Governors’ Park is one of those small but distinct pockets of Denver that doesn’t appear as an official neighborhood on the city’s online map.

Perhaps best known over the years for its collection of independent bars and restaurants such as the popular (and now defunct) Racines, the area bordering Capitol Hill and the Speer neighborhood. More recently, people might know this is home to Trader Joe’s often jam-packed grocery store and some large new blocks of flats along the increasingly built-in Speer Boulevard.

Today the once quaint corner of downtown Denver is another focal point for urban densification where the demand for more housing is arousing strong interest from developers. Meanwhile, local residents are debating whether the growth will benefit people of all income levels, and visitors are annoyed by scarce parking as more and more high-rise buildings cast shadows on once-sunny sidewalks.

Last week, some of the neighbors who live in and around Governors’ Park celebrated what they saw as great accomplishments in their endeavors, the changes in the area, another part of the city that appears to be dealing with the benefits and effects of Denver deals with, influencing and shaping endless growth.

First, the owners of two over 100-year-old commercial buildings on the corner of Grant Street and East Seventh Avenue withdrew an application they filed earlier this year for certification that would have facilitated the demolition of those buildings. The decision came after meeting a trio of neighbors who said they could seek landmark status for the buildings that currently house four Denver chef Frank Bonanno’s restaurants, including Vesper Lounge and Luca.

“I’m very grateful that the owners agreed to speak to us and see what we can do,” said Joanna Negler, who, along with her husband Michael, was one of the three residents willing to provide guidance for the submit the building. “They didn’t have to do that. You could have said: “No, we want that and we will do that.” ”

The second big win came Thursday night when the board of directors of Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods approved a memorandum of understanding with Property Markets Group, the major East Coast developer, to buy the property that houses local television news channel Denver7.

The station building, an example of Brutalist architecture built in the 1960s at 123 Speer Blvd., is the subject of an owner-rejected motion for landmarks slated for a May 10th city council vote. Denver residents pursuing this landmark status are not involved in the agreement the neighborhood association was about to sign last weekend.

Andy Cross, the Denver Post

The KMGH Denver7 building has a brutalist architectural style.

This document, which provides a hit list of actions, including finding local small businesses looking to become ground floor tenants in a future housing development on the property, and working with affordable housing advocates to assess needs and opportunities on the property , is more about what happens after May 10th, said CHUN President and CEO Travis Leiker.

“What I find most exciting is that I think what we’re putting together could be a model for future locations, both in the Capitol Hill community and in the city and city council of Denver,” Leiker said of the agreement with the Property Markets Group. “When neighbors work together, in my opinion the city wins.”

Last week’s updates at the Grant Street Restaurant Building and 123 Speer Blvd. That doesn’t mean the world is all right when it comes to new developments in Governors’ Park. There are many projects on the horizon that the neighbors are watching closely.

Kathy Callender lives in the Florentine building at 700 Washington St. Her west-facing apartment overlooks some potential redevelopment areas in Governors’ Park, including 123 Speer and the block that houses the former Racines building.

The restaurant and another low-rise commercial building on the southeast corner of East Seventh Avenue and Sherman Street are expected to be demolished to pave the way for a proposed 13-story, 304-unit home.

City records show that the site plans for this building are still under review. Even so, Todd Nicotra, vice president of Virginia-based developer AvalonBay Communities, sent a letter to a city planner last week asking for permission to request a permit review before the site plan was approved.

With the developer’s plans within the legally enforced zoning for the property, Callender said there is nothing she or any other neighbor could say to affect the design on the Racines website. She was in contact with representatives from the company, but added, “AvalonBay couldn’t care less about us.”

AvalonBay representatives didn’t respond to requests for an interview for this story last week.

Kevin Mohatt, Denver Post specialist

Racines Restaurant, which closed last summer after 36 years of operation, is located in the Governors’ Park neighborhood of Denver on May 1, 2021.

Callender’s interest in property led her and a handful of other local residents to form a grassroots group called Citizens for Governors’ Park. The group supported efforts to preserve Buildings 701 and 711 on Grant Street and was involved in talks on the future of the Denver building, 7 although they did not comment on the landmark application.

Callender is a CHUN board member, but she said Citizens for Governors’ Park remains an informal neighborhood group focused on influencing future development in the neighborhood.

And there is a lot of that. Your group counts at least seven future homes in the planning phase in the Governors’ Park area according to a map that you have drawn up.

Citizens for Governors’ Park is not anti-growth, Callender said, and she rejects some of the “scorched earth” views of new developments she has heard in the neighborhood. Still, she wants new projects to adhere to the principles of the city’s long-term Blueprint Denver plan. For them, this means buildings set back from the street instead of overcrowding the sidewalk, and lower density transitions from the taller buildings in the Golden Triangle neighborhood to the west and the Alamo Placita neighborhood to the east.

“We have to come to the table with the developers,” said Callender.

Kevin Mohatt, Denver Post specialist

Guests sit on the outdoor terraces of bars and restaurants on Logan Avenue in the Governors’ Park neighborhood of Denver on May 1, 2021.

The group has asked District 10 councilor Chris Hinds for help. Hinds plans to hold a panel discussion with Citizens for Governors’ Park and other neighborhood groups later this month.

“We have five different interest groups who are not asking about the same things,” Hinds said of the upcoming meeting.

As he fought for his seat in 2019, Hinds said the Governors’ Park neighbors “basically don’t tell anyone how amazing this little piece of town is”.

Now that the mystery is out and higher density development is streaming in, the neighborhood matches the whim of the existing zone code introduced by its predecessors, Hinds said. He believes that is why there have been so many landmark designation applications in the region over the past two years.

“It could be the only tool neighbors have to use to resist development,” he said.

Kevin Mohatt, Denver Post specialist

The interior of the Luca Restaurant can be seen for dinner in the Governors’ Park neighborhood of Denver on May 1, 2021.

Across Broadway in the Golden Triangle, a work in progress zoning and design change is finally being prepared for the city council this summer, Hinds said. The changes go back to 2014 and were implemented in a two-year stakeholder involvement process. A similar process in Cherry Creek is faster, but it is done by the neighbors rather than the city’s planning and development department.

Hinds said that creating neighborhood-specific design guidelines and principles for the governors’ park could take some time as pandemic staff cuts and vacation days are affecting the planning department.

Given the speed at which things are moving, the best choice for the neighbors is to work directly with the owners and developers as much as possible.

Part of the reason Denver7 selected Property Markets Group as the company to sell the 123 Speer property to is because the developer welcomes the collaboration, said Dean Littleton, general manager of the station. The company also has a sale-and-lease-back agreement that gives Denver7 time to relocate and provides a window of work with neighbors on what to do next.

“We’ve been here a long time and this neighborhood is our home too,” said Littleton. “We want to leave it in a better place.”

The KMGH Denver Channel 7 building in ...

Andy Cross, the Denver Post

The KMGH Denver7 building, located near the intersection of Speer Boulevard and Lincoln Avenue, is pictured on April 28, 2021.

Evan Schapiro, Property Markes Group’s managing director for acquisitions, said he had loved Governors’ Park since he first visited a few years ago and reached out to Denver7 before the property was even for sale.

“It just felt so perfect. It felt very real. It felt very authentic, ”said Schapiro.

If the city council deems it appropriate to make the station building a landmark, Schapiro said he was unwilling to declare the deal dead, but added that the property’s market value would depend on the existing zoning that the Clear way for 12-story buildings.

One thing Schapiro is willing to do is keep this zoning. The possibility of seeking a reallocation to go higher – perhaps up to 16 stories – was discussed among neighbors, with some supporting the idea and others against.

“I fully appreciate the worry about losing this charm and authenticity, but I by no means think that it is gone,” said Schapiro of the Governors’ Park. “What defines a neighbor are the people who actually live there and have proactive conversations with us.”