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Barnum Dodges Brunt of Denver Boom, with Mixed Results

Jim Watts has been in business with Commercial Art Glass for 21 years in Barnum.

The neighborhood's namesake comes from master showman P.T. Barnum.

There are a number of small Latino markets, but Barnum lacks a supermarket.

Barnum's housing stock is primarily single-family homes.

There is a small downtown area at First Avenue and Knox Court.

Even as most of Denver's urban neighborhoods have seen an influx of development that's pushing real estate prices higher, not much has changed in Barnum, one of the city's last bastions of affordability.
There's not much room for development in Barnum, the working-class neighborhood bounded by Sixth Avenue to the north, Federal Boulevard to the east, Alameda Avenue to the south and Perry Street to the west. And, though the city of Denver draws a distinction between Barnum and Barnum West, residents consider it all to be one neighborhood, which extends the western boundary to Sheridan Boulevard.

The name dates back to 1878, when master showman P.T. Barnum of Barnum & Bailey Circus fame paid $11,000 for the 760-acre tract of land that became the neighborhood. Though Denver folklore suggests Barnum planned to establish a winter home for his circus in the city, he never wintered his animals anywhere but Connecticut or Florida and only made four documented trips to Colorado, according to the Denver Public Library.

P.T. sold as much of his land as possible before selling the rest to his daughter, Helen Buchtel, for $1. Much of the neighborhood's initial development was a result of efforts by Helen and her second husband, William Buchtel. The land was incorporated into the city of Denver in 1896.

Today, Barnum is home to about 11,500 people in 3,764 households, according to the neighborhood's application to Denver's Sustainable Neighborhood program. The majority of its residents (77 percent) are Latino, and nearly one-third are children and youth younger than 18. The majority of Barnum's dwellings are single-family homes, and 66 percent of occupied housing units are owner-occupied, compared to just 50 percent for Denver as a whole.

Food desert, housing oasisThe neighborhood's namesake comes from master showman P.T. Barnum.

Most commercial space in the neighborhood is limited to the major corridors on its perimeter, though it does have a small "downtown" area at First Avenue and Knox Court.

"We're two miles from any supermarket," says Kaye Boeke, president of the registered  neighborhood organization, Concerned Citizens for Barnum. "There are folks who don't have reliable transportation or cars and folks who just don't want to go that far."

Though there are a number of small Latino markets in Barnum, residents would like to see a supermarket built, Boeke says. Re:Vision, a cultivator of community food systems, has received funding that will help build a food co-op in Westwood, the neighborhood immediately south of Barnum West, which will give Barnum residents a closer place to shop, but none of the large grocers have plans to build stores in the neighborhood.

"The neighborhood is lower-income, so it's probably not attractive to the full-service grocers," she says. "The only way they'll come is if the neighborhood totally gentrifies, and we don't want that either. This is the last bastion of houses in the $200,000 price range."

Over the last 90 days, the median sale price of a home in Barnum was about $230,000, according to Redfin, a real estate brokerage that got its start inventing map-based search. But investors are taking note of the neighborhood, which likely will push prices higher.

Seikou Investment Group, a company that connects buyers and sellers of investment property, has targeted the Barnum neighborhood because it's a good neighborhood for renters, says Teal Nipp, president of the company.

"Unlike other neighborhoods in Denver, the price of the properties allows them to cash-flow," Nipp says. "It's one of the last neighborhoods in Denver that is affordable for our rental portfolio."

Jim Watts, who has had his Commercial Art Glass business at First Avenue and Knox Court since 1994, says the neighborhood hadn't changed much until the recession forced many Barnum residents into foreclosure.

"Homes were lost and picked up by investor types -- fix-and-flippers," Watts said. "I fit that description, as well. In '08 and '09 when nobody was buying stained glass, I purchased several foreclosures. People have been putting money into properties and selling them to a different clientele."

During his 21 years in Barnum, Watts also has seen a number of businesses come and go.

"When I first moved there 20 years ago, there were four or five haircutting businesses," Watts says. "Little by little, these properties have been changing hands. The commercial properties that have changed are primarily Hispanic-owned."

Jim Watts has been in business with Commercial Art Glass for 21 years in Barnum. Links to the city

Connections from Barnum to other parts of the city are improving.  A new pedestrian and bicycle  bridge over Sixth Avenue at Knox Court connects Barnum Park North with Barnum Park South.

Though there isn't a light-rail station in Barnum itself, the neighborhood now has access to the 12.1-mile W Line that runs from the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden to Denver Union Station downtown. Barnum residents have reasonably easy access to stations at Sheridan, Perry and Knox.

And that's critical here, where transit is a conduit for residents to access work and education, as well as healthy food.

In 2013, the median household income in Barnum was $36,985, compared with $51,089 in Denver, according to City-Data.com. About 31 percent of Barnum's population is living below the poverty level, compared with 18.7 percent in Denver -- a statistic that has shaped Barnum for decades.

"It's not a story of poor Latinos," Boeke says. "It's a story of poor folk."

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Margaret Jackson.

Margaret is a veteran Denver real estate reporter and can be contacted here.
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