The long awaited grand opening of Denver’s Union Station is this Sunday. Festivities begin at 10 a.m. and will include vendors, live music, food and a variety of activities. Parts of Wynkoop and Wazee streets will be closed for the event.
The station has had a number of “soft” openings, but this will be the official event that marks a large revitalization of the building and its surrounding areas. It is expected to be a major transportation hub for trains, bikes, buses and the light rail. It will be connected with Denver International Airport sometime in 2016 when the line is completed.
The station was originally constructed in 1880, opening in 1881 as a large transportation hub for the city. When it first opened many other businesses opened nearby, hoping to cash in on travelers new residents arrivals. “Of course, immediately businesses, warehouses, saloons, bordellos popped up right around the station to serve that transient population,” William Convery, of the History Colorado Museum, said.
Not much will change on that front; over 25,000 jobs are estimated to have been created since the modern project began, and some 13 corporate relocations have occurred to be near the station, according to 9news. The economic impact is believed to be more than $3 billion already.
In addition to jobs, thousands of housing units and hundreds of hotel rooms were created nearby. And they aren’t done yet, over a dozen construction projects are still underway, including shops, restaurants and bars.
The building was heavily damaged by a fire in 1894, but it was repaired and remained in service, albeit with numerous remodels, until finally succumbing to competition from the airline industry and suffering a steep decline until the modern day.
With the revival of trains and light rail in Denver, however, the city is hopeful that it will see boom times again. University of Colorado Denver history professor Tom Noel told Colorado Public Radio that he thinks it is the most important building in Denver’s history.
At the time, it seemed like Cheyenne was going to be the gateway to the west, when the transcontinental railroad decided to go through there. "Half of Denver moved to Cheyenne," Noel says. "So it looks like Cheyenne is going to be the rail hub of the Rockies."
But Denver leaders decided to take matters into their own hands, building rail lines themselves that connected with the Transcontinental Railroad. "And Denver begins to boom as the rail hub," Noel says.
The Grand Opening marks a look toward the future while still reviving and revitalizing the past. Denver has long been a city filled with an optimistic outlook that combines new technologies with older ones.
"It's a wonderful return to the core city," Noel says. "Where as many core cities are decaying and rotting like Philadelphia, St. Louis, and even Chicago losing population, here you have an incredibly vibrant return to the city where that's once again the great transit hub that it was."
You can attend the event on Sunday by going down to Wynkoop Street Sunday afternoon. After the ceremony, the station will be open for tours by the public from noon until 8. Admission is free, and there are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.