Denver’s Populus hotel tops out

Real estate developer and environmental steward Urban Villages has revealed that Populus, the first carbon-positive hotel in the U.S., has topped out. The milestone marks the completion of the vertical structure for the 13-story, 265-room hotel which will open in Denver in spring 2024.

Managed by Aparium Hotel Group, the property features an Aspen tree-inspired design by architecture and urban design practice Studio Gang and will offer a rooftop restaurant and bar with mountain and city views. As the country’s first carbon-positive hotel, Populus’s carbon footprint will be offset through forest and agricultural collaborations that will sequester more carbon than the building emits.

Grant McCargo, cofounder/CEO, Urban Villages said, “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.”

Jon Buerge, president/partner, Urban Villages, added, “We hope Populus will serve as a model for how the real estate industry can more directly address the urgency of climate change while also meeting the preferences of today’s eco-conscious traveler. Buildings currently account for 45% of greenhouse emissions in the U.S. We need a new way to build. We hope the transparency with which we are sharing our ever-evolving efforts to reduce the building’s carbon footprint during construction and operations—and to establishing creative, local ways to sequester additional carbon off-site—will empower other developers to take a more sustainable and holistic approach.”

Urban Villages broke ground on Populus on Earth Day of 2022 with a public commitment to make the development “carbon positive.” The company defines this as a commitment to sequester more carbon in biomass and soil than the combined embodied and operational footprints of the building across its entire life cycle. This will be achieved through a combination of sustainable design and construction techniques, for which the building is targeting LEED Gold certification, in concert with ecological sequestration efforts off-site.

Urban Villages will offset the “embodied carbon” of the building—the carbon emitted during the creation, transportation, installation, maintenance and end-of-life disposal of the materials used to build the hotel—by planting more than 70,000 trees in Gunnison County, CO. Planting trees was selected in place of a more traditional approach of purchasing carbon credits because it reflects Populus’s tree-inspired design and for its capacity to raise local awareness and accountability in Colorado. Beyond offsetting the building’s footprint, this approach will also support and fortify biodiversity within the alpine ecosystem: Urban Villages partnered with One Tree Planted and the United States Forest Service to reintroduce Engelmann Spruce, a primary tree species that was diminished by beetle kill. The trees, which have already been procured, will be planted this summer.

In addition to Populus’ carbon sequestration strategy, Urban Villages is using innovative solutions to significantly reduce carbon throughout the development and ongoing operations of the hotel. The company worked closely with Studio Gang and the general contractor, The Beck Group, to limit the carbon footprint of the building during design and construction. This includes utilizing Holcim’s ECOPact low-carbon concrete mix, which offers a minimum of 30% lower CO2 emissions compared to standard concrete. By using ECOPact for Populus’ development, the embodied carbon of the concrete is expected to be 765 tons less than traditional concrete, a 24% reduction in CO2 emissions of the total concrete volume. Further design elements that improve the building’s environmental performance include a continuously insulated facade system that features a GFRC rain screen, “Aspen-eye” window lids that shade the building, mechanical systems that employ heat recovery and guestrooms designed with minimal furniture and finishes.

To further reduce carbon profiles, Populus is intentionally built without any onsite parking—Denver’s first new-build hotel without it, according to the company—as parking garages are built of carbon-heavy steel and reinforced concrete. Similarly, the hotel’s central urban location close to public transportation means its guests will emit less carbon traveling to and from the hotel once it opens.

Beyond offsetting the building’s footprint, Urban Villages and its partners will also ensure that the hotel upholds its carbon-positive status throughout its lifetime by tracking, reducing and offsetting the carbon emissions of its operations—including energy use; team member and guest transportation; food sourcing and transport; and more. The company is currently assessing processes and partnerships to reduce the operational carbon footprint, with a goal of utilizing 100% renewable energy, sourcing food through regenerative agriculture partnerships and landfill diversion programs that strive for 100% recyclable and compostable waste streams.

Populus will feature a ground-floor restaurant, flexible event spaces, a coffee shop and a signature rooftop bar and restaurant offering views of the mountains, city skyline and Civic Center Park.

“At Aparium, our mission is to create one-of-a-kind hotels, each leaving an indelible mark within its community,” said Mario Tricoci, CEO/founder, Aparium Hotel Group. “Through our dynamic approach to programming, collaborative local partnerships and unparalleled food and beverage experiences, we will continue to redefine the boundaries of excellence in the industry with Populus. With its breathtaking design, positive ecological undertaking, and the one-of-one experiences that are synonymous with Aparium, Populus is destined to become a must-visit landmark not just for Denver, but for the entire country.”