reach consensus on treating the street grid system around the hospital and how the buildings should be used after they were vacated. Some participants favored converting the site to affordable housing units, while others feared the loss of a large economic base in the neighborhood and wanted to fill this void by using the space to maintain economic stability and an employment base.

Nonetheless, some viable alternatives for the property were proposed. Options included high-rise luxury condominiums, medical offices, senior housing, and a health club and meeting space for non-profit organizations. The group gained consensus on the preservation of Tammen Hall and the construction of a significant number of residential units with an affordable housing component.

Outcomes

Officials of Children's Hospital hope to develop master plan alternatives by the end of this year, then solicit developers interested in working with the hospital, city planning officials, neighborhood leaders, and residents to further define options. The goal of maximizing use of the property for the community's benefit is apparent to all those involved. While the hospital will not finalize its development plans for the next couple of years, the charrette helped initiate an informed community dialogue. Providing a forum for neighborhood representatives and hospital administrators to voice their concerns and make suggestions was recognized as the first critical step to a successful planning and redevelopment process. Recommendations derived during the charrette are included as an appendix to a final report produced by the University of Colorado Denver urban design students.

The Children's Hospital project marks the third year AICP has sponsored a community charrette as part of APA's national conference.

Martin J. Landers, AICP served on the Local Host Committee for the 2003 APA National Conference in Denver, Colorado, where he is employed as Director of Community Planning for HNTB Architects Engineers Planners.