For Councilman Albus Brooks, the mere sight of a crane in his northeast Denver city council district signifies the area is open to business and ready for revitalization.
And with the groundbreaking in Curtis Park on Friday of what will be an expansive $22 million home for Mile High United Way, a crane will be a persistent sight on a parcel of land near the corner of Park Avenue West and Stout Street until fall 2014.
"This surely will be an anchor that ignites new development in this area," an optimistic Brooks said.
United Way has been headquartered in the Lower Highlands neighborhood of Denver since the late 1980s. But with a groundswell of pricey new development in LoHi and the need to expand, United Way decided it was time to move on. The nonprofit purchased about an acre of vacant land from the Denver Housing Authority earlier this year for $1.5 million. Tax credits and private donations will fund the new 63,000-square-foot building.
Mile High United Way president Christine Benero said the facility will include offices for agency staff, as well as community gathering rooms, a call center for human service referrals and a cafe operated by the local group Work Options for Women.
"By moving into Curtis Park, we really hope to empower the community," Benero said. "We want to be an asset to the community."
In 1979, Greyhound planned to build a bus maintenance facility on the parcel near Park Avenue West between Stout and California streets.
But residents of the historic neighborhood in the shadows of downtown wanted no part of it. Then councilman Elvin R. Caldwell led a protest, and plans for the facility were shelved.
Since the 1980s, when the DHA purchased the land, it has sat vacant waiting for a suitor.
DHA is the largest land owner in Curtis Park. In recent months, the public housing agency has helped transform parcels in the neighborhood, like 25 acres near 24th and Curtis streets that have become a lab for small urban farming and will be the site of housing.
"We're always actively looking to organizations that would be good stewards of the land," DHA development director Chris Parr said. "With this particular project, we're confident it will have a lasting effect."
Benero and Brooks say the community has been receptive to United Way's move to the location near Sonny Lawson Park.
Brooks said the new building will complement residential construction along Welton Street in Five Points and the Arapahoe Square revitalization.
Joel Noble, president of the Curtis Park Neighbors, called the new facility a "welcoming gateway into Denver's most historic neighborhood."
"It's much better than the weed and fencing that's currently there," Noble said. "Look around to other communities that are growing — they have anchors that ignite growth. This will be that anchor."
Kurtis Lee: 303-954-1655, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kurtisalee