Historic Rossonian building plans include a hotel, lounge and Chauncey Billups

After two decades of vacancy, Five Points’ historic Rossonian Hotel is being brought back to life.

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Members of the Five Points community pack the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library as developers announce new plans for the Rossonian Hotel. April 16, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; five points; development; welton street; kevinjbeaty;

Members of the Five Points community pack a Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library floor as developers announce new plans for the Rossonian Hotel. April 16, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

After two decades of vacancy, Five Points’ historic Rossonian Hotel is being brought back to life.

And no, it’s not getting a new life for a new Denver. The Rossonian will be restored to its former glory as a hotel and lounge.

“Five Points isn’t Five Points without jazz,” said Palisade Partners President Paul Books, rousing a round of applause from a crowd at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library on Monday night. There, he announced that the Rossonian will reopen as a 41-room hotel with a ground-floor restaurant and lounge.

Development partner Haroun Cowans (left) listens to Palisade Partners President Paul Books speak as they meet with the Five Points community to announce new plans for the Rossonian Hotel. Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, April 16, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; five points; development; welton street; kevinjbeaty;

Development partner Haroun Cowans (left) listens to Palisade Partners President Paul Books speak. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Palisade, a major developer in Five Points, purchased the 105-year-old hotel for $6 million in the summer of 2017. It has been vacant since 1998, when the Denver Housing Authority moved out and the city bought the foreclosed property for $1.9 million.

“In August, when we purchased the Rossonian and other portions of that block, we’d always been striving to be inclusive and celebrate the rich history, but we really wanted to take it a next step further,” Books said. “For these projects, we wanted to pick a team that reflected the culture and history. We wanted to create uses that reflect the culture and history…. This is the starting point of doing that.”

The future of the Rossonian has a big name attached to it: Chauncey Billups.

City Council President Albus Brooks (right) shakes hands with NBA star Chauncey Billups. Developers meet with the Five Points community to announce new plans for the Rossonian Hotel. Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, April 16, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; five points; development; welton street; kevinjbeaty;

City Council President Albus Brooks (right) shakes hands with Chauncey Billups. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver native and one-time Denver Nugget is a partner in the project, and told the crowd, “I never put my name on anything unless I’m going to be 100-percent involved.”

“The first time I sat with Paul and Albus [Brooks] when they brought me in, the first thing I told them was, ‘If this is not going to be something that celebrates this culture and this community, this is going to be a very quick meeting.'”

Council President Brooks is acting as a city liaison, working with Palisade and Billups as well as the other partners: Haroun Cowans of NAI Shames Makosky and Impact Empowerment Group and Norman Harris Jr., whose family has managed property in Five Points since the ’40s. The pair formed their own as-yet-unnamed group to act as a partner in the project.

Development partner Norman Harris III listens as he and other developers meet with the Five Points community to announce new plans for the Rossonian Hotel. Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, April 16, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; five points; development; welton street; kevinjbeaty;

Development partner Norman Harris Jr. and Welton Street. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Reopening the Rossonian will require renovation, and they’ll add a fourth floor to the building, with exterior walls set in 15 feet. The hotel will occupy the upper floors, and the entire first floor will be dedicated to the restaurant and lounge.

We really want it to become the neighborhood living room,” Books said.

A neighboring property will play a role in bringing the Rossonian back to life, too. Books said another one of his projects, The Lydian apartments at 26th and Welton, will likely dedicate some “Airbnb-style units” as additional hotel space.

On the other side of 26th and Welton, another Palisade property will supplement the Rossonian by housing Busboys and Poets, which owner Andy Shallal described as “a place where racial and cultural connections are uplifted … a place where art and culture and politics intentionally collide.”

Busboys and Poets was born in Washington, D.C., and there are now six locations there. Its community spaces, Shallal said, are more than just a restaurant or bar — they serve as event spaces, bookstores and art galleries.

Bandleader Lionel Hampton and friends at Rossonian Lounge in 1948. (Black American West Museum/National Register of Historic Places)

Bandleader Lionel Hampton and friends at Rossonian Lounge in 1948. (Black American West Museum/National Register of Historic Places)

The hotel first opened as the Baxter in 1912 and secured its place in history in the 1930s through the 1960s, hosting the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, George Shearing and Dinah Washington. Many hotels then would deny black musicians lodging, but not the hotel in the Harlem of the West. They’d stay there are often perform at the Rossonian Lounge.

The Rossonian was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

“This has been, as far as Denver and the West are concerned, a keystone space,” said Charleszine “Terry” Nelson, special collection and community resource manager for the Blair-Caldwell library. “This is what the Rossonian meant to the neighborhood: everyone who lived in the area in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s had a Rossonian story.”

“The Rossonian was the keynote. It was the capstone. It was the place,” she continued. So we are here to celebrate the continuing of being the keynote, the capstone, the place. … Five Points is still the place.”

Many members of the communtiy raised concerns about the future of the neighborhood in the face of rapid development and gentrification. Developers meet with the Five Points community to announce new plans for the Rossonian Hotel. Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, April 16, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)  denver; colorado; denverite; five points; development; welton street; kevinjbeaty;

Many members of the community raised concerns about the <a href="https://denverite.com/welton-street-denver-changes-50399/?utm_source=Denverite&utm_campaign=6effe2290f-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_04_13&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd2c9a8936-6effe2290f-139124529&mc_cid=6effe2290f&mc_eid=311ee170a1">future of the neighborhood</a> in the face of rapid development and gentrification. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Kevin J. Beaty contributed to this report.