Severed by Interstates: Connectivity Key to Globeville, Elyria-Swansea Plans

The north Denver neighborhood of Globeville is caught between two eras -- its industrial, walkable past and its interstate-defined present -- as it looks to a future that involves better connectivity with the rest of the city. Located north of RiNo, Globeville has nearly fallen off of the development map over the decades, but a comprehensive plan has outlined a path for a comeback.
Interstate 25 cuts through it, and so does I-70. The infamous Mousetrap -- the busiest interchange in Colorado where those two highways intersect -- is there, too. If you live in Denver, it's a safe bet you've passed through the north Denver neighborhood of Globeville, even if you couldn't point it out on a map.

Annexed by the city of Denver in 1903, Globeville has always been tied to two chief elements: industry and immigration. Smelting plants, railroads and meatpacking houses initially attracted immigrant workers from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s.

The enclaves of Poles, Germans, Russians and Slovenians in the neighborhood began giving way to assimilation with the advent of World War II. The completion of I-25 in 1958 and I-70 in 1964 further disconnected the neighborhood. Today Globeville, which is bounded by the South Platte River on the east and south, Inca Street on the west, and the Denver city limits (primarily 52nd Avenue) on the north, boasts about 3,000 residents, roughly 90 percent of them Hispanic.

Mary Lou Egan, whose Slovenian grandfather settled in Globeville in 1902 and found work as a meat cutter, recalls the neighborhood vividly from her childhood, before the construction of I-70 that bisected the neighborhood and eliminated seven blocks and 31 homes.

"Before the highway, you could walk all over," says Egan, who writes a blog detailing the history of Globeville. "Everybody was born in another century, in another country, and they all had these great stories of places they came from. They worked for the railroad and for the packing houses. Those jobs changed, as America has."

Egan likens the Globeville of her youth to a model-train layout. "You had these little stores, a little barber, a little butcher shop, a little drug store. Everybody had a neat little yard, a chicken coop and a shed in the back and a garden," she says.
"My grandpa never owned a car, and didn't need to. You worked at your Slovenian market, you went to your Slovenian church, you belonged to your Slovenian lodge and you could walk everywhere. And everybody knew everybody. It's what everybody says they want, a small town where people of different backgrounds got along with each other."

Reconnecting a neighborhoodI-70 and I-25 divide the Globeville community.

That Globeville of decades past is likely not recoverable. Courtland Hyser, Senior City Planner with the city of Denver, acknowledges the disconnecting effect that the two interstate highways have had on the neighborhood.

"There's also the South Platte River and a lot of freight rail -- freight lines, spurs and yards all located in the neighborhood," Hyser says. "The sum total of all those things does create a very disconnected road network. And then in addition to that, a lot of streets may or may not have things like curbs, gutters and sidewalks. When you add all those barriers together, it's a pretty amazing statistic, but I think the only streets that both enter and exit the neighborhood are I-25, I-70 and Washington. Everything else meets its end somewhere in Globeville. It creates a lot of circuitous routes."

Hyser and his team have been working on a Globeville Neighborhood Plan since 2012, with connectivity one of the objectives. In conjunction with that, a plan for the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood, situated immediately to the east of Globeville on the I-70 corridor, has been in the works since last year. Both plans are under the umbrella of the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative, a series of redevelopment and infrastructure projects being undertaken to connect Union Station to Denver International Airport.

Dubbed the "Corridor of Opportunity," the 23-mile stretch is described on the city's website as "one of the most compelling commercial investment opportunities in the world, with thousands of developable acres."

The Globeville Neighborhood Plan, now in the draft stage, is guided by issues that encompass neighborhood connectivity, services, housing, jobs, culture and history. The city hopes to have a draft completed by late summer for public review.

At the same time, with I-70 hitting 50 years old and the viaduct through the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods badly in need of rebuilding, the Colorado Department of Transportation has been holding monthly public meetings and introduced its "preferred" plan of dropping I-70 below grade and constructing a "lid" across I-70 spanning four blocks from Clayton to Columbine streets. This plan would allow for a park-like surface atop the lid and reconnect the north and south sides of the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood. CDOT's plan also calls for adding two lanes in each direction of I-70, from I-25 to Peña Boulevard. CDOT estimates the cost of the entire I-70 overhaul at $1.2 billion.

"It has been an extraordinary discussion with the community," says CDOT spokesperson Amy Ford. "Especially because the previous I-70 viaduct is at this point structurally deficient, and it's critical that it be replaced. What is the right solution, and how do you reconnect community in that area? Because we all recognize that the previous I-70 viaduct has certainly had the effect of dividing the community."

A second "lid"A CDOT rendering of a sunken I-70 through Globebville.

Separately, the city of Denver, in its Elyria-Swansea plan, has put forth in public meetings the idea of a second "lid" over I-70, at Vasquez Boulevard. That plan for reconnecting the neighborhood elicits concern from Bob Davis, President of Power Motive Corp., a distributor of construction and mining equipment that has been in the area since 1959 and at its current location on Vasquez Boulevard off I-70 since 1964.

"My concern is, if you block off Vasquez, you're hindering a lot of businesses in that area," Davis says. "The city planning group wants to eliminate Vasquez and has for a long time. They took the original CDOT plan to two caps. Originally it was just one cap over the interstate, below grade. And then the city came back with a much more extensive plan to put two caps over it.

"It increases the amount of below-grade area, and the city's plan is to combine those communities back together, which is a very noble plan, but I think you're impacting tax-paying businesses through there," Davis continues.

"I really appreciate what the city's trying to accomplish and I appreciate the fact that they're trying to help these neighborhoods," Davis says, "but at the same time we create a lot of jobs. It's a real balancing act. They've got a tough deal there."

Also proposed in the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative are four new light-rail stations. A resolution was passed by the Denver City Council in March to study a new vision for National Western Complex and the Denver Coliseum, which was completed in 1952 on land cleared by the spectacular 1950 demolition of the 350-foot Omaha and Grant Smelter smokestack -- at one time, the world's tallest manmade structure -- that signaled the symbolic end of Colorado's mining era.

Egan, who writes the history blog, points out that industry came to Globeville first. After industry arrived, a neighborhood emerged.

"For years they've fought industrial encroachment," she says. "Now I'm worried about gentrification, that the same thing could happen there that's happening in what they call Highlands. I used to live in North Denver -- what they call Highlands now -- but I couldn't afford the house I used to have. It's changed the character of the neighborhood a great deal."

What the new era will be for I-70 and the neighborhoods it cuts through should become clearer by late summer.

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Mike Taylor.

Mike Taylor is a freelance writer in Denver. He is editor of ColoradoBiz magazine and previously wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Anchorage Times.
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