Denver developer makes progress on “carbon-positive” hotel

Developers of a project billed as the country’s first “carbon-positive” hotel placed the last beam on the building Wednesday and said the hotel in downtown Denver will be open for business around June 2024.

The 13-story Populus hotel by Urban Villages will be highly visible not only because of its location — next to Civic Center park — but also because of its design. The triangular building’s exterior will evoke the bark of an aspen tree, with the inset windows mimicking the dark, eye-shaped marks left on an aspen’s bark when branches break off.

The hotel’s name, Populus, comes from the scientific name for quaking aspen: Populus tremuloides. Studio Gang, which is based in Chicago and has projects around the world, is the hotel’s architect.

The exterior “lids” of the windows will shade the interior and channel rainwater to keep the facade looking fresh, according to Studio Gang’s website.

A new 145,000-gross-square-foot, 13-story mixed-use building, Populus, located at 14th Street and Colfax Avenue, immediately adjacent to Civic Center Park is pictured in this rendering. (Rendering courtesy of Studio Gang Architects)
A new 145,000-gross-square-foot, 13-story mixed-use building, Populus, located at 14th Street and Colfax Avenue, immediately adjacent to Civic Center Park is pictured in this rendering. (Rendering courtesy of Studio Gang Architects)

Another feature that Denver-based Urban Villages believes will set Populus apart is the work to make the hotel carbon-positive. The idea is to not only power the building with renewable energy and cut greenhouse-gas emissions, but to offset the carbon embodied in the materials used to construct the hotel and emissions from transportation through off-site projects to contain carbon dioxide.

Urban Villages will work with the nonprofit One Tree Planted and the U.S. Forest Service to plant 72,000 trees in Gunnison County and with farmers and ranchers who use no-till and other practices to sequester carbon, said Jon Buerge, the firm’s president and partner.

Buerge pointed out that buildings account for about 40% of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions.

“If we really start to look at how we’re going to address climate change and we don’t talk about buildings, we’re missing a big component of the puzzle,” Buerge said.

Urban Villages is working with outside companies to calculate the hotel’s carbon footprint, from the concrete and other building materials used, the interior furnishings and the energy used to power the hotel. The company said a low-carbon concrete mix was used in construction.

Partner Jeff Hermanson speaks during a topping-off ceremony for Populus, a hotel being constructed on the corner of 14th Street and West Colfax Avenue in Denver, on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. The hotel is set to open around May 2024 and will be the first carbon-positive hotel in the country. At the topping-off ceremony, Urban Villages, the developer, and partners signed the last beam that was then lifted and placed on top of the hotel. (Photo by Grace Smith/The Denver Post)
Partner Jeff Hermanson speaks during a topping-off ceremony for Populus, a hotel being constructed on the corner of 14th Street and West Colfax Avenue in Denver, on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. The hotel is set to open around May 2024 and will be the first carbon-positive hotel in the country. At the topping-off ceremony, Urban Villages, the developer, and partners signed the last beam that was then lifted and placed on top of the hotel. (Photo by Grace Smith/The Denver Post)

Buerge said Urban Villages the hotel will be powered by off-site solar and wind facilities. Recycling and composting will be used to reduce waste as much as possible

Populus won’t have onsite parking. Urban Villages said parking garages “are built of carbon-heavy steel and reinforced concrete.”

“Populus will provide Denver and the nation with a stunning hotel that breaks the boundaries of sustainable hospitality, all thanks to our dedicated team and partners, who have been working tirelessly to make this project a reality,” Grant McCargo, Urban Villages’ co-founder and CEO said in a statement.

McCargo acknowledged there are added costs in developing Populus as a carbon-positive building, but believes the project will be more successful as a result of the investments.

“If you’re a business executive and you’re not taking environmental stewardship seriously, you are behind the times and will not be successful.  Regulatory pressure is forcing change.  Investors are requiring change,” McCargo said in an email. “Consumers want sustainability as part of their choices. Today, green business is good business.”

When planning Populus, Urban Villages researched how other developers have reduced buildings’ carbon footprints. Buerge said a few hotels in Scandinavia have taken the same approach as Urban Villages has, but the company didn’t find similar examples among U.S. hotels.

People lift the last beam onto a truck trailer during a topping-off ceremony for Populus, a hotel being constructed on the corner of 14th Street and West Colfax Avenue in Denver, on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (Photo by Grace Smith/The Denver Post)
People lift the last beam onto a truck trailer during a topping-off ceremony for Populus, a hotel being constructed on the corner of 14th Street and West Colfax Avenue in Denver, on Wednesday, June 28, 2023. (Photo by Grace Smith/The Denver Post)

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