The neon sign on top of Denver’s historic Union Station says “Travel by Train,” a reminder of the bygone era when up to 80 trains a day would stop at the busy depot. In recent years, however, the building’s grand waiting room has sat empty except for the few Amtrak passengers waiting to catch the California Zephyr to Chicago or San Francisco.
Today, Union Station, in the city’s Lower Downtown neighborhood, is on the cusp of a major transformation. The Beaux Arts–style depot, built in 1914, is being restored and converted—by Denver firms Tryba Architects and JG Johnson Architects—into a 112-room boutique hotel with shops, offices, and restaurants, opening in July. Meanwhile, in the rail yard behind the station, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) has created a multimodal transit hub for buses, light rail, commuter rail, and Amtrak service. The $500 million public-private project is a milestone for sprawling Denver, which has embraced transit in a big way. The metropolitan area’s first light-rail line opened in 1994, and 10 years later, voters approved a $6.5 billion transit program for an additional 122 miles of commuter and light rail. Starting in 2016, Union Station will be the hub for four new commuter lines, including one to Denver International Airport. That “Travel by Train” sign suddenly seems relevant again.