Sun Valley neighbors feel good amid change: “We’re not being displaced and we’re not being gentrified.”

There’s a lot planned for the little neighborhood sandwiched between Federal Boulevard and the river. Neighbors are mostly looking forward to it.
8 min. read
Billy Bennett descends from doing electric work in the turret inside the Ironworks building at Mile High Station, Sun Valley, Sept. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Sun Valley Community Coalition grew up a little bit on Tuesday. The group of long-time residents met with a slew of business representatives at their monthly meeting inside the Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, and they resolved to begin work on their first "good neighbor agreement."

There are all kinds of projects in the works for the little neighborhood sandwiched between I-25 and Boulevard, and Coalition president Jeanne Granville thought it was about time the group started to formalize their needs.

The project in question was Mile High Station's expansion into the Ironworks building that has sat vacant across their parking lot for decades. Someone noticed that the event space had applied to expand their cabaret license to cover the new space, which is set to open next month, and Granville asked that a representative come to fill in neighbors on what they're planning.

Mile High Station's license expansion isn't exactly controversial, and the business' presence won't change too much, but Granville said this was an appropriate time to set a precedent for the group to engage with neighboring businesses and make their voice heard.

Sun Valley Community Coalition president Jeanne Granville counts votes in favor of writing up a good neighbor agreement with Mile High Station during a meeting inside the Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, Sept. 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sun Valley residents have the ears of business interests that are poised to change the neighborhood, and there are a lot on the way.

Mile High Station was not the only commercial interest present at Tuesday's meeting.

Jose Beteta and his wife Tamil commented as representatives of Raices Brewing Co., the Latinx brewery they're opening at Steam on the Platte. Beteta said they're getting ready to break ground sometime around the new year. They've secured a ten-year lease and hope to open sometime next spring. Raices will start with food trucks and beer, but they plan to have a pop-up kitchen and invite chefs from Latin America and the Caribbean to bring some cultural flair to the neighborhood.

Annie Phillips, representing Meow Wolf, delivered an update on the massive, interactive art space going in next to Ironworks beneath I-25. The project should break ground this month, and managers are gearing up for community meetings to create a collaborative "corporate social responsibility plan," which will ensure their development and operation will be accountable to nearby residents.

The future site of Raices Brewing Co. in Sun Valley, Sept. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Stephanie Magnuson, head of sales with Mile High Station and Ironworks, told Denverite that the event venue operators hope to attract more convention business to the area. With all that space, they'll be able to accommodate busloads of people.

Lisa Saenz, a longtime resident who's represented the neighborhood on all kinds of development steering committees, is now a "community connector" for Denver Housing Authority, and shared updates on the agency's ambitious project to revamp public housing. Many of Sun Valley's homes fall under that category, and one block has already been cleared out for demolition. Saenz said most of the residents who moved out of the first building were able to stay in the neighborhood.

Glenn Harper, who owns the Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, has long provided free dinner to kids in the neighborhood in his little space on Decatur Street. He's preparing to expand the space into a public-facing breakfast and lunch spot, which will include guest chefs from the community once a week. He said they're getting close to announcing an opening date.

And there's way more cooking beyond that:

  • The neighborhood will eventually see some kind of mental health center open on city property along Federal Boulevard.
  • Plans are in the works to develop housing on the south side of Mile High Stadium.
  • This summer, CDOT's new headquarters finished construction at Federal and West Howard Place.
  • The old Robinson Dairy facility just off the South Platte is slated for redevelopment.
  • Also, 13th Avenue will be realigned for better access across the neighborhood.


Sun Valley and Mile High Stadium, Sept. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Denver residents are usually wary of big changes, but Sun Valley neighbors say they're ready.

Saenz has been watching these new projects very closely. She's represented her neighbors on projects spanning from the stadium redevelopment to the public housing reboot. She said she's tired of the narrative that Sun Valley residents are poor and powerless.

"We’re not being displaced and we’re not being gentrified," she said. "They’re listening to what we want."

As a result, all of these changes in the area represent new opportunity for her.

"Every part of the city is being redeveloped, and it's about time Sun Valley got pushed forward."

Jesús Orrantia, who works in City Councilman Paul López's office, said locals' involvement in these processes is one reason they're moving forward with relatively little friction. But a big driver of the neighborhood's stability is rooted in the fact that most of the housing is public.

"Sun Valley is slightly different because so much of the land is owned by a government or a quasi-government entity," he said. In the residential areas west of the river, "there is no large private development that is happening."

While Saenz said she's excited to see the 1950s-era housing replaced with better facilities, there is still some concern in the neighborhood.

"I want to keep my old house," Najah Abu Serryeh, a Jordanian immigrant who's lived in the area for a little more than three years, told Denverite as she was filling up some ice at the Sun Valley Kitchen. She likes the way things are now, and isn't completely sold on the high rises that will replace the current housing there. She said she's not so keen on living in a place that looks like a "hotel."

Glenn Harper, owner of the Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center (left to right), his colleague Reuben Valentin and resident Najah Abu Serryeh pose for a portrait. Sun Valley, Sept. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

But, "even though it is causing tension and stress," Orrantia said, "I think a lot of residents are prepared for it because they’ve been so engaged."

Granville agreed that residents are ready. She doesn't live there herself, but she's helped run a family-focused nonprofit there for ten years.

"It was important that the change that was occurring was really thoughtful and really looked at diverse needs," she said. And she thinks the process was successful in being inclusive.

"That’s built a lot of trust and excitement."

Business owners, too, are feeling energized by the changes

Joe O'Dae, one of Mile High Station's owners, said he's been waiting for a long time to revitalize the historic Ironworks site. He and his partners tried once before in 2007, but their efforts were foiled by the Great Recession. But they're reinvigorated, and he sees all of those other projects as a good sign.

"The neighborhood is really starting to come together," he said. "It’s the right time."

Joe O'Dae, one of the owners of Mile High Station inside the nealy renovated Ironworks building, Sun Valley, Sept. 12, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Jose Beteta said Raices Brewing is going into "an amazing location."

"Between all of the projects, it is over a billion dollars that’s getting injected in the area," he said, and that should mean plenty of customers to support his business and vision to bring better cultural representation to Denver's craft beer scene.

Glenn Harper, too, sees a boon for the Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center. It's not just a win for himself, since he plans to employ community members and help locals position themselves to open their own culinary ventures.

But Harper's Kitchen is also in a uniquely precarious place. Since he's one of the only small-time property owners in the area, the new growth also means a tougher slog to stay solvent. He said his property tax doubled last year, the result of what Orrantia said is growth but also a rezoning from industrial to mixed-use development. Harper hopes the new public-facing business will put a dent in that newly raised expense.

The Sun Valley Community Coalition RNO meets inside the Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, Sept. 11, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

And as far as the community is concerned, the new life that these businesses will bring to the area is welcome, too.

Granville said the stadium redevelopment plan expanded beyond its initial vision to provide just entertainment, and will foster "a part of the neighborhood where people can actually really live, work and play."

She said the Community Coalition will be ready to field new ventures that might come down the line.

The good neighbor agreements she hopes to see unfold with new nearby ventures, she said, are "a way to establish communication and values among us as to how we want to live and work together."

And Saenz said she expects all this growth to compound.

"In a few years, Denver is going to know Sun Valley is the next best neighborhood in the city," she said. "It’s gonna be vibrant, alive."

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