National Western money is finally flowing to GES residents

Locals have waited a decade to see this come to fruition.
8 min. read
Liliana Flores Amaro’s son, Cuauhtemoc, reaches for the mic as she announces the GES Community Investment Fund’s first nine grantees at the Globeville Rec Center. June 18, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Residents of Globeville and Elyria Swansea, the neighborhoods known collectively as GES, have long had tricky relationships with city leaders.

They've been inundated with development over the last decade, from the I-70 expansion project to the National Western Center's rebirth. Over the years, some stood to push back against those changes, often characterizing that growth as something that was never meant to benefit them.

But one of those projects has begun to give back to its neighbors. This week, the GES Community Investment Fund announced $86,000 in grants for local efforts and organizations, funded by money generated by the National Western Center.

The new Riverfront Open Space at the National Western Center. June 9, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

It took a fight, then three years of work, to get here.

In 2015, Denver voters approved a tourism tax to begin funding the National Western Center's revamp, which would include a new campus for Colorado State University, a new park, revamps for historic buildings, an equestrian center and hotel and more.

A framework agreement between the city, National Western Leaders and CSU created the basis for what would become the Community Investment Fund, which would send money back to its neighbors.

They didn't specifically spell out how that would happen. One idea that emerged was a "round-up" where extra cents from event sales would be stashed away for local projects.

But in 2021, that promise seemed to be in jeopardy. The round-up, and any community fund, became entwined with former Mayor Michael Hancock's effort to save a planned arena for National Western's last undeveloped parcel. The pandemic downturn had killed funding he was counting on to finish the project, and Hancock hoped voters would approve spending tax dollars on the plan instead.

Activists with the GES Coalition stand with protest signs during a meeting of the National Western Center Citizens Advisory Committee in a NWC conference room in Elyria Swansea. July 7, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

At the time, National Western Center Authority CEO Brad Buchanan said the city needed that arena to generate cashflow for the community. If the vote failed, that money might be off the table.

Candi CdeBaca, the area's former City Council representative, said Hancock and his National Western Authority were singularly focused on passing that measure. In September of 2021, they agreed to set aside $400,000 to officially begin the community benefits process, which she said was a "bribe" meant to counter growing opposition to the arena in GES and across the city. It didn't work out that way.

"The point was, 'Hey, we created this fund. We are doing community support activities. Please support this part of the bond,'" she remembered. "Then community still organized to vote no."

Former District 9 City Council member Candi CdeBaca stands in the back of the Globeville Rec Center as the GES Community Investment Fund announces its first nine grantees. June 18, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The arena plan failed, but the fund remained. A group of residents tapped by council members CdeBaca and Debbie Ortega got to work on how that money would reach the community. The National Western Stock Show launched the round-up in 2022.

Tony Garcia was one of those resident stakeholders. On Tuesday, he kicked off a ceremony to award the first batch of that money, over $80,000, to nine community organizations.

"It's been three years that we've been working on this. What took us so long? We kind of started off with nothing," he told the small crowd gathered at the Globeville Rec Center. "But we're here, and we're doing this incredible accomplishment."

Tony Garcia, an organizer of the GES Community Investment Fund, speaks as he and his colleagues announce the fund's first nine grantees at the Globeville Rec Center. June 18, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Here's where the money is going:

  • Globeville Elyria Swansea Coalition: "Expanding recruitment for the Tenant Group Center and to build capacity among the tenant leaders of the group center."
  • CreSer Early Childhood Education: "Materials and furnishings for Early Childhood Education Center at Laradon Hall and resources for developing CreSer’s cooperative parent model."
  • Birdseed Collective: "The Globeville Fall Fest, a community-driven project aimed at celebrating the vibrant culture, heritage, and spirit of the Globeville, Elyria-Swansea (GES) neighborhoods in Denver. "
  • The Abolition Garden: "Youth Mentorship program, which will gather a team of 8 youth leaders, between ages 14-21, from the surrounding GES community who are passionate about food justice, cultural preservation, social change and storytelling."
  • Beauty in the struggle/ All american construction & maintenance Pros: "Revitalizing outdoor and indoor living spaces for GES residents and improving access and safety for all  residents, especially those  with mobility issues."
  • Project Angel Heart: "Provision of 6,000 meals for 42 GES residents living with cancer, HIV/AIDS, Alzheimer’s, kidney/heart/lung disease, and other severe illnesses during the program period."
  • Panderia Emmanuel's: "Offering a more comfortable space for organizations that use our space for meetings and community members that use our space on a daily basis."
  • GES Neighbor’s and Supporter’s Community Tree Care and Youth Training Program: "Pairing the tree expertise of a GES neighbor with the youth of the Groundwork GES Green Team.  The Green Team is a group of 8-10 teenage community members who get compensated by Groundwork for a variety of environmental improvement and education projects over the summer months. Together they will care for many of the new trees planted in the community. "
  • Bike Advocacy Project: "Advocate to meet and prompt the City and County of Denver officials specifically, and National Western Center, and Colorado Department of Transportation where necessary to create a bikeable Elyria and Swansea as outlined in the 2015 Elyria Swansea neighborhood plan."

Community advocates are happy with the direction this saga has taken, but they're not ready to let their guards down.

The rec center vibrated with positivity as Community Investment Fund members listed off each grantee on Tuesday. The crowd cheered as they described all the ways this money would support kids and parents and businesses in this corner of town, whose residents have long grappled with disinvestment and concerns that rising home values might push them out for good.

Liliana Flores Amaro, an Elyria Swansea resident who CdeBaca tapped to oversee this process back when she was in office, said it was self-determination that made this occasion so special.

"We know that community has the answer, and that's why we're so excited to do this work: To be a community investment fund. To be by community, for community. That really has the ability to do what we feel is best for us," she said.

David Torres speaks from the porch of his old family home during a protest against public-private partnerships on the "Triangle" parcel of the National Western Center development site. June 26, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

But reality, and history, tempered that outlook.

On one hand, Flores Amaro said her group is hoping National Western will help find more revenue sources, to grow the fund so it truly meets the neighborhoods' needs. They received over $200,000 worth of requests.

"I don't envy the review committee, because there were some hard decisions that had to be made," she said. "There were a lot of really amazing projects and a lot of need."

On the other hand, this saga still isn't over. That plot of land where Hancock hoped to build an arena continues to sit unused, except as an event parking lot. Local advocates have made clear to his successor, Mayor Mike Johnston, that they're closely watching what he does with it. In March, Johnston pledged this area, known as "the triangle," would be governed by some sort of "community ownership."

Ernesto Vigil shows Mayor Mike Johnston the parking lot where the home where he was born once stood, as the GES Coalition takes Johnston on a tour of their neighborhood as they try to lock down commitments from him on the future of the "triangle" site at the National Western Complex. March 2, 2024.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Residents like Flores Amaro are holding their breath to see what that means. She's encouraged to see money flowing from National Western to these local causes; it might be a sign they'll get more the equity and healing they've been asking for.

"We need and we want more. We would love community ownership and control and co-creation of what is going to be on the triangle," she told us. "It is very clear to us that there is harm ... people that have been displaced by the campus, people that continue to be harmed, and we want to make sure that we acknowledge that. This is also an opportunity to be able to begin to acknowledge and begin to repair some of the fractures that have been put in place."

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