Event Recap: Building Intentional and Inclusive Communities

Otten Johnson and Confluence Denver hosted a conversation at The Commons on Champa that covered some of Denver's most interesting projects under development: inclusive projects being built with all stakeholders in mind -- and with their input.
The projects discussed at the Nov. 17 event in the conversation ranged from a new home for the nonprofit Mi Casa  Resource Center to Catalyst Health-Tech Innovation (HTI), a campus focused on advanced healthcare technologies. While each project represented different needs and end users, they all shared common themes: inclusion, being purpose-built and seeking input from their communities. 

Beyond Mi Casa and Catalyst, David Zucker, principal of Zocalo Community Development, and Doug Price, CEO of Rocky Mountain PBS, were both on hand to discuss RMPBS' new home in downtown Denver, and Mark Shaker of Flightline Ventures was on hand to discuss The Stanley Marketplace. Christine Marquez-Hudson, executive director of Mi Casa (and soon-to-be president and CEO of The Denver Foundation), moderated the panel and discussed the Mi Casa project, which will blend low-income housing and social services. Also on hand was Carl Koelbel of Koelbel and Company, which is developing Catalyst HTI. 

"Developers are good at the hardware of developing a  project but horrible at the software," Zucker explained. Zocalo, he added, is based on an Aztec word and refers to the gathering places in Mexican towns. "This ability to deliver on these places where ideas can be exchanged is absolutely critical and it's atavistic. We've been doing it for millennia and we're rediscovering it now . . . fortunately in time to preserve some of these great places and create new ones." 

A new media entity and a digital health ecosystem

The new RMPBS building, dubbed A², will be located at 21st and Arapahoe streets, according to Price. "The idea is to have a modern projection of what a new media entity can be," he said. "Public media understands there has to be a future where you're looking at education, arts and culture and public service journalism. 

"You have to think about broadcast, you have to think about digital and you have to think about, in an increasingly virtual world, the importance of human interaction," Price continued. "The human function never goes away and I think that's the beginning of intentional communities. If you think about the main street of Telluride or Lower Downtown . . . they're very similar places in that you don't really need a car most of the time. There are villages with amenities that serve the human spirit." 

To create that sort of village that meets the needs of media today and tomorrow, the RMPBS project will feature a mixed-income apartment building and room for a charter middle school and possibly CU Denver's College of Arts and Media. It will also have performance spaces and broadcast studios . 

Catalyst HTI, which is slated for groundbreaking in 2016 across from Great Divide Brewing Company's new RiNo facility on Brighton Boulevard, is embracing the idea of intentional building by working with stakeholders from day one, noted Koelbel. "Every company in this will be a digital health company or a company that can help a digital health company," he said. "We'll have a 3D printing lab there so they can print prototypes."

"The concept is, let's bring these companies together, all the way from a startup to a Fortune 20, so you've got folks in the market trying develop a product  with others in the building that can take that product to market," explained Koelbel. "The hope is that serendipitous collisions will occur." 

Such collisions will allow new ideas and solutions to occur because another company in the building might have something to provide part of a solution. As such, a central feature of the seven-story building is a staircase that will "Encourage those collisions and accidental interactions amongst 50 to 70 different companies," Koelbel said.

The Stanley and Terraza del Sol

For its part, The Stanley Marketplace will bridge Aurora and Stapleton in a unique commercial development on a 22.5-acre site that's home to the 140,000-square-foot former Stanley Aviation building. "We want people to say, 'Let's just go to The Stanley,' not 'I'm going to this restaurant' . . . 'Let's just go there. We'll figure it out when we get there,'" Shaker said. The project is scheduled to open in spring 2016.

"We're converting it to a marketplace, a collection of 48 different local businesses and a whole bunch of different mixed uses," Shaker added. "We think how you get people together on all four sides is through culture. It's art, it's music and theater and engaging what culture means for all four sides of the project."

The Mi Casa project is a community-based project inspired to meet the needs of those it serves in the Westwood neighborhood. "We really wanted to get into a neighborhood that really was the target neighborhood for  Mi Casa," explained Marquez-Hudson. "When you look at the demographics of Denver, southwest Denver is where it's at in terms of serving low-income Latino families. Currently we're on the edge of Baker, which if anyone has driven by, has changed a lot in the last four years."

"Most nonprofits go into an existing space and then try and rework them to meet our needs which doesn't always work," Marquez-Hudson continued. In this case the organization had an opportunity to start anew on West Alameda Avenue. "We had this great opportunity to join forces with an affordable housing developer. This new building is going to have 42 units of affordable housing." 

The building, named Terraza del Sol, will also have 20,000 square feet for Mi Casa's family economic and education center when it is completed in late 2016. "We will be providing core services. Mi Casa is known for small business development, employment training, youth and family programs, but we've also created partnerships with other community organizations to bring in other services that low-income families need to get on their feet and stay there," Marquez-Hudson explained. 

Those include things like financial coaching, free tax preparation and legal services. "We're creating integrated services into a single system," Marquez-Hudson contended. "So a family doesn't feel like it's working with six different services -- they feel like they're working with one."

Each of these projects epitomize how developers in Denver are engaging stakeholders to build a project that meets their clients' needs, which will hopefully serve them well into the future. For instance, Zucker explained Zocalo's goals for the RMPBS project as achieving durable cash flow for the station. "The goal is, in 15 years as the project becomes more successful, our ownership decreases ultimately to just 25 percent of RMPBS's budget," he said. "That's creating a turbocharger for RMPBS and its funders."

The event was sponsored by Otten Johnson and hosted by The Commons on Champa.

Read more articles by Chris Meehan.

Chris is a Denver-based freelance writer, editor and communications specialist. He covers sustainability, social issues and other topics.
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