The end of the Confluence Park construction cluster-up is finally in sight

One of the most important hubs in Denver’s bike and pedestrian network has been completely messed up for two years. It’s getting better already.

Construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

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Construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) confluence park; construction; development; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

One of the most important hubs in Denver’s bike and pedestrian network has been completely messed up for two years. Now the end is in sight, and things are getting better already.

We’re talking about Confluence Park, where two of Denver’s major waterways and greenways meet. Normally, this is where scores of cyclists hop from the South Platte River Trail to the Cherry Creek Trail, giving them access to downtown. It’s also the site of a riverside terrace — but you wouldn’t know that if you moved here since summer 2015.

The Confluence area has for years been mired in construction that has closed large swaths of the riverfront and the trails, forcing cyclists and pedestrians to take the super-long detours shown here.

The news, in short: The detours are much improved already, and the huge Confluence Park plaza project is on schedule for completion by “early September,” according to city staff.  Read on for the details.

No more detour:

Part of the problem has already been solved. The city recently completed a new link that runs beneath 15th Street, reconnecting the bike-ped trails between Confluence and Commons parks and saving you from some awful street-level tomfoolery. (The previous trail was washed out by flooding in 2015.)

A fence blocks the South Platte River Trail on the south side of the river, near Confluence and Commons parks. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
This is gone now. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)

If you’ve been avoiding this area, you should find it’s much less of a pain in the butt now.

However, you’ll still run into some construction.

That’s because the city is still working on the big chalupa: the rebuild of Shoemaker Plaza near REI on the northwest side of the river.

Once upon a time (in 2015), the city thought this would be a relatively cheap and easy project. When it’s finished, it will be a concrete, terraced patio that extends out to the river, with levels of green space and a plaza behind it.

“The overall look and intent of the plaza is not that much different,” said Mike Bouchard of Denver Parks and Rec. “It’s just we’ve brought it up to 21st century standards.”

A rendering of the plan for Shoemaker Plaza in Confluence Park. The dam-like structure in the foreground is not part of the immediate plans. (City of Denver)
A rendering of the plan for Shoemaker Plaza in Confluence Park. The dam-like structure in the foreground is not part of the immediate plans. (City of Denver)

Unfortunately, construction crews ran into coal tar, a substance left over from long-ago industrial work.

That substance couldn’t be allowed to leak into the river, so the whole construction plan had to change, according to Bouchard.

“It required us to put a localized water treatment plant on site for 5.5 months at a cost of $2.5 million,” Bouchard said. “We had already done a lot of demolition. We couldn’t put it back where it was. We were already knee-deep in it.”

Construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) confluence park; construction; development; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A large part of the solution was to pre-cast the concrete terrace steps that make up most of the new project and then lower them into place, rather than pouring them on site.

The finished product will make the riverfront far more accessible, including an ADA-accessible boat ramp.

“The access and relationship to the water is going to be much better,” Bouchard said. That also should benefit people using boats and tubes on the river.

It also “will be more programmable. There’ll be more opportunities in the way we’ve created the spaces, and The Greenway Foundation is now thinking about how they’ll be able to use these spaces to improve the festivals they used to do there.”

The new design also will separate cyclists on the South Platte River Trail from the main plaza.

“There were so many conflicts between pedestrians and bikes,” Bouchard said.

The project cost ultimately should be about $9.3 million.

Intrepid kayakers in Confluence Park on the South Platte River on a gloomy afternoon. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Intrepid kayakers in Confluence Park on the South Platte River on a gloomy afternoon. (Andrew Kenney/Denverite)
Also:

The area’s also been burdened up by the construction of The Confluence, a 35-floor, $90 million tower rising up near the river.

Construction there is nearly finished. Units are listed as available on July 1, starting at $1,676 in rent for a 526-square-foot studio.

Construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) confluence park; construction; development; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Construction on The Confluence, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Water drips down from construction around Confluence Park, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) confluence park; construction; development; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Water drips down from construction on The Confluence, May 17, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Long term:

There’s a longer-term plan to do a bunch more stuff around Confluence, but it’s not funded or fully designed yet. Here’s a sketch.

A sketch of the long-term vision for Confluence Park. (City of Denver)
The long-term vision for Confluence Park. (City of Denver)

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.