11/23/2011 09:45 am ET Updated Jan 23, 2012

Denver's Union Station To Become Boutique Hotel With Restaurant, Retail Space: RTD Board Makes Recommendation (UPDATE)

RTD-Denver has a fairly precise vision of what the city's mass transit future will look like: a handful of light-rail lines ferrying passengers around Denver, complemented by larger (faster) trains servicing the broader metro area. From Denver International Airport to Golden, planners have spent much time--and a fair amount of money--obsessing over the order in which lines are built, rail-car design, etc., etc. One problem: the pendant on this train-track threaded necklace is missing.


In a 14-0 decision Tuesday night the RTD board approved plans to negotiate converting Union Station into a boutique hotel with retail and restaurant space. According to the Denver Post, Union Station Alliance has said the facilities will be open by 2014, though the project still requires approval from Denver's Landmark Preservation Commission and the National Park Service.


Denver's Union Station, RTD's crown jewel at the center of the metro mass transit universe, faces an uncertain future. Dueling development teams have pitched two different ideas:

Union Station Neighborhood Co., the group already developing land around the building, envisions a "simple and elegant" station. The Denver Business Journal reports their vision of Union Station would create "a living room for all of downtown." This includes a food emporium, a restaurant featuring a local James Beard award-winning chef, Colorado-based retail stores, office space on the third floor and atrium suites on the second floor for a "creative class incubator" for Create Denver.

Another idea under consideration, pitched by the Union Station Alliance, would transform Union into a 130-room boutique hotel. According to the Denver Post, this redesign would cost $48 million ($17 million from RTD), but has the potential to generate $130 million in tax revenue. In addition to the hotel, Union would host retail tenants and food services. An FAQ on the project's website adds "Union Station Alliance will restore the Great Hall to create an open and welcoming environment available to everyone. We will invigorate the Great Hall and both wings with restaurants and retail concepts showcasing a distinctively Colorado flare."

Both teams pitched their ideas to RTD on November 4th. A November 22nd RTD board meeting tentatively leaned toward the boutique hotel option, though a final decision has been further postponed until December 6. "We are pleased to have had two solid proposals from two great teams to consider how we can redevelop one of the true landmarks of the Denver metro area," said RTD Chair Lee Kemp in a statement to the Business Journal. "More work is to be done as we seek to move to the next step in the process."

Correction: This piece was updated to emphasize the Union Station Alliance plan includes retail and restaurant space in addition to the hotel.

Flickr photo via David Friedel