LoDo is the lower downtown area of Denver, Colorado, the oldest and original settlement of the city of Denver. It is a historic district, known for its shopping and nightlife and serves as an example of the success of urban renewal in some American cities.
Lower Downtown is not a neighborhood designated place by the city of Denver. Rather, it is an area identified in the minds of visitors and residents of Denver. The easiest geographic designation of the neighborhood would be the one used to define the historic district of LoDo.
Before European exploration of the area, Native Americans, particularly the Arapahoe tribe, had encampments along the South Platte River near or in what is now LoDo. In 1858, after gold was discovered in the river, General William Larimer founded Denver by putting down cottonwood logs in the center of a square mile plot that would basically be the current LoDo neighborhood. Therefore, LoDo is both the original city of Denver, as well as its oldest neighborhood. Then like now, LoDo was a bustling and sometimes wild area known for its saloons, and brothels. During the Sand Creek Massacre, it was LoDo where the heads of the slaughtered Arapahoetribe were paraded in victory.
As Denver grew, city leaders realized a railroad was needed to keep Denver a strong city, especially when the transcontinental railroad bypassed Denver for Cheyenne, Wyoming. In 1870, after much cajoling from town leaders, residents passed bonds that brought a 106-mile rail line from Cheyenne. This and later train lines ended up in the Platte valley just behind LoDo. Union Station became the place most people traveled into the city and LoDo would be the first part of the city they would see.
LoDo like the rest of Denver went through its ups and downs. What was once a thriving business area was, by the mid twentieth century, a skid row. This was especially true after highways and airports took away from the importance of Union Station and the train transportation that built the city. Fortunately, the wrecking crews spared much of the historic neighborhood when the area was not designated part of the Central Business District.
In 1988, LoDo was designated a historic district, protecting the neighborhood from the destruction that wrecked the rest of downtown. It was during this time, that the neighborhood started to revert itself in importance. New businesses like John Hickenlooper’s Wynkoop Brewery started to pop up and slowly LoDo became a destination neighborhood. By the time Coors Field came to the north of LoDo in 1995, the neighborhood had revitalized itself into the young and hip neighborhood filled with clubs, restaurants, art galleries, stores, bars, and other businesses. The Pepsi Center to the south of the neighborhood further encouraged the neighborhood to become a sport fan’s paradise. New residential development also came to the neighborhood transforming old warehouses into pricey new lofts.
Lower Downtown has undergone many changes, and while most in Denver think them to be positive, there are many problems associated with them as well. LoDo’s status as the club and party center runs right into the new resident’s ideas of home. Recent late night bouts of violent behavior in the neighborhood (dubbed “the wilding” by local media) have stepped up efforts by the police to oversee and protect the area when clubs let out at 2 a.m. This has caused many conflicts, with cops and club-goers. Club owners have suggested a two tiered closing system similar to what cities like San Diego and Austin, Texas have where clubs stop serving alcohol and stop letting people in at 1:30 or 2 a.m. but allow people to continue dancing until 4 a.m. Despite some support from the police, the proposal was shot down by neighborhood residents who were worried about possible late night noise and rowdiness.
Land in LoDo is zoned B-7, and new development requires architectural review, which allows LoDo to retain its density and character for the future.
Still, LoDo is one of the most popular and vibrant parts of Denver. Its population continues to grow, as does its popularity as the place for fun in the city.