Neighborhood Botch

Squabbles over money plague one of Denver's Oldest neighborhoods.

Rae McDowell, who left Cole in the early Nineties because of gang violence and still misses her big Victorian in north Cole, remembers a time when Cole had a strong neighborhood identity, when there were even block parties that didn't revolve around illegal drugs.

Edward Hendrix, who owns the only black grocery store in Cole and has lived in the neighborhood for 53 years, remembers when it was safer. "People cared back in the day," he says. "You could leave your house open and nobody fucked with it. Now, you can lock your door and somebody'll still fuck with it, while your neighbor next door says, 'I ain't seen nothin'.'"

The buzz in Cole these days--among its residents who care about its future--isn't over the coalition or the consortium. It's over the long-vacant Wyatt School, which was recently approved by the Denver school board as the site for Denver's first Edison Project charter elementary school, a for-profit venture.

Luring Edison to Cole was the brainchild of Chuck Phillips, who bought the Denver Tramway Company car barn several years ago and converted part of it into a vocational center for the Community College of Denver. Inside the huge building, which also houses his daughter's appliance supply business and a vehicle storage company, are enormous hangar-like rooms. Wyatt sits across the street, and Phillips hopes to convert some of his space to accommodate the charter school.

The only catch now is the $3 million to $4 million his New Cole Economic Development Corporation must raise in two years to refurbish the 1889 school building. He's optimistic.

"Cole has grown and bloomed in the last three years," Phillips says. "It has made a tremendous turnaround. I have no idea of seeing this neighborhood fail."

But many of the people in Cole who care about such things believe that the future of the neighborhood is in economic development--only 8 percent of the neighborhood is commercial. Cole Coalition leaders argue that they've been trying to focus on that all along. And others admit that economic development is going to be quite difficult. "The part that's been done was the easiest part," says Father Mark Pranaitis. "Economic development is a whole lot harder."

Pranaitis and others wonder if Cole can get over the hump and if all the changes--largely cosmetic--are the first step in luring homeowners and businesses or merely a facade for a neighborhood going nowhere fast.

"Cole was a factory town," says Pranaitis. "That was a history of the neighborhood, and you can't escape your history. Neighborhoods are what they are. It's very difficult to take Cole and make it Curtis Park. It never was."

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