Denver's Next Great Neighborhood: Sunnyside

Sunnyside in northwest Denver is alive with development, and more is on the way, thanks to the impending arrival of light rail. With historic housing and a great location, what's not to like?
Andrew Novick was renting a place at 34th Avenue and Quivas Street in Denver's LoHi neighborhood when he decided it was time to buy a house.  

He wanted to stay in LoHi but found it was cost-prohibitive, so he went north 10 blocks -- just across West 38th Avenue -- and bought a house at 44th and Quivas in Sunnyside.

That was in 2001, well before LoHi became one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Denver. Now, as more and more people are priced out of LoHi, development has jumped across 38th into Sunnyside -- the next Denver neighborhood destined for growth.

"We started looking at houses, but it was not quite affordable," says Novick, who is  vice president of the Sunnyside United Neighbors Inc. (SUNI) board. "North of 38th is affordable."

As more people discover the area, restaurants and shops are opening, and developers are building a mix of commercial, retail and residential buildings in the neighborhood, bounded by Inca Street on the east, 38th Avenue on the south, Federal Boulevard on the west and Interstate 70 on the north.

Larimer Associates, the force behind Denver's historic Larimer Square and the redevelopment of Denver Union Station, spurred some of the activity when it opened Ernie's Bar & Pizza. The company recently followed with Sunnyside Burger Bar -- and though the restaurant is technically across from Sunnyside in LoHi, its name is a testament to the popularity of the neighborhood.

"Sunnyside Burger Bar has a much stronger family orientation than most of the restaurants in the Lower Highlands, so we wanted to orient it in that direction," says Joe Vostrejs, chief operating officer of Larimer Associates. "It's a terrific neighborhood a lot of people don't even know about. It's got this great stock of housing -- solidly built bungalows at a lower price point than LoHi."

Affordability as catalystThe company recently followed with Sunnyside Burger Bar -- and though the restaurant is technically across from Sunnyside in LoHi, its name is a testament to the popularity of the neighborhood.

Stacy Neir, a broker with Kentwood City Properties, estimates the average home price is between $250,000 and $300,000. She is listing a project that includes 13 luxury townhomes starting a $406,900.

"There's not a lot of new projects over there just yet, but with light rail going in, it's going to be the next LoHi," Neir says.  "It's still very affordable and very close to the city and all the cool stuff in LoHi and the Highlands. I think we'll see a lot of new developments happening, especially near the light-rail line."

In recent years, other businesses that have opened in Sunnyside include Lou's Food Bar, a Bonanno Concepts restaurant at 1851 W. 38th St.; Sunny's breakfast restaurant at West 44th Avenue and Zuni Street; Common Grounds, which relocated from Highland Square  to 44th Avenue and Vallejo Street; and Marley Coffee at 4730 Tejon St., from Rohan Marley, Bob's son. In the last few months, the neighborhood also has attracted a small grocer -- Sunnyside Natural Market -- to 4401 Tejon St..

And more is sure to follow. Vostrejs says a lot of real estate on West 38th has changed hands over the last few years, so he expects redevelopment of the corridor to continue.

"It has such easy access to the highway and downtown," Vostrejs says. "That whole corridor along 38th is going to look completely different in five years."

Developers Paul Tamburello and Jack Pottle are striving to make sure their Cobbler's Corner Project at 2450 W. 44th Ave. preserves the character of the neighborhood by being selective about the tenants they lease space to.They have a letter of intent to lease part of the space to a woman who will peddle flowers, gifts, cards and furniture and say they have turned down a few interested restaurants.

"We're trying to be thoughtful about what we bring to this neighborhood,"  says Tamburello, the force behind LoHi's Olinger complex that is home to the acclaimed Linger restaurant, Lola, Vita and Little Man Ice Cream.

In the late 1920s, the original building housed the Alcott Shoe Shop, where Pottle's grandparents repaired shoes and hand tooled leather and wood crafts for more than three decades. The building also was home to a creamery, bakery and other small neighborhood businesses and thrived as a place where neighbors gathered. Pottle's grandparents lived in the back, so the developers are planning a live-work space in keeping with the history of the building.

"We're trying to find a cobbler to go in to preserve some of the building's history," Pottle says.

Tamburello and Pottle also are developing a new building to the south of the original building that will be leased to a restaurant.

"The great thing about up here is that everything is zoned for two stories," Tamburello says, noting that the code will prevent developers from destroying the character of the neighborhood with massive apartment projects. "This will always be a single-family residential neighborhood."

Tamburello and Pottle also are redeveloping the southeast and southwest corners of 41st Avenue and Tejon Street. Tejon 41 consists of three historic buildings, with the street-level spaces slated for restaurant and retail tenants and the upper floors providing versatile office space. OneReach, a custom voice and SMS application provider, now is in the building on the southeast corner but is growing so fast it's moving across the street into bigger space.

Tamburello and Pottle also are redeveloping the southeast and southwest corners of 41st Avenue and Tejon Street.Transit-oriented growth and change

SUNI, the neighborhood organization, supports the growth in Sunnyside and hopes it will draw people who don't live or work in the area to explore all that it has to offer. It's working with the Regional Transportation District to ensure the rail station at 41st Avenue and Fox Street is welcoming and fits into its surroundings.

"The new businesses and growth are right in line with what we're looking for," Novick says. "One of our big goals is to create community and neighborliness. Having local businesses like restaurants, chiropractors and breweries is a way people can stay connected."

The station is on the Gold Line, a commuter rail corridor that will link the northwest suburbs and Olde Town Arvada to downtown slated to open in 2016.

The vision for the station and area surrounding it is to improve pedestrian connections to the station, between neighborhoods and along major corridors and create opportunities to add more housing, jobs and services to the station area. A new pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at 41st Avenue connects the Sunnyside neighborhood to the planned station.

"That's probably the biggest change coming to the neighborhood," says Steve Gordon, director of planning services for the city. "It's an important station because it's the first stop out of Denver Union Station. It's just five minutes to Denver Union Station."

Sunnyside's growing popularity raises concerns of gentrification for Judy Montero, the Denver city councilwoman whose district encompasses a portion of the neighborhood.

"I'm a strong supporter of diverse communities, both culturally and economically," she says. "That's why people want to live in Denver. They enjoy the cultural diversity and differences. I acknowledge that neighborhoods change, but it's important to hold onto the history and the culture."

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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