Despite ‘challenges along the way,’ Montbello’s FreshLo Hub finally broke ground
“Today was a good day.”
“Today was a good day.”
The famous words from rapper Ice Cube were a shared sentiment among the many community members gathered in Montbello to celebrate the groundbreaking of the Montbello FreshLo Hub, a mixed-use development featuring affordable housing and a grocery store that’s been in the works for well over five years.
“This is a historical moment, the groundbreaking of a dream that this community envisioned a scant, oh five, six, seven or more years ago,” said Donna Garnett, the executive director of the Montbello Organizing Committee. “While there’ve been challenges along the way, the support of this community and partners have kept us moving forward.”
The FreshLo Hub is a community-driven project that will be located at the former Montbello Park-n-Ride, which closed in April 2016. The Hub will talk over the 1.39-acre lot at 12300 East Albrook Drive and host a one-stop shop featuring housing, retail stores, a cultural hub and a much-needed grocery store.
MOC is a neighborhood group that focuses on food justice, housing and community wealth building. The group started in 2013 as a means to address the disinvestment that was occurring in the neighborhood.
“We loved having two grocery stores at the time, Safeway and Albertsons…When the recession hit in 2008-9, things shifted and disinvestment in Montbello became more prevalent,” said Angelle Fouther, the Vice President of the MOC Board. “Both grocery stores closed. Foreclosures were rampant in our zip code and outside investors bought up hundreds of homes in the community. Sad for so many, Montbello High School closed and was parsed into separate schools.”
No grocer has replaced those large stores, leaving a hole in food access and turning the neighborhood into a food desert.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an area is considered a food desert when at least 500 people, or 33% of the area population, lives more than one mile away from a supermarket or large grocery store.
In Montbello, residents have the option of shopping at 7-Eleven or the Family Dollar on Peoria Street and East 47th Avenue. There is a Walmart on Chambers Road and Gateway Avenue that’s technically considered Montbello, but it’s located on the outskirts of the neighborhood, closer to Green Valley Ranch, which also has available stores on Tower Road and Green Valley Ranch Boulevard.
It also doesn’t serve both neighborhoods.
“This grocery store is going to be amazing for all of us because we only have the one out here on Chambers. It’s a community Walmart but it doesn’t have everything and it runs out of food,” said resident Ivery Maven, who is legally blind. “I’m looking forward to a grocery store so we can have another option when that store doesn’t have it instead of going further to Tower. I don’t drive, so I use the Connector, which is awesome for people who don’t drive, but it doesn’t go to Tower. Putting a grocery store here where the Connector can go is great.”
Besides the grocery store, the Hub will also provide affordable housing. The six-story building will have 97 units of one-, two-, and three-bedrooms. About 25% of those units will be for those at 50% of the area median income and 7% of the units will be for those at or below 30% AMI.
For a single person, 50% AMI is $41,050 and 30% is $24,650.
The ground floor will host WellPower, a mental health nonprofit, office space for MOC and a business incubator powered by MOC’s Building Wealth from Within program, a 12-week program geared towards helping residents grow their entrepreneurial skills.
The grocery store will sit in a different building on the same site and will also host an arts and education center and retail space for local business owners.
“This was a forgotten community but all these organizations coming together to collaborate lets people know, we are here and we are not going anywhere,” said Dianne Cooks. “We’re bringing resources here. We can get mental health here. We can get affordable housing here. We’re here.”
MOC members began working on the project in 2018, but then the pandemic slowed their process and increased their cost, which slowed the process down even more.
Initially, the project was supposed to cost about $30 million.
“COVID hit and wood that was $2.95 became wood that cost $10.95. So, $30 million was not enough,” said MOC board member Khadija Haynes.
The project was always set to be funded through grants, investments and tax credits. Some of that funding was from the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and the Gates Family Foundation, among others. But the organization needed more. The last bit of funding came in December when City Council approved a $3.3 million loan agreement between the the Department of Housing and Stability and Montbello Organizing Committee. The new budget is around $70 million.
“That kind of investment has not been made in this community before,” Haynes said. “It’s big. It’s huge. It’s humbling. It’s empowering. It’s tiring. It’s a long, long, long walk in the desert. But what was special about this time in the desert is we had oasis. We had people who recognized that we were in the desert and we deserved not to be in the desert.”
On a chilly but beautiful sunny day, about a 100 community members and city officials gathered in the parking lot for a groundbreaking event.
Garnett started the event off with a land acknowledgement and several people spoke at the event including, Haynes, Fouther, MOC Board President Chris, The Executive Director of Colorado Changemakers Collective Martinez Maricruz Herrera and Mayor Michael Hancock.
All the speakers emphasized that the wait for this Hub was long but community members weren’t deterred. They wouldn’t be forgotten.
“We learned three really important things. It takes longer than you think. You can’t do it alone. And it’s worth it,” Haynes said.