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Denver: Mile High City rises another story every day

By Jeff ReynoldsSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 16, 1982


On most Sundays Denver looks from the air as if some Air Force student pilots got a little careless with a bomb or two. Gaping craters gouge the city's face, and skeletal remains of buildings poke forlornly at the sky.

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Monday is a different story. The craters bustle with swarms of hard-hatted workers, and the skeletons display themselves for what they are: beginnings, not endings, of office buildings.

A number of elements symbolize Denver's fast-paced economy, but none so vividly as the city's building boom. This city has been called the nesting place of 40-story cranes.

Between two and three dozen new office buildings are either under construction or on the drawing boards.

Construction companies use whatever new techniques they can to put up their concrete and steel structure as quickly as possible.

Energy Center Four, which will be the city's tallest building, is lurching skyward at the rate of one story a day. The builder, Al Cohen Construction Co., brought in a sophisticated and expensive concrete-pouring technique to finish the 56-story central elevator core in record time.

The extra expense pays for itself, says John McGann, the firm's building superintendent, because it speeds completion of the building, getting tenants--and their rent money--in faster.

And there are bundles of tenants. Most of those block-consuming holes and bony construction frames in downtown Denver are already leased or rented out, though they are up to three years away from completion.

Projects not completely leased already--some 15 percent of the office space under construction--are that way on purpose; the developer thinks he will be able to command higher rents on completion of the building.

As it is, Denver boasts some of the highest commercial rents in the country. Downtown office space brings about $25 a square foot a year, compared with about Chicago, says Robert J. H. Sanderman, president of Oxford-AnsCo Development Co., the US subsidiary of a Canadian developer with several downtown projects currently under way.

''There is no Class A office space available for rent in downtown Denver'' at any price, says Terry Fiske, managing partner for the Denver office of Kirkland & Ellis, one of the many law firms moving into town.

Mr. Fiske has turned his firm into one of the fastest-growing law firms in Denver--all in sublet office space. He could afford any new office space in town , but there just isn't any to be had, at least not for two years.

So Kirkland & Ellis is subleasing a floor of the Dome Tower, owned by Canada's Dome Petroleum, until Dome needs the space.

Then Fiske will move his lawyers across town to two floors of a tower scheduled for completion in 1983. He employs 17 staff attorneys and says he might have twice that by year's end. Since all the offices are full, ''We'll just have to double up,''he says.

His is a common plight here. The vacancy rate is one-tenth of 1 percent, according to a recent survey by Coldwell, Banker & Co., a real estate firm.

Denver now has 32.7 million square feet of office space, a 76 percent increase over five years ago, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Some 20 million square feet of additional space is planned or under construction. Denver city and county officials issued 330 percent more nonresidential construction permits in 1981 than in 1980.