It was the South Platte River, and its anticipated mineral riches, that gave birth to Denver in 1858.
Tipped the city on its axis 45 degrees to parallel the river’s course, thus forever messing up a bunch of street intersections as well as our innate, north-south sense of direction.
It was the flat river valley that gave rise to the railroad yards during the golden age of frontier expansion. It was the river that occasionally turned into an unruly force of nature, flooding the valley and all in it, the last time in 1965 – until it was dammed up and turned into the secured waterway we know today.
The rail yards gradually disappeared and in 1995 a premier piece of the valley – the gateway into the city at Speer Boulevard, bordered by the river to the west – became home to Elitch Gardens Theme and Water Park.
Of all things, Denver had an amusement park in its front yard. As peculiar as that move initially appeared to be, it turned out to be a stroke of good fortune. Because, in the two decades to follow, as the Denver economy began to heat up once again, with new sports venues and a burgeoning downtown scene, Elitch’s served as a kind of protective dome, warding off opportunistic, piecemeal development of the property. And buying time.
While apartments and condo projects proliferated up and down the river corridor, the Elitch’s property remained off limits. Untouched. The proverbial hole in the donut.
But now, inevitably, all of that is changing. The world is changing. And it’s leading us to a bold new idea of what this place can be.