Denver’s Upcoming 16th St Mall Renovation Hits Another Milestone

People bustle on the 16th St. Mall as the Free MallRide arrives on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Bosselman
People bustle on the 16th St. Mall as the Free MallRide arrives on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Bosselman
16th St mall tile credit Pei Cobb
The 16th St. Mall when it opened in 1982. Photo: Pei Cobb Freed & Partners

The 16th Street Mall will soon get a major renovation that will spruce up an iconic, but increasingly embarrassing part of Denver.

The project, now estimated to cost between $90 and $130 million, will replace and fix problems with the mall’s distinctive granite tiles while making the 1.2-mile thoroughfare a better place to get around and a more enjoyable place to hang out.

“Now it really is our town square,” said Tami Door, President and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. “When this mall is rebuilt to its original glory, we will all be reminded of how important it is to our city.”

 

Pedestrians walk over cracked pavers on the 16th Street Mall Transitway.
Pedestrians walk over cracked pavers on the 16th Street Mall Transitway.

People flock to the 1.2-mile mall, which is at the center of the downtown business district, provides major transit connections and has become the number one destination for tourists in the 37 years since it opened.

“If we have someone coming into town, we try to get down here,” said Lisa Ream of Denver, who was sitting at a table in the plaza between the bus lanes with a nephew who was visiting from Washington D.C. After glancing at cracked granite tiles upturned and sticking out from the mall’s floor, she agreed that street could use a an upgrade. “It looks like it definitely needs some work.

The granite tiles that cover the sidewalks and the transitway have become a dangerous source of blight. In addition to a tripping hazard, the tiles become slippery when wet.

Under the renovation plans, buses would run in the center of 16th St., allowing for wider sidewalks where kiosks would be moved. Photo: Andy Bosselman
Under the renovation plans, buses would run in the center of 16th St., allowing for wider sidewalks where kiosks would be moved. Photo: Andy Bosselman

The renovation will replace the pavers with textured granite designed to avoid slipping. It will also fix a costly problem that trapped water under the tiles and compounded the frequent freeze-thaw cycles that already torment Colorado roads.

“The granite tile, when it was constructed in the early ’80s — there was not sufficient drainage for the tile underneath,” said Brian Pinkerton, the principal project manager for the environmental assessment, who works for the Department of Public Works. “The new design will be significantly different.”

The tiles are laid out to create a multi-colored diamond pattern, which is a point of pride for many Denverites — and something the project team says they will preserve.

Contrary to widespread belief, architect I.M. Pei did not design the pattern. A partner in his firm, Henry Cobb, led the team that created the design. The firm will not be involved with the renovation.

The pattern of granite tiles looks faded and tired 37 years after it was installed. Photo: Andy Bosselman
The pattern of granite tiles looks faded and tired 37 years after it was installed. Photo: Andy Bosselman

Another key feature of the project would remove the plazas in the middle of the street where food vendors and public seating exist today. This would move the bus lanes to the center of the mall, allowing larger sidewalks, which will create a more comfortable place for seating and allow a wider range of events and activities on the mall.  

Buses will be moved to the center of the 16th St. Mall, allowing the plazas currently between the bus lanes to be moved to the sidewalks, which would be widened.
Buses will be moved to the center of the 16th St. Mall, allowing the plazas currently between the bus lanes to be moved to the sidewalks, which would be widened.

“We’re excited about bringing the buses together and expanding the sidewalks,” said Door. “By widening the sidewalks on either side, you create more space for kiosks, and art and cafes.”

Construction could start as soon as next year. First the project must pass environmental review, which the project team released in a draft document on Monday. This essential milestone comes after a 10-year planning process that brought together city officials, business interests, the Regional Transportation District and the public.

Members of the public are invited to review and comment on the 16th Street Mall Improvements Environmental Assessment through May 14. Two public meetings will also be held at the Regional Transportation District’s headquarters on Wednesday, May 1, from noon-1 pm and 5-6 pm.

 

A scooter user passes around cracked and displaced tile on the 16th St. Mall. Photo: Andy Bosselman
A scooter user passes around cracked and displaced tile on the 16th St. Mall. Photo: Andy Bosselman
  • TM

    I like the new design, only bummer is losing the trees and having to start over with new ones. I hope they grow fast! Maybe some stormwater can be directed toward the new trees in the new design.

    • Riley Warton

      VERY late reply, but in my opinion having local aspen trees would work MUCH better for the 16th street mall than oak trees. it would give the street a very unique feeling that may not exist anywhere else in the US, perhaps even the world.

  • What’s the plan for the food vendors that are currently in the median of the mall? Will they have the opportunity to relocate to the new wider walkway?

    • mckillio

      I inferred that they’d be taken care of by this part towards the end. “By widening the sidewalks on either side, you create more space for kiosks, and art and cafes.”

  • dfiler

    “Look faded and tired after 37 years”?

    That line caught me a little by surprise. Do stone structures need to be replaced every few decades because they look faded and tired? Personally, i’m a fan of old stone. The most popular pedestrian plazas in the world are paved in ancient stone.

    • mckillio

      DIfference being those stones don’t have to get replaced every year and aren’t slipping hazards.

      • TakeFive

        Do they yet know where the funding is coming from? Only thing I’m aware of is that the Elevate Denver bonding has $13 million designated for the 16th street mall.

      • dfiler

        Those are valid concerns. I was calling out the “faded and tired” criticism.

  • Noah Patrick

    I am aghast at the trees being removed. This is extremely short-sighted. It’s not like trees grow particularly well in Denver. The replacements are going to take a GENERATION to grow into the mature size we have today. I hope no one is expecting that in 5 years we’re going to have a bunch of shade down there. All for, what, 2 extra feet on each side of the street? And so people coming off the bus don’t have to step onto a sidewalk with people? Is that worth the trade-off of losing one of downtown Denver’s only, and largest, tree canopy for 30 years? The statements by the DDP and others are misleading – only a few of the original oaks have survived. But there are a good 4-5 blocks of very nice, very healthy locust trees. They insist these aren’t healthy or viable long term. Let’s just see, then! Let them eventually die out, if that’s truly the case. Then go in and replace them. But you’re going to eliminate every bit of shade on the mall, a large swath of green in downtown, where there’s already a dearth, because DDP and friendly developers come up with excuses to not plant anything more than glorified sticks in concrete boxes packed with hard dirt where the roots won’t grow. Take a moment to imagine the mall, in August, under blazing 100 degree Colorado sun, and ask how enjoyable that will be. Take a moment to imagine, in December, all the Christmas lights wrapped around the tree trunks and the atmosphere that creates on crisp nights with the snow falling. That will not exist for decades. Some folks here are trying to play SimCity so everything is “perfect,” and in return we’re going to sacrifice one of the most significant natural parts of our otherwise hard-surfaced, cold, sterile, dark downtown. Downtown Denver Partnership is a business organization – not a landscape architecture firm. DDP has successfully guided downtown to be a barren, concrete jungle void of significant green space. Their crowning achievement will be removing this multi-block canopy of mature trees.

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