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Larimer Square owner vows not to demolish historic buildings on storied Denver block

Larimer Square property owners and development partners are moving to ask for public input on their plans to build tall buildings on the historic block, seen Feb. 6, 2019, in Denver.

Less than a month after opening a “community center” on the block to hear people’s hopes and concerns for the future of Larimer Square, the property’s owner has announced none of the historic buildings there will be demolished.

Jeff Hermanson, Larimer Square’s owner for the past 26 years, and his development partners with Denver firm Urban Villages have held fast to the position that new development along the historically protected 1400 block of Larimer Street is essential to keeping the aging buildings there functional and accessible into the future. The birthplace of Denver in the 1850s, the block today is home to posh shops, restaurants and offices.

Though redevelopment plans released by Hermanson’s group last winter called for alterations to some of the 19th-century buildings, on Tuesday the team declared they will not be knocking down anything historic as part of an effort to design and build new structures on the square.

“We’ve always been focused on retaining the block’s historic integrity,” Hermanson said in an emailed statement. “The best avenue forward is to avoid demolition of historic buildings.”

The announcement comes amid an ongoing public outreach effort on the square. After running into vocal opposition to their initial proposal to build two tall buildings in the opposing alleys on the block, Hermanson and Urban Villages last year convened an advisory group of historic preservation advocates, community leaders and neighborhood residents to talk over the block’s condition, maintenance needs and potential plans for the future.

Some of the participants in that group expressed frustration about how the meetings were conducted, but Hermanson and Urban Villages last month opened a new front in their effort to gather input on their ideas: A drop-in community center at 1411 Larimer St. An online forum has also been launched at ProtectLarimerSquare.com and a series of telephone “town hall” sessions allowing people to weigh in is being planned as well.

“From affordable housing, to converting the street to a public park, to school-based education programs, there is no shortage of ideas,” Jon Beurge, chief development officer for Urban Villages, said in a statement. “Our job now is to continue listening to what Denver wants and needs, and ultimately synthesize those ideas into a cohesive plan for the future of the block that poises it for the next 100 years while protecting its history.”

Talk about changing the square landed the property, protected by a city ordinance since 1971, on the National Trust for Historic Place’s list of most endangered historic places last summer. Local preservation advocates took Tuesday’s announcement as a positive sign Hermanson and Co. are listening to public concerns.

“Many members of the advisory committee convenes last year made it clear that seeking to demolish buildings in Larimer Square was a non-starter,” Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, said in a text message Tuesday night. “They must be hearing similar reactions from neighbors and community members in their outreach.”

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