City Park Master Plan

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City Park Master Plan Update & Design Guidelines

In July 2014 Historic Denver convened a group of community stakeholders, including Parks & Recreation, to talk about City Park, and to explore questions about what the park’s past means for its future. After several months of exploration about historic park management, the group hosted a community meeting in February 2015 and recommended an update to the 2001 Master Plan, including the development of City Park-specific design guidelines. This will allow the community to develop a shared vision for the park that can ease current controversies and provide both consistency and flexibility so that the park evolves to meet current needs while honoring its deep history and iconic spaces.
The last time the City engaged in a Master Plan process for City Park was in 2001, when a large-scale community effort led to the creation of the current City Park Master Plan, titled “Revitalizing the Legacy of City Park.” The Master Plan included a Preservation Plan and a Circulation Plan, which was later enhanced with a 2010 circulation study. Over the past fourteen years the Department of Parks & Recreation and community groups have implemented many of the recommendations of the Master Plan, including restoring sculptures and fountains, improving conditions at Ferril Lake and Duck Lake, and working with the park’s institutions to create parking solutions.

Additionally, since the 2001 Master Plan there have been significant changes in the neighborhoods around City Park and across Denver, as population growth creates new demands on the city’s historic park system. The Master Plan Update will provide a fresh opportunity to review park conditions, park needs, and opportunities, while the design guidelines will ensure that future changes are of the quality and character that make City Park special.


The existing City Park Master Plan includes a lot of really useful information, and while many of the projects identified in the plan have now been completed, the base information about the parks, its evolution, the different sub-areas in the park, etc. is still relevant. An update will build on this information, acknowledge what has been achieved, identify needs that still need to be addressed, and explore how potential changes that may be necessary or desirable can be accommodated in sympathetic and compatible ways.

Design Guidelines are proposed as part of the project because design guidelines provide more specific details than Master Plan materials. The guidelines will include broad principals, but will be tailored to City Park specifically. The guidelines will include guidance for both the rehabilitation of existing, contributing features as well as establish the criteria with which new features or additions would be evaluated. Examples of the guideline content for additions, modifications or enhancements could include guidance that they respect the park’s spatial composition, honor important vistas, be of appropriate mass and scale or reflect the level of material quality found elsewhere in the park.


The Master Plan Update & Design Guideline project will include four major tasks:

Community Outreach and Education
Includes a steering committee, community meetings, an on-line engagement tool, and work sessions with park institutions.

Inventory and Assessment
Includes project mapping, field reconnaissance, updated site assessment and illustrative plans.

Master Plan Update
Includes evaluation of program uses and needs, updated plans for spatial organization, circulation and parking, built-assets, and topography and vegetation.

Design Guideline Development
Includes guidelines for each of the updated master plan items.


The project was scoped in 2015 and as budgeted will only address the portion of City Park south of 23rd, and therefore will not address the City Park Golf Course.

The scope of work for the Master Plan Update & Design Guidelines does not include an application for local historic designation for City Park, which is a separate process that could take place after the Master Plan Update is complete.


The Department of Parks & Recreation, with support from Historic Denver, is actively raising funds for the Master Plan Update & Design Guidelines, estimated to cost $200,000. In August 2015 Historic Denver, in partnership with the Department of Parks & Recreation, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the State Historical Fund to help cover these costs. Individuals have already committed more than $7,000 toward a $12,500 community goal, and the City has already committed to matching those funds as well as exploring other funding possibilities. Community donations are still encouraged and welcomed, and those interested in giving can click here or contact Historic Denver.


East District Park Planner Kelly Ream will manage the technical aspects of the Master Plan Update & Design Guideline project. She can be reached at kelly, Historic Denver is continuing to provide support on this project, including coordinating fundraising, and Annie Levinsky can be reached at 303-534-5288 ext. 1 or


City Park Master Plan, 2001
City Park Circulation Plan, 2010
Denver Parks & Parkways application for National Register of Historic Places, including City Park
Denver Parks Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including City Park
Civic Center Master Plan & Design Guidelines

Project Background
Founded in 1882, City Park is one of the oldest parks in Denver. In 2014 Historic Denver, a non-profit organization founded in 1970, agreed to facilitate a conversation about the park’s historic character, and how to find balance between maintaining that character and meeting community needs. Among the topics to explore, whether to pursue local landmark designation, a key suggestion in the 2001 City Park Master Plan.

In consultation with the Department of Parks and Recreation, Historic Denver convened a group of 13 stakeholders, including representatives from Parks and Recreation, Community Planning & Development/Landmark Preservation Commission, City Park Alliance, the Council District 8 Office, City Park Friends and Neighbors, and several at-large community representatives.

The goals of City Park Exploratory Committee were simple:
– Explore what local landmark designation can (and cannot) do for City Park
– Identify what the steps would be to make the designation process thoughtful and successful for all stakeholders

In February 2015 the group hosted a public meeting attended by more than 50 community members. At the meeting the group presented a recommendation that involved two phases, the first being an update to the 2001 Master Plan, coupled with Design Guidelines. A second phase could be local landmark designation, but no decision has been made regarding the pursuit of local historic designation for City Park.

The materials posted here are intended to provide general background information. If you have questions please call (303) 534-5288 ext. 1.

Questions about Historic Designation:
Is there a current effort to pursue historic designation for City Park?
No. As part of the exploratory process convened by Historic Denver in 2014 a stakeholder committee discussed the idea of local landmark designation and put together many of the materials available on this webpage regarding historic park management. After six months the group recommended the City and the Community pursue the Master Plan Update and Design Guidelines before making a final decision about local landmark designation.

Isn’t City Park already historically designated?
City Park is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been since 1986. It is listed along with 14 other Denver parks and the parkway system. Because it is listed on the National Register, it is also listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Places. However, it is not listed under Denver’s local landmark ordinance, which is outlined in Chapter 30 of the Revised Municipal Code.

The term designation as used in this context refers only to historic designation, not to the designation of park land as park land.

What is the difference between local landmark designation and National Register designation?
National Register designation is primarily an honorific designation, recognizing the historic significance of a place. The National Register program is managed by the National Parks Service as part of the Department of the Interior. It does not come with regulatory tools unless direct action is being taken by the federal government, such as the construction of a federal highway or other federally-funded project. Local designation occurs according to provisions of Chapter 30 of the Revised Municipal Code, known as the Landmark Ordinance, passed in 1967. The authority to designate a landmark or district under the ordinance lies with City Council. Local designation is managed through the Landmark Commission, which is part of the Department of Community Planning & Development, and does come with a regulatory framework. This regulation generally pertains to the physical characteristics of a place or space, and not use.

A third type of designation, National Historic Landmark status, is more rare, and Civic Center became Denver’s first NHL in 2012, followed by Red Rocks in 2015.

Does Denver have any locally designated parks?
Yes. Civic Center Park became a local historic district in the mid-1970s, but design guidelines that help interpret the meaning of that designation were not adopted until 2005. You can read the Civic Center Design Guidelines on their website. Additionally, many of Denver’s parkways, such as 6th Avenue and 17th Avenue, are part of a local historic district but design guidelines for these element have not been formally adopted.

Are there local landmarks inside Parks?
Yes, several of Denver’s National Register Parks contain individual landmarks or small historic districts that are designated at the local level. For example, the City Park Pavilion is a small local historic district inside City Park, and the Graham Bible House near 21st & York is an individually designated local landmark in the park, as is Fire Station 18, located just off 22nd & Colorado Boulevard.

How do other cities approach the local designation and management of historic parks?
Historic Denver and other members of the stakeholder group have been researching this question, and you can read a summary of case studies.

Where can I read more about the history and character of City Park?
The 2001 Master Plan, posted above, provides a great overview of the history of the park, its design, and its extant historic features. This plan was prepared by Denver Parks & Rec, community stakeholders, and city officials. The application for the National Register of Historic Places, prepared in 1986, is also posted above.

What does it mean to have a designated landscape? What kind of landscape changes would designation cover?
Using the example of Civic Center and examples provided by other cities, local designation (either with or without custom design guidelines) generally covers not only the structures in a park setting, but also the design qualities of a park, such as the shape of features (like meadows), paths and roads, garden areas, as well as natural elements. Natural elements are treated in a variety of ways and standards could be set through design guidelines, although it appears common that most other cities address these in terms of groupings. For example, the types of replacement trees that are appropriate for a park are identified in advance so each replacement does not have to be approved. All other cities contacted do allow new additions in designated parks, and these new additions are generally reviewed by a landmark commission or other qualified body to determine their appropriateness.

Would local designation of City Park trigger a Design Review Process for changes?
Typically, building permits are the mechanism for triggering a design review process in a local historic district. For example, a property owner has to pull a permit to replace their roof, and so triggers the Landmark Commission review as part of their permitting process. However, city agencies in Denver, like Parks & Recreation, are typically “self-permitting” and so do not pull permits for work in their areas of jurisdiction. So, as part of the designation and particularly the design guidelines, the processes for design review could be laid out. In the case of Civic Center, Parks & Recreation formally adopted the design guidelines to ensure that any changes made to the park would go to the Landmark Commission.

What impact, if any, would designation have on use?
Historic designation would not impact the way events are permitted in the park. Landmark designation is a tool to address the physical environment, and because of the parameters within which the Landmark Commission operates use is not an issue for review unless there is a permanent or semi-permanent physical change involved. For example, Civic Center Park is a local historic district, and also host to many diverse events and activities throughout the year.

How will designation set clear parameters for what the Landmark Preservation Commission can and cannot review?
A designation would need to both clearly define boundaries, which will set parameters for the Landmark Commission, as well as identify the park’s character-defining features, those features the Landmark Commission will focus on. To provide further clarity on the purpose of the designation and the role of the LPC, customized design guidelines can be developed that relate directly to City Park’s design and unique features. The design guidelines can lay out the procedures for when review is required and how that review is carried out, as well as the criteria the Landmark Commission should use to determine whether changes are compatible with the historic park.