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- Arnold Schwarzenegger once owned what is now the Z block.
- The Terminator’s plans included a theater and Planet Hollywood.
- Today’s plan includes a hotel, offices and restaurants.
Maybe he should have said: “I won’t be back.”
Movie actor and former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for years was an owner of what was then called Stadium Lofts, and now Z Block, in downtown Denver.
In the 1990s, the Terminator’s team had big plans for the block at 18th, 19th, Wazee Streets, and Blake streets, including:
- A Planet Hollywood theme restaurant;
- A 14-screen, 3,000-seat movie theater;
- And later, a mixed-use development that would include 100 to 200 residential units, restaurants and an open market, similar to the Pike Place Market in Seattle.
“You understand this will not be a big moneymaker for me,” Schwarzenegger told me in 1998, when I was a reporter with the Rocky Mountain News and he was visiting the site, which was then owned by a company, appropriately called Pumping Bricks Ltd.
‘This is a project of love for me. I make more money from one movie than I’ll ever make from this,” Schwarzenegger added, while standing in front of one of the buildings.
He told me he was scrapping the plans for the movie theater, and then entered the historic Windsor Dairy Block building and told his development team, in his famous Austrian-accent: “I just told a reporter that we’re not doing the movie theater.”
The story goes that former Denver billionaire Marvin Davis (who died 10 years ago next month) suggested to Schwarzenegger he should buy land in the area because he was going to build a convention center behind Union Station.
The convention center was never built behind Union Station, but Schwarzenegger held on to the land through the energy and savings and loan collapse of the 1980s, while many nearby parcels were returned to their lenders.
In 1999, after Planet Hollywood declared bankruptcy, Pumping Bricks Ltd. was cancelled, according to documents signed by executives at Grand American.
Grand American still owns the block through a limited liability company called Firehouse Block.
In the most recent evolution of the development plans for the property, prominent Colorado developer McWhinney recently announced that is has joined with Grand American and Sage Hospitality to redevelop the Windsor Dairy Block on Wazee between 18th and 19th. McWhinney and Sage already worked together on the redevelopment of the nearby Union Station.
The eight-story, 170-room hotel will have 120,000-square-foot hotel, which is being designed by JG Johnson Architects. Sage Hospitality also operates the historic Oxford Hotel and the recently opened Crawford Hotel at Denver Union Station.
“Z Block is an outstanding project that will make the entire state proud,” said Chad McWhinney, CEO and co-founder at McWhinney.
“By further revitalizing LoDo, Colorado is increasingly attractive to new business, workforce and tourism,” McWhinney said.
The Sage Restaurant Group, developer of The Corner Office Restaurant + Martini Bar also in downtown Denver, plans to bring one of its newest brands in part of the 30,000 square feet available for restaurants and retail in the Z block hotel.
“The hotel at Z Block is a continuation of a very positive relationship between Sage Hospitality and McWhinney,” said Walter Isenberg, CEO and president of Sage Hospitality.
“After the successful redevelopment of Denver Union Station, we are very pleased to work with McWhinney on another signature Denver project,” Isenberg added.
“In my opinion, this is a wise move by Sage Hospitality and McWhinney,” Schroeppel wrote on his DenverInfill blog.
“With Sage already operating what are arguably two of Downtown Denver’s most prestigious boutique hotels in amazing historic structures with the Oxford and the Crawford, the addition of the Z Block Hotel gives Sage a third property—in this case a modern facility in a sleek new building—and over 360 rooms within three blocks of each other all between Union Station and Coors Field in the heart of Lower Downtown.”
He ended his blog post with one word: “Smart.”
I asked Schroeppel to reflect on whether he thought the current plan is better than what Schwarzenegger had on the drawing board in the ‘90s.
“I think it is probably for the best that we did not end up with the big mega-project that Schwarzenegger had proposed,” Schroeppel said.
For one thing, in these days of streaming videos, a movie theater probably would not be the best and highest use, he pointed out. And Planet Hollywood went out of business, so that would have left a big hole to fill.
“Of course, we are looking at it in hindsight, which is always 20-20,” he said.
Still, Schroeppel said it is important to consider where downtown was in the ’90s and where it is today.
“An important point is that when Schwarzenegger was proposing it, we were looking for some magic bullets and having these big projects like Denver Pavilions and Stadium Walk…We were so fearful at the time that we felt like we had to make sure downtown would stay relevant. We were kind of competing with the suburbs. We were looking for these kind of silver-bullet projects.
“We can be much more discerning,” today, now that downtown is stronger and more vibrant than ever, he noted.
“We don’t need everything plus the kitchen sink in every project,” Schroeppel said.
“We’ve got everything plus the kitchen sink in downtown but they are spread across multiple locations, making for a much more successful and interesting urban environment. What we have now is much more organic, so we don’t need to get into this suburban shopping center mentality.”
Also, architects and planners are better today at designing and integrating buildings in a way to take advantage of sidewalks than they were in the ‘90s, he noted.
The big question that remains, will Arnold be able to say, “I’ll be back,” at some point regarding his former Pumping Bricks pet project.
Maybe he can be a guest at the hotel when it opens in the fall of 2016.
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