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For decades, the lot between Dahlia and Elm streets and 33rd and

35th streets in east Denver had been a blighted and rundown section of the community. Previously, it had been a vibrant center of commerce and one of the largest Black-owned shopping centers in the country. Now, with the grand opening of the Dahlia Square Senior Apartments, an eight-acre section of the property includes 88 units of “green” affordable housing units for seniors 62 and older. Getting them there was no easy task. “If you only knew what it took to move on speck of dirt…” said Mayor Michael Hancock, who was among more than 100 people at the grand opening on Oct. 7. The apartments, a $12 million endeavor, are the result of project that began 20 years ago. For Hancock and others involved with the project, the grand opening was a celebration of much more than the creation of a new place for people to live. It was the completion of a project that seemed impossible. For residents of Northeast Park Hill, it’s the remediation of a lot that Hancock described as a “symbol of neglect and disenfranchisement of a community.” “This used to be the heart and soul of Park Hill. Today is a rebirthing…like ghosts we rise,” said the Mayor as he also reminisced about skating at the Dahlia Square skating rink, Scooters, in his youth, and begging his mom to take him shopping at the Square. Arthur McDermott, president of McDermott Properties LLC, which developed the community, addressed the crowd with a welcome speech that began to paint a picture of Dahlia Square’s story. “There was a brick foundry right where you are sitting,” said McDermott to residents, community leaders, management staff, and others involved with the project. “Where you are sitting was a dump…where you are sitting was a burned out shopping center with environmental problems…where you are sitting is a site that was totally remediated…it was a site that needed change.” In the late ‘50s, the Dahlia Square shopping center was built over a landfill of solid waste that Farrey Brick Co. left behind in excavation pits when the clay it had been mining for 20 years was exhausted. Over the years, the shopping center featured a grocery store, a barbershop, a bowling alley, a doughnut shop, clubs, a roller skating rink, and restaurants. But the shopping center began to struggle in the ‘70s and ‘80s as bigger shopping centers located on major

Photo by Wil Alston

Eighty-Eight Affordable Senior Apartments Open At Renovated Dahlia Square By Lisa Walton streets became more prevalent. By the ‘90s, the center was less than 15 percent occupied and a rundown eyesore for the community. The shopping center wasn’t demolished until 2005, and the groundbreaking for the apartments didn’t happen until last year, but efforts for redevelopment date back to former Mayor Wellington Webb’s term in office, and continued after he left in 2003. It was a task first assigned by Webb to Tracy Huggins, executive director of the Denver Urban Renewal Agency (DURA), the city’s redevelopment agency engaged in neighborhood and downtown revitalization, economic development, home ownership, and housing rehabilitation, in 1997. But problems with financing, remediation, and local residents repeatedly delayed the project. “The real turning point in the development,” said Huggins, “was deciding to take on pieces as they pre-

About the Denver Urban Renewal Authority

The Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) is a full service redevelopment agency that engages in neighborhoods and downtown revitalization, economic development, homeownership and housing rehabilitation throughout the City and County of Denver. Since 1958, DURA has helped Denver overcome challenging conditions by leveraging public funding to maximize private investment and is an agent for growth and financial opportunity for Denver, its residents and the greater community. For more information, visit http://www.renewdenver.org.

About McDermtt Properties LLC

Known as one of Colorado’s leading affordable housing developers, McDermott Properties is recognized for imaginative new multifamily construction projects and for effective preservation and rehabilitation of existing apartment communities. McDermott Properties works with investors, government agencies, architects and builders to build, preserve and improve affordable housing in Colorado.

sented themselves.” And there were a lot of pieces. Site cleanup cost $7 million. Funded through a mix of DURA grants and loans, the project required remediation of leaking methane gas and significant amounts of asbestos. Ownership of the property changed repeatedly, developers came and went, and getting the funding was difficult and competitive. “Many people for so long stated that nothing could ever be done with this site,” said Cris White, executive director for the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA). CHFA selected the project from a group of 23 applicants to receive 9 percent tax credits. White explained that he was very humbled by the project because his organization played just one of many important roles in the redevelopment. In appreciation for the several organizations that helped bring the

About the Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA)

Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) finances the places where people live and work. CHFA strengthens Colorado’s communities by helping people by their own homes, grow their businesses, and create and preserve affordable rental housing. CHFA was established in 1973 by the Colorado General Assembly to address the shortage of affordable housing in the state. Since that time, CHFA has made loans to more than 72,500 low and moderate income homebuyers; Financed the construction and preservation of over 56,300 affordable rental housing units; and Awarded Low Income Housing Tax Credits to support the development of nearly 40,000 affordable rental housing units. For more information please visit www.chfainfo.com. Contact CHFA’s Denver office at 1-800-877-chfa (2432), or Western Slope office at 1-800-877-8450.

Denver Urban Spectrum — www.denverurbanspectrum.com – November 2011

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project to fruition, awards were presented to CHFA and DURA, in addition to architectural firm Lewis Himes Associates Inc., Merrill Lynch Community Development Banking, RBC Capital Markets who purchased the tax credits, and Shaw Construction. Aside from being a milestone in urban redevelopment and an important example of a private-public cooperation, Hancock said the apartments fill a need for age-restricted residences in the area. “Our seniors are the most precious resources we have outside of our children…our connection to the past,” he said, highlighting the importance of helping them maintain the quality of life that they deserve. “Ooh, I love it,” remarked Lois Murry about her new home. A resident of Denver since 1973, she moved to Dahlia Square on August 31 from a senior home in Stapleton, where she says she went five days without heat and hot water last winter and would spray for bed bugs once a month. “It’s just a different atmosphere over here. I’m just more happy because everything is new and it looks good…don’t have to worry about bedbugs.” She thinks the complex is much more welcoming and offers more amenities than her last residence. The one and two bedroom apartments are all furnished with Energy Star appliances. Amenities include a library, a living room, a billiards room, a physical fitness center, arts and crafts center, and a computer room. Management-organized programs will include health screenings, pool tournaments, potlucks, card games, parties, computer classes, and craft programs. A senior center is located less than half a mile away. The apartments also share the lot with the Park Hill Family Medical Clinic, which opened in 2009. While the apartments opened up in the last week of August, there is still one more leg of the journey. The senior apartments are only phase one of the redevelopment. McDermott Properties aims to provide an additional 40 units of income-restricted apartments in the adjacent field on the same lot. However, funding for phase two will not be available until the developers can document that phase one has been a success. The residences, half of which are occupied, are filling up quick. Residents interested in moving in within the next couple of months will benefit from special one-time only deals, said ComCap Asset Management’s Director of Marketing Pete Wilkins. For tours and applications, visit Dahlia Square Senior Apartments at 3421 Elm Street, or call 303-333-2126. 

DUS November 2011  
DUS November 2011  

Denver Urban Spectrum November 2011 Issue