Some Denver politicians cringe as the Women’s Bean Project considers leaving Curtis Park

The do-gooder nonprofit represents a community service in a gentrifying neighborhood.
3 min. read
Denver’s old firestation number 10, now home to the Women’s Bean Project in Five Points. Feb. 25, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Women's Bean Project, a Denver nonprofit that lifts women struggling to get on their feet, has nearly outgrown its 25-year home inside a former Five Points fire station.

File this success under Good Things, right?

Yes and no. The thing about this good thing is that it also raises questions -- like, what will replace the nonprofit once it leaves a gentrifying Curtis Park? Will the new owner help needy people or real estate investors? Does the city have any say in the building's fate?

Beyond the structure's design, which is protected by its historic status, it doesn't seem like it. The Bean Project bought the building at 3201 Curtis St. from the city in 1995. It cost a paltry $195,000, property records show. The property could now fetch between $2.9 and $3.48 million, CEO Tamra Ryan told Denver City Council's development committee Tuesday.

Nothing in the sale contract says the nonprofit has to offer it back to the city government before putting it on the market, she said.

Councilmember Amanda Sandoval said she respected the organization but was troubled by the hole it will leave in an increasingly unaffordable neighborhood.

"My concern about this is that you are located in a district that has a high percentage of homelessness taking place, more so than any other (city council) district in the city and county of Denver," said Councilmember Amanda Sandoval, who said she has volunteered for the Bean Project. "So if you were to move to a manufacturing district, that would take you to a whole entire area that would not be as accessible as this."

Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca, who represents the district, was irked by the idea of a formerly city-owned building housing something other than affordable homes or a neighborhood-serving nonprofit. She called the potential sale "problematic."

But Ryan said she would invest profits from the sale back into the organization, which hires homeless and incarcerated women into its food manufacturing business while offering career coaching and life skills training.

The Bean Project helps 60 to 70 people a year from all over the metro area, Ryan said.

"We have been a part of this community for over 30 years and we have served over 1,000 women in this community. So the idea that we are profiting from the purchase of the building to the detriment of the people of the city I think is a false notion," Ryan said. "We are leveraging an asset in order to grow, in order to serve more women."

Ryan anticipates the Women's Bean Project moving in the next couple of years, she told Denverite, and ideally staying in the neighborhood. But she's looking for a building about twice the size of her current one that can also handle large truck traffic, is near public transit, and is centrally located.

But first, she needs city council to allow new uses for the building, which are currently quite restricted (that's why she attended the committee Tuesday). Council members cannot legally consider market forces or potential new owners when considering such rezoning requests -- they can only consider whether the requests fit with adopted city plans.

The development committee advanced the request to the full legislative body for a vote in March. Council members Chris Herndon, Amanda Sandoval, Kendra Black, Paul Kashmann and Jamie Torres voted in favor of advancing the bill. CdeBaca voted against it.

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