What is usually a deserted space underneath a viaduct surrounded by passing traffic and an empty Empower Field, turned into a colorful, vibrant and illuminated court with vendors, music, food and people.
On Saturday, folks gathered under the West Colfax viaduct where residents and community stakeholders held the Sun Valley Rising Viaduct Night Market.
The 4-10 p.m. market was hosted by the Sun Valley Kitchen + Community Center, along with the West Colfax Business Improvement District and Denver Streets Partnership as part the West Denver Rising Initiative’s international marketplace series, which will include five events across west Denver celebrating the area’s various cultures.
“I think it’s beautiful to see so many different cultures coming together,” said Cyrus Brown. He attended the event with friends Molly Vathanavarin and Kellsie Forfar-Jones. “It’s not something that’s seen very often in Denver. There’s so many different small businesses and so many different places that you usually wouldn’t come across… It’s good to be able to see them and experience them and know they are around.”
Vathanavarin added that the market was a great use of the space, which is exactly what residents have been requesting.
Surrounded by warehouses and construction, Sun Valley residents have dreamed of using the space underneath the viaduct for several years as a way to bring life to the area that’s only used during football season. Activating the space gives residents a place to showcase their culinary and craft talents, while also inviting Denverites to a place they may not often visit.
“Events like this bring a lot of communities together … and they bring new people who are moving into the neighborhood into the cultural fabric,” said Chandi Aldena. She lives in Park Hill and heard about the event through her work. “It’s great that they are using a space that’s a lot of times underutilized and forgotten. You have the football stadium but that’s a specific use. So, the parking lot just ends up sitting. This brings people out and together.”
Aldena was with her husband, Marcus Somerville, who added that he appreciated how accessible the event was via transit or biking, another reason residents were interested in creating a gathering place under the viaduct. The couple were also vying for Sun Valley Kitchen’s egg rolls.
Some of the craft vendors included Cultura Craft Chocolate, Mali Textiles Shop and Cempaxochilt Arts. Raices Brewing Co. hosted a beer garden and several musicians from Youth on Record provided the tunes, along with local favorite Los Mocochetes.
Some of the food vendors included Pepe’s Tortas and Burgers, Fritay Haitian Cuisine and Pho King Rapidos.
Now Pho also made a guest appearance to sponsor a pho-eating contest.
Kevin Huynh, a first year student at the University of Denver, won the competition with ease, finishing his bowl in about two minutes and 34 seconds. Huynh said he’s never competed in a food-eating competition but watches Matthew Stonie, the 2015 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, often.
“I eat a lot of food,” Huynh said. “I’ve never ate something that fast, though, and I definitely can eat more. Shout out to my mom. She always gives me bowls like that normally, I just don’t eat it that fast. I wasn’t too intimidated by it.”
Besides the established food trucks, local chefs from Sun Valley Kitchen also got to show off their skills.
Glenn Harper and the kitchen’s youth chefs were frying up fresh-cut French fries, and Carlos Maestas, with Litto’s Taquitos, was serving up homemade tacos with his family. Maestas is just one local chef who is trying to establish his food business with the help of Sun Valley Kitchen.
“This event highlights the tons of talent we have in this community,” Maestas said. “Most of the vendors are from Sun Valley. If this platform wasn’t provided to them, I don’t think they would have a platform otherwise to showcase their talents and bring their foods and goods to the community. I didn’t expect all these people to come out and support. The outcome has been amazing.”
The Sun Valley neighborhood is going through a ton of changes as Denver Housing Authority replaces 333 units of public housing (those old red brick buildings). In a $240 million, multi-year project, DHA intends to add more than 950 homes to the neighborhood to house over 2,500 residents. But since DHA began redeveloping the Sun Valley Homes, where most of the residents live, Sun Valley has felt like a ghost town.
Residents hope the market brings awareness to the neighborhood and that it becomes a permanent staple through the Stadium District Master Plan, which was passed by City Council in 2019. The plan aimed to energize the area year-round by redeveloping the south parking lot of Empower Field into a 70-acre mixed-use neighborhood hub with new housing, dining, entertainment and green space.
Though the plan was put on hold while the Broncos search for a new owner, the Westside Stadium Community Coalition was in attendance to remind residents of the plan. The Stadium Coalition was formed to make sure all the community benefits, including housing, jobs and spaces for local businesses were implemented.
“We don’t want the gentrification,” said resident Jenny Esquibel. “We don’t want you to tear us down and spit us out. Many of the people that left want to come back. So, give us a community that we can actually access and grow and thrive in.”
The night market is set to return on Aug. 20 as a back-to-school kickoff. Other events in the series include the Mid-Autumn Festival at the Far East Center in September and the annual Westwood Chile Fest on Morrison Road, also in September. Bery Belitra is a Sun Valley youth who has worked with the kitchen for over three years. He serves on the board and was serving up fries at the market.
To him, after months of planning, the market was a success. He’s hoping the next event will be equally successful and maybe some invited guests will show up, like the Denver Broncos.
Belitra, along with several other youth members of the Kitchen created videos inviting the Broncos and quarterback Russell Wilson to the market. They weren’t in attendance this time, but Belitra said there’s always the August event.
“Come to your hometown. Show some love. We’re your people too, and we’d love to see you,” Belitra said. “This was a lot of planning and I’m glad it was able to come together. I love seeing Sun Valley continue to build. This is an opportunity for everyone to come and reunite.”
Correction: A earlier version of this story misspelled Bery Belitra’s name. We regret the error.