Denver could reopen another mile of the South Platte riverfront in RiNo

Plans for the redevelopment of NWC call for the reopening of up to a mile of the southeast side of the river, starting at Interstate 70 and potentially running nearly to Franklin Street.

A rendering of a reopened South Platte riverfront from the National Western Center master plan. (City of Denver)
"This is the city's most underutilized asset." -Bernard Hurley. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) Bernard Hurley; rino; development; kevinjbeaty; denver; colorado; denverite; south platte river;
The South Platte River. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

There’s an old joke about the South Platte River.

Here it goes: Denver has a river?

As we’ve written previously, the South Platte used to be so polluted and hemmed in by industrial development that most people prior to the 1970s never visited the riverfront.

That’s changed over the years with the construction of miles and miles of riverside greenways. And, recently, we’re seeing new attention on plans that would bring more people and businesses to the riverfront.

First, there was the River North Promenade, a proposed mile-long park whose supporters are fighting for funding.

And now there’s another big possibility emerging for the riverfront in RiNo: the National Western Center.

Plans for the redevelopment of NWC call for the reopening of up to a mile of the southeast side of the river, starting at Interstate 70 and potentially running nearly to Franklin Street. Eventually, that could include new recreational trails and education areas, plus new water treatment sites.

A rendering of a reopened South Platte riverfront from the National Western Center master plan. (City of Denver)
A rendering of a reopened South Platte riverfront from the National Western Center master plan. (City of Denver)

One problem: The riverfront is covered by two big above-ground wastewater pipes for nearly half that distance, starting around 49th Avenue and running northeast.

Those pipes are important — they carry much of the city’s wastewater up to a treatment facility about 1.5 miles north of National Western — but you can also imagine they’d get in the way of a pleasant riverside experience.

So, the city is working on a $189,000 study of how it might open that area up.

The project will determine whether it might be feasible to move or bury the pipes and also will present some potential designs for the reopened riverfront. (Denver’s working with Metro Wastewater Reclamation District, which owns the pipes.)

“Giving visitors access to the river is part of the master plan recommendations and we are working to make that a reality,” wrote Erika Martinez, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office on NWC.

The city also has to deal with other obstacles on the campus, such as the rail lines near the river. The master plan calls for those to be relocated to the middle of the campus.

The section of the South Platte that the National Western master plan proposes to reopen. (City of Denver)
The section of the South Platte that the National Western master plan proposes to reopen. (City of Denver)

This stretch of the riverfront also would get new connections to the northwest side of the river under current plans, including potential bridges for roads, vehicles and bikes at both 49th Avenue and the future 51st Avenue.

“The addition of accessible green space along the river will provide opportunities for river education, river access, viewing, restoration of native riparian habitat, art sculpture park and historic interpretation,” the master plan states.

It’s unclear how much any of this would cost. We should know more about the pipes when the study’s done this summer. The city hasn’t yet set aside any money to relocate the pipes, and also would need permission from the wastewater district.

The study also will examine the possibility of a sewer heat recovery system, which can repurpose some of the energy of all that hot sewage. 

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.