Last week, we looked at how development is changing the Welton Street Corridor in Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood.
The neighborhood is balancing bringing in new housing, businesses and opportunities with preserving the area’s rich African-American culture and history.
On Tuesday, we caught up with the man representing Five Points on the Denver City Council, council president Albus Brooks. Below are some of Brooks’ thoughts on the future of Five Points.
Q: Can Five Points stay a culturally significant place in Denver, especially for its African-American community?
Brooks: You know, for the first time in 2010 there were more white babies born on Welton than black babies, so there is a change happening. However, Welton will always be the historic district that it is. One of the factors of gentrification is affordable housing and we are addressing that, so I feel confident about that.
The other piece is a lot of these new developments have African-American historical names on them, so it’s not just becoming this neighborhood where it’s, ‘What the heck is that?’ It is actually representing the past.
Q: How has Five Points changed since you’ve been in Denver and been on Denver City Council?
Brooks: It’s unfortunate because that area had seen no redevelopment, even with the light rail coming on, since the ’50s. It was real stagnant. It was a real focal point for the community when I ran for office to really reignite that area. I think with the resurgence of the economy, with the focus of my office, the Five Points Business District and the mayor, we’ve seen focused investment in that area.
When I started in that area I think it was 60 percent or 65 percent African-American-owned properties along Welton. That has gone down but not significantly. We’re still in the 50s, but you’re starting to see interest from others around the city in the area, and now the valuations are very high to buy property.
Q: What are some of the improvements that you’re proud to see on Welton Street and Five Points?
Brooks: No. 1, we’re going to have almost 300 affordable housing units (ranging from below 30 percent area median income to 80 percent AMI). I’m very excited about that because as we know as Denver continues to grow things won’t be cheap.
It’s not official yet but, The Rossonian is on deck to get going as a hotel and two restaurants. That’s going to be a huge investment there.
The Five Points Business District, which I serve as the chair of, is going to be morphing into a Business Improvement District. The final vote will be in November. That’s something I’m really proud of. It’s taken us a while to come together as business owners and property owners on Welton, but we have, and I think we’re going to be successful.
Q: Affordable housing might help with keeping some residents in Five Points, but what about businesses like the Welton Street Cafe or Randall’s at the New Climax Lounge & Event Center?
Brooks: It’s tough to look at broad policies. We’ve just been working with folks one-on-one. Randall (Borne), obviously we’ve been working with him a lot. Welton Street Cafe, we’re working with the current property owner of the business and letting them know this is a historically significant location and working with them on the rent and cost structures.
The Office of Economic Development has a lot of tools that help us keep small businesses like that in town. We’ve been thrilled that they’re still there and that they’ll continue to be there.
The other thing I’ll say is there are a lot of new developers who are coming in who do not want to bring in Starbucks or some of these national chains. They’re figuring out how to do like a Welton Cafe type of development, which is really interesting.
Q: Some people in Five Points expressed dissatisfaction with Mayor Michael Hancock’s efforts or that he’s turned his back on the community. How do you as a councilman who represents the area keep people’s trust, knowing at the government level you can’t do everything you promise?
Brooks: People have a perception issue. As a matter of fact, because I’m council president now, I meet with the mayor every week, and he wanted to have his meeting at Welton Street last week. It’s really interesting to me that people would say that (about the mayor), but I do understand why people get that idea.
My office is in Five Points. We set up shop above the (old) DMV in Five Points because that’s where we wanted to be and where the changes are taking place.
You have to continue to keep reaching out to the public and continue telling the story. I want my legacy to be Five Points. When we came there, there was no investment in Five Points, and in the last five years, there’s been over $300 million in reinvestment. That’s not just going to developers. That’s going to the sustainability of what Five Points is.
We’ll continue to work with the community, and I think all of us need to think about what we can do to reinvest in Five Points. Not just the mayor. Not just the city councilmen, but also the homeowners and people who choose to shop at different places. We should all be focused on Five Points and investing into opportunities there.
Q: What do you want your legacy to look like? What do you want Five Points to be?
Brooks: I hope to attract, obviously, people of diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. But I’d really love to see middle-class African-Americans see Five Points as a place they can reinvest in and not in south Aurora or Douglas County.
I hope that Five Points would be a place where middle-class and upper-middle-class black folks can reinvest and feel comfortable.