New developments along with a thriving arts hub and the great outdoors have contributed to Denver’s steady growth.
The air may be crisp and cold on this mid-autumn morning, but the sun shines strongly here in Denver, as it does 300 days of the year. In front of Union Station, the city’s renovated historic train station, travellers wheel their suitcases off the airport light rail, Denverites walk their dogs big and small, and remote workers sneak into a nearby coffee shop or co-working spot.
The Colorado capital is finally starting to feel like itself again after the pandemic slowed its steady growth. “Downtown Denver became an eerily silent city during the pandemic, and I wasn’t certain if we would ever see the downtown streets filled with the hustle and bustle it once had,” said Ashley Archibeque, chief of staff of Sentral, a Denver-headquartered property management company specialising in flexible living. “However, people have slowly begun to creep back, and the area near Union Station feels more vibrant, thriving, and lively than it ever was before.”
Primely located in the plains stretching before the Rocky Mountains – and famously situated one mile above sea level – Denver has consistently attracted young adults seeking a laidback lifestyle and adventure in the great outdoors. Now, with the rise in remote working, it’s not just the raised-in-Denver crowd that resides here. “More and more people continue to eye Denver as a desirable place to live due to the proximity of the mountains, the number of sunshine days each year, the mild winters in the city, and the thriving food, music and art scene,” said Archibeque. “And Denver continues to expand and change to meet the desires and needs of its new and growing population.”
A city for all seasons
Colorado attracts travellers all year long with its outdoor offerings, from Rocky Mountain National Park (one of the most visited national parks in the US) to the world-class ski resorts of Vail, Beaver Creek, Aspen, and Pikes Peak – the summit of which was where the song America the Beautiful was penned in 1893. But visitors too often make the mistake of leaving the airport and heading straight to the ski lift or hiking trail, bypassing the city of Denver along the way.
Savvy travellers, especially those coming from places closer to sea level, should consider spending a night or two in Denver to take some time to adjust to the altitude and appreciate all that the Mile High City has to offer.
The opening of the A Line of the RTD light rail in 2016 has made it even easier to traverse from the airport straight to Union Station. The line runs every 15 minutes during peak hours, and every 30 minutes during early mornings and late nights, a 37-minute door-to-door trip.
“If you’re planning a visit to the mountains or to the national parks, consider making Denver your base camp,” advises Nick LeMasters, president and CEO of the Cherry Creek North Business Improvement District. “Ensure your itinerary allows for enough time to see the culture here that we’re extremely proud of.”
Denver’s pandemic slowdown didn’t last long. In fact, the city has the sixth fastest growing economy in the entire US, according to research by the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise. The rapid growth hasn’t come without its challenges. The median price of a home here has skyrocketed from US$442,000 in 2019 to US$581,000 in 2022, according to data from real estate platform Redfin. The growing population has also put a strain on infrastructure, with typical traffic jams up and down the main north-south Interstate 25 and east-west Interstate 70 corridors, especially during the winter ski season.
But the population growth has also meant a significant boom for development projects throughout the city. LoDo, lower downtown, has long been at the heart of downtown Denver’s revitalisation. It was the construction of the Coors Field baseball park in the mid-nineties, however, that brought in record visitors to see the Colorado Rockies and their rivals hit home runs — with the altitude and dry air making the ballpark the most hitter-friendly field in Major League Baseball as balls fly further and faster.
That investment in LoDo has continued with the 2021 opening of McGregor Square (pictured below), a multi-use development that takes up an entire square block. Its three towers feature the new Rally Hotel (see box), condos, office and retail space, and a plaza with a huge 34-metre LED screen, which broadcasts live games.
Head five minutes southeast of downtown Denver and you’ll experience further growth in the upscale business and retail district of Cherry Creek. “Demand for office space has been extraordinary,” said LeMasters, with financial institutions and oil and gas businesses interested in the area. He notes retail sales here have finally surpassed 2019 levels.
Cherry Creek North, the outdoor part of the neighbourhood, remains a popular place to get business deals done thanks to its upscale vibe, 70 different dining destinations, and boutique hotels. “People enjoy the fact that they can be in this district and feel that they are in a safe, extremely well-maintained area,” said LeMasters. “There’s a nice ambiance and charm, along with the best shopping in the Rocky Mountain region, with over two million square feet [185, 806 sqm] of world-class retail offerings.”
Art that sets apart
For a funkier vibe, RiNo, short for River North (so named for its location off the north end of the Platte River), has also exploded in popularity in recent years, becoming one of the city’s most lively arts and music centres.
Denver’s involvement in the arts has always outpaced its size, ranking sixth in overall arts businesses while ranked 19th in population, but the phenomenal growth and success of RiNo and its artists has only spurred increased interest and investment in recent years. In 2021, Denver became the third city in the country (after Santa Fe and Las Vegas) to host a permanent installation of Meow Wolf, a colourful, surreal space that walks visitors through four floors featuring more than 110 Colorado-based artists.
The Denver Art Museum also recently celebrated its 50th anniversary with a US$175 million renovation, unveiled in late 2021, that features updated galleries, two new dining spots, and a more inclusive approach. The indigenous art galleries, for instance, now feature video interviews with artists and members of the local Ute, Arapaho, and Cheyenne communities, while textual “Community Labels” give additional local perspective on historical works of art.
The changing face of travel
These cultural offerings have helped domestic travel return to Denver at a respectable pace, with the city seeing 31.7 million total visitors in 2021, a 14.5 per cent increase over 2020 – most of whom travelled from states including Texas, California, and Florida. Indeed Denver International airport has jumped from the fifth busiest airport in the US in 2019 to the third busiest airport in 2021, just after Atlanta and Dallas, with nearly 60 million annual passengers. The state of Colorado as a whole projects a full international travel recovery by 2024.
To accommodate this rapid growth, the airport has been undergoing a US$770 million renovation of its Great Hall to improve security, ticketing counters, and accommodate the 100 million annual visitors expected in ten years. The project has run into some delays and contractor disputes, slowing the progress, but is currently expected to be completed in 2024.
The airport has also completed its US$2 billion gate expansion project in November, which includes 39 new gates across all three of the airport’s concourses, increasing gate capacity by 30
While business travel has yet to bounce back to its previous levels, hotels are seeing occupancy numbers that are finally exceeding 2019 levels, with visitation supplemented by a focus on other market segments like group travel, leisure and bleisure. “At Le Méridien Denver Downtown, we have seen an increase in hotel guests coming to the city to visit family and friends but spending their weekdays working on their computers in the lobby,” said Christy DeSiato, the Denver market director of sales and marketing at property management company White Lodging.
There are still those that come to the city purely for business, however, with Colorado Convention Center’s 54,255 sqm of exhibit space popular amongst tech and scientific conventions or trade shows. “From November through June, we see a lot of corporate and convention centre-driven travel, both in terms of hotel and dining guests,” said DeSiato.
To cater to growing demand, the convention centre will undergo an expansion in late 2023, adding more than 7,430 sqm of meeting and ballroom space, 3,250 sqm of pre-function space and a 1,858 sqm outdoor terrace on the rooftop of the existing building. The centre saw the return of The Great American Beer Festival in October 2022, held in Denver annually since 1982 (though there was a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic). More than 40,000 guests clinked glasses as they sampled over 2,000 beers from 200 breweries around the world.
There is no clearer sign of Denver’s promising bounce back, a city which prides itself on its nickname ‘the Napa Valley of beer’. My recommendation for feeling like a true local would entail sampling a craft beer from one of the city’s 100+ breweries, brewpubs, and taprooms. If you’re feeling adventurous, pair it with a wild game hot dog from Biker Jim’s in LoDo — bison, rattlesnake, and jacakalope (antelope mixed with rabbit) are just a few of the 13 out-there flavours
Just don’t forget you’re at high altitude, where everything hits harder, and stay hydrated in-between sips if you have meetings the next day.
The Sheraton Denver Downtown
In 2021, the Sheraton unveiled an US$80 million renovation touching every area of the hotel, including over 12,000 sqm of renovated meeting space, 1,238 redesigned guest rooms, and 138 suites. The expansive lobby area includes plenty of spots for seating and meetings plus the Coffee Bar Bar, which transforms from café to bar at night. marriott.com
The Rally Hotel
The name of this 182-room hotel comes from the age-old baseball tradition of the rally cap, when fans wear their hats backwards or inside out in order to encourage their team to achieve a come-from-behind victory. Appropriately located next to Coors Field in the new McGregor Square development, the hotel also features a rooftop deck and pool, 1,950 sqm of event space, and three on-site restaurants. therallyhotel.com
The Slate Denver, Tapestry Collection by Hilton
Housed in the historic Emily Griffith Opportunity School, which pioneered adult public education in Denver, this 251-room hotel sits just across the street from the convention centre. The four-storey property also has 418 sqm of meeting and event space with room names paying tribute to enduring education. theslatedenver.com; hilton.com
Located in the heart of Cherry Creek, this 199-room space opened in 2022 after an extensive renovation and rebrand of the former JW Marriot. The hotel features more than 900 sqm of meeting and event space and the Latin-inspired Toro restaurant, specialising in ceviche and small plates. hotelcliocherrycreek.com
TAKE ME THERE
You can book your next trip to Denver with United Airlines at united.com. This winter, it is operating daily nonstop flights to Denver from London Heathrow. Customers travelling in United Polaris® business class can enjoy access to the United Club℠ at Heathrow’s Terminal Two and the brand new United Club FlySM in Denver. Be sure to also check out the stunning new airport concourse – with floor-to-ceiling windows and state-of-the-art seating for customers – this new expansion includes an outdoor space complete with firepits, lounge chairs, a pet relief area and an unmatched view of Denver’s mountainous skyline.
Words: Lindsey Galloway