Westwood residents walking along the 4400 block of Morrison Road may recall the site of the former Thriftway Building. During the 15 years that it was abandoned, it became home to drug activity and violent crime.
“You had some real sad incidents that happened here,” recalled Councilman Paul Lopez.
Now the site is home to the Thriftway Pocket Park, the first of what neighborhood residents hope will be several pocket parks providing more recreation opportunities in this neglected neighborhood.
The Urban Land Conservancy bought the land in 2014, and the park was developed with funding from the Denver Office of Economic Development, Wells Fargo and Colorado Health Foundation through Healthy Places Westwood.
“We’re here today because the community spoke up and the community acted and the community said, ‘Make it happen,’” Mayor Michael Hancock said at the dedication. “We’ve heard this community loud and clear. You deserve to have a community that you’re proud of and you deserve to have a community that has amenities that is meant for everyone.”
“It was the community that said we need recreation area, we need parks, we need futsal courts, we need basketball courts,” Lopez said. “This was built by the community.”
The park is welcomed by a community that has lacked amenities like green space and room for physical activities. Lopez reflected back to a time when he and Mayor Hancock were both on City Council and toured each other’s districts.
“I brought Michael to the neighborhood, and Mayor Hancock said, ‘Man, we cannot let this continue to be like this. This is not right. This is not a humane standard.'”
The creation of the Thriftway Pocket Park is another step towards Westwood’s goal of creating a healthier neighborhood.
“I thank most of all that these desires are being fulfilled,” said Norma Brambila of the Westwood Unidos community organization. “We’re going to play football here, soon in a rec center.”
“As a kid that grew up just down the street, I couldn’t be more proud to see these kids to be able to play on a real court instead of a street and that they will have real goal posts,” Lopez said. “We had a couple of stop signs.”
Hancock addressed Brambila’s determination and passion for the Westwood neighborhood.
“She comes to me whenever I’m in the hood,” Hancock said. “Gets right in my face and reminds me: ‘Don’t forget Westwood, don’t forget my community.’ She has fought hard for this area, for the development you see here. She has fought hard for the Westwood recreation center that we want to bring to the area.”
“It’s not me, it’s Westwood,” Brambila said. “It’s our community, our people. I am just a puppet that moves for this community and for these kids that are here.”
The creation of pocket parks is one aspect of the Westwood Neighborhood Plan. The only other pocket park was located on Kentucky Avenue and Knox Court. The pocket park is spot on with the neighborhood plan with futsal court and community garden features. The plan will also seek more improvements to Westwood Park and to Weir Gulch.
“Whenever you go to a neighborhood that is successful, it is successful because you have advocates,” Hancock said.