A Denver-based development company emphasizing neighborhood investment is launching a new project with an emphasis on workforce housing.
Founded in 1972, Zeppelin Development has become as integral to Denver’s urban landscape as its streets, sidewalks, and traffic lights.
“We like to be involved in a variety of projects that kind of compliment each other, all within a single neighborhood,” says Nicolette Smith, Zeppelin’s marketing coordinator.
“We pretty much always have ongoing a good mixture of private, mixed-use office buildings, and public space projects,” continues Smith.
All of Zeppelin’s projects pay tribute to the company’s essential ethic: a project works best when it is part of a larger community fabric and designed to be an enduring component of that fabric.
“You have to be a longterm player,” Mickey Zeppelin, the founder and co-president of Zeppelin Development, commented to a conference sponsored by the non-profit Technology, Entertainment, and Design group in 2015.
Many other developers, Zeppelin continued, “build an apartment, they sell it, they leave, and the community deals with the parking problems.”
Zeppelin Development’s approach has been precisely the opposite, and it is for that reason, among others, that it has won the praise and respect of both community activists and city officials.
The company is perhaps most famous for its all-encompassing development efforts in Denver’s River North district.
A neighborhood that was once the home to warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and foundries, River North had fallen on hard times by the early 1990s after Denver’s industrial base moved elsewhere.
Zeppelin in his TED conference described the neighborhood as a place “with junk yards [and] car parts; whereas before it had a vibrancy where things were made.”
But Zeppelin and his son Kyle saw the neighborhood industrial wasteland as both a challenge and an opportunity, eventually redeveloping a former 20-acre Yellow Cab terminal at 3507 Ringsby Court.
It was a project that others may have regarded as quaint, but forlorn: how to transform what had become a site managed by the Environmental Protection Agency and littered with several hundred abandoned cabs into a place where people would want to work and congregate.
Gradually, Zeppelin foisted upon Denver a dramatic reimagining of the old Yellow Cab property, initially creating in the process a modern open shared working space, as well as restaurant, coffee shop, and even day care center space.
The redeveloped property, simply called TAXI, was completed in 2001.
“What was once a gritty piece of real estate on the west bank of the river has become the centerpiece of the growing River North—or RiNo—neighborhood,” the Denver Post noted in the spring of 2016 as Zeppelin Development neared the completion of a sixth structure in the TAXI complex.
By then, the site included not just the original office space, but TAXI II, a mixed-use structure housing 44 residential units, and more than 60,000 square feet of office space.
The site now features nine buildings, providing office space to more than one hundred residential units and individual businesses.
Zeppelin Development’s success has not, of course, been limited to the old Yellow Cab property.
The company, which has also spearheaded projects in Denver’s Golden Triangle and Lower Downtown neighborhoods, completed the Zeppelin Station this spring, a four-story, 100,000 square-foot space in River North that includes a food hall and public marketplace on the ground floor, as well as office space on the upper floors.
Zeppelin Development has additionally repurposed a former iron foundry, also in River North, into the Source Hotel and Music Hall, which currently houses more than two dozen food and retail vendors, two breweries, and a rooftop pool.
A 140,000 square-foot structure called the FLIGHT building was completed by Zeppelin this year and now serves as the home to Boa Technology.
“The Boa building is an artists’ and residents’ space,” says Smith, “the two top floors are smaller and have, as office space, everything you need already there, so that a person can walk in and start working, versus having to set up an office the traditional way.”
The structure, adds Smith, “also has a green roof on the north and south side of the building, which is a pretty cool additional feature.”
Despite such conspicuous building success, both father and son Zeppelin worry about the scale and dimension of a new era of construction in Denver.
In 2016, Kyle Zeppelin, the president of the company, told the New York Times that there was a “disconnect between the urban fabric and culture of the neighborhood and what speculators want to do.”
Notes the website for Denver’s Golden Triangle Creative District: “The father and son team Mickey and Kyle Zeppelin are committed to promoting social change through intelligently designed projects that address unmet needs in the market and provide a catalyst to surrounding neighborhoods.”
To that end, Kyle Zeppelin has voiced his opposition to the expansion and lowering of Interstate 70 in North Denver because of concerns about the project’s impact on the adjacent neighborhood.
He also, notably among the city’s developers, expressed support last year for the controversial and ultimately successful green roof ballot initiative, mandating rooftop gardens for most new structures in Denver of at least 25,000 square feet.
Meanwhile, in trying to address Denver’s pressing lack of workforce housing, Zeppelin’s newly announced 149-unit apartment project at 2101 W. 31st Street is taking an unconventional approach to the problem.
Once again showing the company’s public spirit, Zeppelin is currently working with area employers to buy leases for blocks of the new development.
In a bid to, if not combat Denver’s high cost of living, then at least find an innovative way around it, the employers will then charge a lower base rent to their employees.
In an interview with the BusinessDen earlier this year, Kyle Zeppelin said the company’s increasing focus today is trying to find a solution to the housing affordability challenge in Denver.
He notes that while there continues to be a good deal of development focused on the high end, “affordable projects are somewhat cookie cutter, and it’s not about people and who is going to occupy them.”
By Garry Boulard
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