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DENVER-The National Trust for Historic Preservations presented Recreational Equipment Inc. its 2001 National Preservation honor Award for restoring the 1901 Denver Tramway Building in Denver’s Central Platte Valley. The historic building serves as REI’s flagship store in the Denver metro area.

Once the power plant for Denver’s trolley system then a transportation museum, the building had fallen into serious disrepair by the late 1990s.

Seattle-based REI spent two years restoring it with Mithun Architects, also based in Seattle.

“REI could have built a sprawling new facility, but it chose to honor this piece of Denver’s past instead. REI’s restoration sets a standard that other major national retailers should consider,” says Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. “This magnificent restoration of a Denver landmark proves that historic preservation can work well for a large corporate franchise.”

In September, the store was also officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The 94,000-sf building burned coal to power all of Denver’s streetcars from the turn of the century until 1950. In 1968, the Forney Transportation Museum moved in with its collection of train cars, where it stayed for 30 years. Rainwater worked its way in over time, and the building was contaminated with asbestos, lead and ash. The building’s deterioration outpaced Forney’s budget, and the museum put it up for sale.

REI restored the building located at the confluence of the South Platte River and Cherry Creek in the heart of Downtown. The building was one giant room, with walls rising 55 feet to the roof. Architects restored 30 original windows, designing new ones to match; crumbling walls were rebuilt; building materials found onsite were recycled; and the building’s internal structure and systems were left exposed. By using evaporative cooling and lighting that switches off on bright sunny days, the building uses 30% less energy than state code requires.

Mezzanines on one side hug the wall while keeping the gigantic room mostly open as in the past. There are no escalators. To preserve the view from Downtown, the parking garage was built underground. The landscaping incorporates test areas for mountain bikes. A kayaking run constructed by the city runs in along side. The store’s centerpiece is a 45-foot-high climbing rock.

“It wouldn’t have been possible without the welcome and support we received,” says REI vice president for retail store development Jerry Chevassus.” The Denver Urban Renewal Authority was particularly important in making this happen.”

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is a private, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to protecting the irreplaceable. With more than 250,000 members nationwide, it provides leadership, education and advocacy to save America’s diverse historic places and revitalize communities.

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