This pastor is praying for a $4.5 million miracle to turn this vacant Downtown Denver print shop into a church for unhoused people

He can’t afford the project, so he’s trying to sell the 1930s building. Most interested buyers are parking lot companies wanting to demolish it.
5 min. read
The old Carson Press building at 2019 Stout Street downtown. May 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Lifelong Coloradan and pastor CB Barthlow used to hang out on Downtown Denver's streets when he was a heavy drug user. One building that always caught his eye was the Carson Press, a distinct, abandoned structure at 2019 Stout St., with red brick framing, massive windows and a concrete entrance with an impressive arch -- a relic of 1930s Denver.

Now boarded up, the Carson Press is a stone's throw away from the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless headquarters, the Stout Street Clinic and some massive new luxury condos, at the nexus of Denver's growth and despair.

A few years back, Barthlow decided to open up Beacon Church. His mission: Serve unhoused residents and drug users, people like he used to be. He wanted a spot near downtown, at the epicenter of Denver's drug and homelessness crises, close to many fellow service providers' offices.

The Carson Press was his dream spot for his new endeavor. But getting it proved tough.

According to city records, the building has traded hands six times since 2017. Barthlow kept striking out as he attempted to buy. Beacon Church couldn't afford the asking price.

The old Carson Press building at 2019 Stout Street downtown. May 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Eventually, the church came into a windfall, and Barthlow struck a deal with then-owner Benjamin Weinstein, for a little over $1.5 million. Barthlow knew, at the time, the building would need work.

"It's a shell," he said. "It doesn't have infrastructure."

Just bringing it up to code to be allowed inside was going to cost the church roughly a million dollars. A full build-out was more than Barthlow could imagine paying, and as a new entity, taking out a loan was impossible for the church.

So while the building has remained vacant, Beacon has been holding services at the Bluebird Theatre, on a stage Barthlow used to play as a soul singer and musician.

Homeless encampments often set up in front of the old press. Barthlow will ask the people sleeping outside if they need anything and encourage them to keep an eye on the building.

From time to time, people break through the boarded-up door and inside to use drugs or get out of the cold.

Once, upon returning from vacation, Barthlow realized 30 people were squatting inside. They had brought in couches, beds and desks. The place was filled with trash, including used syringes.

At first, Barthlow said, he "freaked out." Then, he mustered the courage to go inside and tell the people they had to leave, that he was operating a business there, and that he'd be calling the police. He called the non-emergency line and waited outside for six hours for the cops to show up and escort people out the back.

"I had to hire a hazmat company to clean out what was in there," he said.

When the Beacon Church first priced the buildout, pandemic-era supply chain issues had driven costs of construction up. The church decided to wait for construction prices to drop.

But costs have only gotten higher since Beacon first bought in 2021.

"The buildout costs when we got the building were three million," Barthlow said. "Now they're closer to four-and-a-half."

While the church has been around a few years now, taking out a $4.5 million loan is out of the question, so Beacon has put the Carson Press back on the market.

Scott McClean, of Development Advisors, is the listing agent on the building. It's being sold for $1.8 million and advertised as a shell property.

So far, there has been some interest, but most has been from parking lot companies with underwhelming offers looking to demolish the building and turn the land into a surface lot.

"I'm just praying and waiting for our God to do something amazing," Barthlow said. "We need a miracle of $4 million dollars, so I can turn that into a church and outreach center."

If that doesn't pan out, he hopes the proceeds from selling the building can pay for a long-term lease in a nearby spot.

The old Carson Press building at 2019 Stout Street downtown. May 17, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Pulling off a new project is going to be tough to afford. Barthlow said that's why so many churches, like his, are formed in the suburbs, and away from the centers of greatest need.

"There are so many parts that are changing the way Denver is right now," Barthlow said. And the class disparity between people living on the streets in tents and suffering from addiction and the newcomers to the neighborhood who can afford $1 million condos across the street troubles him.

As he sees it, the rise in property values and rents Denver has experienced in recent years makes it tough to help the people with the greatest needs.

"I love my city, and I'm here to serve my city, regardless of what clothing or what apparel she wears," Barthlow said. "But I know the way things have changed recently have made it prohibitive for entities such as ourselves to do good."

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