Emily Griffith Building Stonebridge Companies

In hotel-crazy Denver, transformation of historic Emily Griffith campus into lodging, retail space begins

Dave Farmer Uncategorized

Originally appeared in The Denver Post in April, 2019

Block-spanning campus is being redeveloped into a 250-room hotel the developer says will link back to its educational past

The lives of countless young people were transformed on the campus of the historic Emily Griffith Opportunity School in the heart of Denver in the decades after it opened in 1916. Now, work is underway to transform the long-empty collection of buildings into a hotel the owner and developer says will maintain recognizable links to its educational past.

Denver Public Schools sold the campus, which takes up the city block that spans the 1200 blocks of Glenarm Place and Welton Street, to Denver-based Stonebridge Companies for $25 million in 2017. The opportunity school’s legacy lives on through Emily Griffith Technical College, headquartered at 1860 Lincoln St.

Stonebridge secured a multi-million tax reimbursement deal with the Denver Urban Renewal Authority in the fall as it prepared to embark on a $97 million redevelopment effort on the campus. Last week, the company finally broke ground. Officials say the project will preserve the recognizable brick exteriors of former school buildings but replace the classrooms, offices and facilities with more than 250 hotel rooms and 48,000 square feet of retail space.

“Words alone cannot convey the honor we feel at Stonebridge Companies for this opportunity to lead an impactful project that not only holds such strong ties to Denver’s rich legacy but also plays a role in the future success of our city’s vibrant culture,” Stonebridge founder and CEO Navin Dimond said in a prepared statement last week.

Stonebridge’s plans call for demolishing one building on the Glenarm side of the 2.4-acre campus, but otherwise preserving building exteriors, said Chris Manley, Stonebridge’s chief operating officer. The hallways inside will be wide, reminiscent of a public school building, not a hotel. The fitness center will be modeled after a school gymnasium.

“For those that either taught at the school or were educated at the school, as they walk the halls they are going to see a lot of threads pulled through,” Manley said.

It’s not Stonebridge’s first foray into redeveloping historic properties. Its Renaissance Denver Downtown City Center hotel, 918 17th St., occupies the former Colorado National Bank building. Features there include meeting rooms housed inside vaults that once protected prospector gold.

The Emily Griffith campus is bisected by an alleyway. Stonebridge aims to “activate” that alley, following an emerging trend in Denver’s urban landscape typified by Lower Downtown’s Dairy Block. The hotel’s main entrance and access to its parking structure will be in the alley. Some of the retail space will be oriented toward that alley as well, Manley said.

Across the street from the Colorado Convention Center, the hotel will offer 3,000 square feet of meeting space. Stonebridge expects it to attract both business travelers and tourists when the hotel opens in late 2020 or early 2021.

“What appealed to us about this site is obviously its location, its size and really the opportunity do something very unique from the hotel side and the adaptive reuse and retail side,” Manley said.

The metro area’s fast-growing and evolving hospitality scene has added some notable new offerings in recent years, with no signs of slowing down. New arrivals on the market range from the Ramble and the Source Hotel, the first accommodations in Denver’s River North Art District, to the Gaylord Rockies Resort and Convention Center in Aurora. At 1,501 rooms, it is the largest hotel in the state.

As work gets underway at the Emily Griffith School, the Hilton Garden Inn Denver Union Station is ready to welcome its first guests. The 233-room hotel at 1999 Chestnut Place, near Coors Field, opens Tuesday.

On the south side of the ballpark, foundation work in underway on McGregor Square, a mixed-use project being developed by the owners of the Colorado Rockies that will include a 176-room hotel to be managed by Denver’s Sage Hospitality.

By: Joe Rubino