Coming downtown for a show can include time spent at many of the city’s historic hotspots—Union Station, Larimer Square, or the 16th Street Mall. Often alternative transportation into downtown, such as the light rail, involves a brief connection on the mall’s free shuttle bus to get closer to the Arts Complex in all kinds of weather.
Currently, the 16th Street Mall Improvement Project is underway and it will be helpful to know what to expect—and even what to anticipate as this years-long upgrade moves ahead with exciting changes.
What You Need to Know: Logistics
At over 40 years old, the 1.2-mile corridor between Wazee St. and Broadway was overdue to for a refresh. This vital hub is a mainstay for power lunches, shopping, and dining out while staying or just visiting in downtown.
The Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP) describes this renovation as, “creating a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment.” The DDP is working with the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District on this project. Construction began in 2022 and it is currently scheduled to be completed by fall 2025 — at an estimated cost of $172.5 million.
Initially, completion was slated for 2024, but in July 2023 a delay was announced due to the discovery of underground utilities including an active, 1880s brick-lined sewer buried beneath 13 blocks of the mall’s distinctive paving stones.
The free shuttle bus that runs roughly east to west and back again established itself as an essential part of moving locals and tourists from the Union Station hub on the western end nearly to the state capitol building on the eastern edge. The DDP estimates that 14 million people ride the shuttle each year. During the construction, the bus is operating with a slight detour along 17th and 15th streets, while the stretch between Wazee and the end of the line at Chestnut St. remains the same along 16th St.
As part of the refresh, the mall’s paving stones will be replaced with new ones. The pattern of the pavers — which was inspired by Navajo rug design of a rattlesnake — is supposed to remain basically the same. Old pavers will be recycled and new granite pavers are expected to withstand city dirt better than the old versions over time.
Business as Usual
Businesses on the 16th Street Mall remain open during construction and look forward to the day when construction fences are removed, making it easier for customers to easily access their doors on this pedestrian-friendly street.
The plan is for sections to open as they are completed so that there are just months rather than years of construction noise and disruption in key spots along the mall.
In the meantime, individuals are encouraged to visit downtown Denver and frequent businesses along the 16th Street Mall. Consider arriving before a show for seasonal shopping and an early dinner, come down on December 2 for the Parade of Lights, view the annual lighting display at the City & County Building, explore the Denver Christkindlmarket (Nov 17-Dec 23) at Civic Center Park and be immersed by The Mile High Tree (Nov 17-Dec 31).
Parking is available on most side streets, at the Denver Pavilions, the Arts Complex, and several other garages.
Changes to Expect
The new 16th Street Mall will move transit lines to the center of the street all the way from Broadway to Market, thereby making wide sidewalks the full length of the Mall. These expanded areas will have additional seating and play spaces for families, with the intention of inviting people to linger for lunch or engaging in some offline time together.
While not entirely new, there will be trees and large planters to provide green space and shade in the summer months.
More lights are being installed along the mall to make it easier to navigate at night.
It’s likely there will be new public artwork installed on the mall, but no details have been shared yet on the artists or locations.
For those who are regularly downtown or looking to book a hotel and night out this year, visit the city’s 16th Street Mall Project website page for the latest details on which blocks are currently the most open or about to open.