Preserving the history and culture of our places is a pivotal part of creating healthy, prosperous communities. Referred to as “placekeeping,” this practice helps keep communities intact – even as new uses might be introduced – without sacrificing return on investment. This type of thoughtful, intentional development aims to reflect an area’s unique culture and history while embracing its future.
Throughout our markets, SideCar has been able to support multiple placekeeping initiatives that are resulting in positive change for their communities. Here are a few recent examples that illustrate the power of intentionality when it comes to development and ongoing management.
Denver’s Five Points neighborhood has one of the richest and most complicated histories of any area in the Mile High City. Once known as the “Harlem of the West,” this historically Black neighborhood was put on the map during the 1930s-1950s as the epicenter of Denver’s jazz scene, hosting icons like Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole at multiple local venues, including the Rossonian Hotel and Casino Dance Hall.
Following this hey-day, the neighborhood experienced decades of decline until the City of Denver and private developers started to re-invest in the community in the 1990s. After multiple failed attempts at redevelopment by outsiders, the community was in need of a local perspective that understood what the neighborhood needed in order to thrive long-term.
With the formation of the Five Points Business Improvement District and investment from a handful of private developers – including Five Points Development Corporation and Palisade Partners – the neighborhood is experiencing a new renaissance that builds on the historic and cultural legacy of the area while ushering in a new era of economic growth. Local ownership has translated to revitalization of local businesses and restaurants – including new concepts like Mimosas by recently formed Pure Hospitality Group – that serve the community as well as attract visitors.
Larimer Square – the birthplace of Denver. As the city’s first commercial block, this historic landmark has remained both a heritage place and symbol of progress for generations. Saved from demolition in the 1970s, then-owner Dana Crawford understood the importance of preserving elements of Denver’s urban fabric and simultaneously laid the groundwork for a new generation of small businesses to thrive there.
In the 1990s, when Jeff Hermanson assumed ownership of the block, Larimer Square was redeveloped into one of the most unique destinations for boutique retailers, award-winning, chef-driven restaurants and creative office tenants. A few years ago, Jeff partnered with Urban Villages to reinvigorate the block and position it for success for a new generation. Given the age of the buildings on the block, the team was challenged to come up with plans for the future that would provide the necessary repairs to ensure their continued viability. While those plans have since been put on hold, Larimer Square has undergone a positive transformation this year, in large part out of necessity due to the pandemic.
Through a curated mix of thoughtful programming and promotion, the opening of the street to pedestrians and the flexibility of the ownership group on short-term leases, the block has become a symbol of unity and hope for Denver during this otherwise trying time – all while keeping the historic nature and ethos of the block intact. Its messages of hope, togetherness and perseverance have become rallying points for the community and positioned the block, once again, at the heart of Denver.
The role of programming in placekeeping is paramount. Special events that celebrate an area’s culture can be a great reminder of what a community is all about. Hosted annually, Side Stories // RiNo brings color, creativity and community to Denver’s eclectic RiNo Art District for its celebrated one-of-a-kind outdoor film installation. Eight artists, makers and creators are hand-selected from 70+ submissions and challenged to create original cinematic works of art to be projected nightly onto eight unique walls throughout the neighborhood. From scenes of couples expressing their love at sunset to a RiNo “monster” inspired by Colorado’s natural setting and industrial history to animated drone footage of a feminine orb that traverses the Colorado landscape, each film in 2020 enlivened the neighborhood by sharing a bold and thought-provoking story.
This annual event is made possible through a collaboration of private developers – like Mainspring – and the RiNo Art District. Intentionally hosted in the colder “off-season,” the event helps drive much-needed foot traffic to local restaurants, bars and shops. Each year, the event grows in size and is now something people have come to expect – and look forward to. Side Stories // RiNo is a celebration not only of Denver’s vibrant arts community, but of the evolving built environment in the RiNo neighborhood.
From thoughtful development to intentional activation, placekeeping is all about finding what makes a community so special and re-enforcing that with existing and new audiences. Thanks to practices like this, we have the opportunity to preserve our communities and introduce new experiences for the next generation.