History Colorado Center

It was nearly 20 years ago when History Colorado – the state’s historical society – began planning to expand and upgrade the Colorado History Museum, but it wasn’t until August 2009 that the project actually broke ground. Many construction projects falter because of lack of financing, and although that came into play during the museum’s project, it was not the only factor holding it back.

Since it opened in the 1970s, the Colorado History Museum shared its Denver location with the Colorado Judicial Branch – a space known as the Judicial/Heritage Complex. The museum’s expansion got fully underway with its Vision Plan 2000. Then in 2005, the state commissioned an Urban Land Institute (ULI) panel, which found the complex was “wholly inadequate” to meet the needs of both organizations. 

The ULI study found “the complex to be undersized and poorly designed, with life-safety code and ADA issues, and in need of millions of dollars in deferred maintenance.” The panel concluded that “the two organizations’ missions were incompatible on the same block – judicial requiring ‘a place of dignity and slightly removed,’ with security around its perimeter, and Colorado History Museum an ‘educational place that is fun and accessible.’”

The ULI recommended that the museum should relocate to another area within Denver’s Civic Center/Golden Triangle Museum District, which would allow it to be close to other cultural institutions, but still within the city’s governmental and cultural center. 

In 2006, Trammell Crow Co. (TCC) was retained as the project manager for the new museum and judicial center. In 2008, TCC and the Colorado Historical Society identified a site at the intersection of 12th Street and Broadway in downtown Denver as its preferred location for the new museum – History Colorado Center. 

“We are extremely pleased to have found a museum location that we believe will help showcase Colorado’s historic treasures while meeting the Colorado Historical Society’s goals,” said Edward C. Nichols, History Colorado president and CEO. “With this, we can deliver a new world-class Colorado History Museum while allowing us to be an even better agent and resource for statewide programs, projects and initiatives.

“We spent two years in our search for the right location and moving only about one-half block keeps us within the Golden Triangle Museum District and the Civic Center neighborhood with good parking, which was our goal,” he said. “And, with this new building, we have an incredible opportunity to become a premier destination and place of pride for the people of Colorado and visitors to the state.”

‘A Desirable Destination’

With Trammell Crow on board as the project manager and Tryba Architects retained as the architect of record, Hensel Phelps Construction Co. was chosen as the project’s general contractor. Construction got under way in August 2009, and the project is scheduled for completion in fall 2011, when the staff will move in and exhibit construction will begin. The museum in History Center Colorado is expected to open to the public in spring 2012.

When completed, History Colorado Center will house a new museum, education/public programs, the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, the State Historical Fund, the Stephen H. Hart Research Library and other History Colorado functions. The 200,000-square-foot structure will have more than 7,700 square feet of space for future expansion. 

The $110.8 million project topped out in October 2010 when the final steel beam was affixed to the roof of the four-floor structure. The peak reaches 77 feet above the first floor at an altitude of 5,331 feet, History Colorado notes. History Colorado Center is being constructed to meet LEED Gold specifications. 

“Coloradans are known for their enduring spirit and it’s the lessons we learn that allow us to build better lives,” Nichols said in a statement. “The [museum] is an incredible opportunity to inspire visitors and residents to experience the state in an entirely new way.”

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