Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC) is a 150 acre campus uniquely master-planned to accommodate the University of Colorado Denver (CU Denver), the Community College of Denver and the Metropolitan State University of Denver. The three academic institutions have a combined population of over 50,000 students. The campus is separated from adjacent Downtown Denver by the eight-lane arterial road of Speer Boulevard. With the growth of both Downtown Denver and the future build out of the Auraria campus, an increasing number of pedestrians must navigate across the busy roadway. H3 was engaged by the City and the AHEC campus to study what level of resources are required to accomplish a safe and seamless Auraria – Downtown connection and what type of connection is afforded given the resources available.
A steering committee was organized with 20 members including academic, civic and commercial interests. Working with the committee, the H3 team studied multiple approaches, analyzing options related to type, focus, cost and location. The study also explored the untapped land use benefits deriving from reuse of underutilized parking lots and the possibilities of a grand civic space within the median of Speer Boulevard. The selected option was a bridge that connected through a future facility for academic use and a Welcome Park within the median, aligned with the historic commercial district of Larimer Street. The design seeks to create a shared “Main Street from the campus heart into Downtown,” extending the vibrant uses on both ends along the connection.
A short term tactical urbanism plan was developed to incorporate programmed events and temporary uses to jumpstart place-making and to develop proof-of-concept ideas for more permanent solutions. Pedestrian safety would be improved with traffic calming measures reducing the width of the street, expanding sidewalks and creating a protected bike lane. Crosswalks will be formalized and streetscape continuity reinforced with new paving, light fixtures, street furniture, graphics, trees and landscape improvements.
The second phase would develop plans for the pedestrian bridge and Welcome Park. The design for the Welcome Park calls for elevating the green space over retail facing Larimer Street and a cafe pavilion above, which will reduce the apparent width of the crossing and encourage activity along the connection. Daylighting the creek bed on the southeast corner will improve open space access. Additional public space and public art installations spanning between Lawrence and Market Streets will enhance campus-downtown life with complementing uses.
Lastly, a long term plan for development of a multi-story academic building within the median will create additional space for the campus as well as a signature gateway building to the Downtown District. Additional parcels now utilized as parking lots will also be reinvented as housing, commercial and cultural uses, extending the activities of the Denver Performing Arts Complex to the north.
CLIENT: Auraria Higher Education Center / City of Denver
SIZE: 16.5 acres