In Denver, the names of development zones like River North have become brands — and those brands are spreading.
Take the River North district, or RiNo, the name adopted for a section of northeast Denver in the 2000s. It may seem like an ambiguous concept — an Instagram hashtag full of people posing in front of murals, maybe — but it actually is a defined area.
The district’s boundaries stretch along Brighton Boulevard, from Park Avenue up to Interstate 70. Its area overlaps with Five Points, Cole, Curtis Park and other historically black neighborhoods in Denver, inspiring plenty of debate.
Despite the objections, the name is all but cemented, and it’s even popping up beyond the district’s boundaries.
The RiNo Veterinary Hospital is set to open nine blocks from the edge of the art district, in the Whittier neighborhood. It already has its very first Yelp review: “This is typical gentrifier behavior. Move into a neighborhood with a historically significant name and rename it to seem trendy.”
The hospital’s ownership didn’t immediately return a call for comment.
It’s a pattern we’ve noticed in a few places.
Businesses, one way or another, end up with the names of trendier neighborhoods, even if the map doesn’t agree.
There’s also Sloans Lake CrossFit, which is not just in a different neighborhood but in a different city altogether — Arvada, some 4 miles from its namesake.
They apparently get the question often enough that they’ve explained it on their website. The business was supposed to be at Sheridan and Colfax — still not the Sloan Lake neighborhood, but a lot closer — before they lost the building at the last minute.
River North Brewery has a similar story: The beer-maker was one of the first to embrace the River North name back in 2011 and 2012. “To be named after one of the hottest brewery neighborhoods in the world, if you ask me, was a bit of good foresight on (co-founder Matt Hess’),” said vice-president Patrick Annesty.
But the company lost its taproom’s spot in RiNo proper and moved out of the area. By then, it was pretty much stuck with the name. It even has embraced the misnomer, establishing a “River Norther Society” for its fans.
Still, it can be a bit confusing for customers to square the address with the name “Sometimes you can see them putting two and two together,” Annesty said. Fortunately for him, the company is set to move back to RiNo with a new taproom at the northeast corner of 34th and Blake this year.
Sometimes, things get even wackier.
Brighton Boulevard is home to a dog kennel called City Bark Lodo. They could legitimately claim the RiNo title, and yet they go for Lower Downtown, the area around Union Station.
It’s most likely because the kennel has been there since 2005, before the RiNo name took hold, according to archived versions of its website. (They haven’t replied to my request for comment.)
I’m also kind of amused by the SloHi bike chain. Their first location is SloHi Bike Highlands. They get some accuracy points — they really are right near the border line of Sloan Lake and West Highland.
It’s their second location, though, that cracks me up: SloHi City Park. That’s three different neighborhoods in one name! Although, in fairness, it’s at least in City Park.
But it can be painful, too.
The frustrated Yelp review I mentioned earlier is part of a wider backlash to the rebranding of Denver.
River North, for example, is not actually a neighborhood. It is a district — an area where property and business owners contribute extra tax dollars to fund the RiNo Art District, which pays for marketing and even infrastructure for the neighborhood.
The district also overlaps with numerous actual neighborhoods, primarily Five Points. Much of its acreage is in former industrial areas, but it does include several blocks of historic buildings that are associated with the place-name of Curtis Park.
For longtime residents, that kind of renaming can feel like an insult — an implication that new, wealthier residents are remaking something to be their own.
“The problem we have with the name Highlands, LOHI, SLO-HI or whatever new name developers come up with is that it divides us up in order to market and sell the area as something new,” Justine Sandoval wrote for Denverite last year.
Check out our earlier coverage: