Brick by Brick

A new development in Five Points could help the city sell the old Rossonian Hotel.

The handsome Rossonian Hotel sits empty at the center of Five Points, a symbol of the neighborhood's long-ago heyday and its ongoing struggle to come back to life. Although the City of Denver has sunk nearly $2 million into fixing up the historic building, hoping to spur its redevelopment, it has so far been unsuccessful.

The only person occupying any space there is artist Darrell Anderson, who leases part of the first floor month to month as his studio. He's seen his share of people walking through with proposals and plans, but he doesn't follow their movements closely. Anderson conducts workshops with children, and the windows are currently covered over with sketches. "If anything happened to the space," he says, "I'd have to pack up and move."

But now, as Five Points stirs with several new residential projects either planned or near completion, the Rossonian may yet return to the limelight.

The Rossonian is mostly vacant.
Brett Amole
The Rossonian is mostly vacant.

The largest of the new projects, The Point, is planned for a wedge-shaped lot across Clarkson Street from the Rossonian, at the distinctive intersection that gives the neighborhood its name. It will include 65 residential units -- 30 for sale, 35 rentals -- and more than 16,000 square feet of retail space. The majority of the units will be available for low-income families and will range in size from 576 to 1,100 square feet. (Mission to the Americas, a Christian ministry from Chicago, plans to purchase about 10,000 square feet of the space in the building.)

The Point is the second collaboration between the Five Points Business Association and Hope Communities, a nonprofit developer of affordable housing. The first, a small loft project called Fern Hall, just northeast of the intersection at 27th and Welton streets, has already sold out its six units.

"We have the desire to...make Five Points into a place to be reckoned with," says Marva Coleman, executive director of the business association. "You can see things moving in our direction. You can see the changes."

The city shares her enthusiasm: The Mayor's Office of Economic Development, which has for years poured money into the Rossonian, loaned Hope Communities and the business association $1 million for The Point; Coleman expects the project to break ground in June and be finished the following summer.

But even the best-laid plans often don't work out in Five Points. In 1997, MOED loaned $450,000 to the developers of the Casino Cabaret, a nightclub across Welton Street from the Rossonian ("Familiar Tunes," March 20, 1997). While the club appeared to be a success -- packing the house with legendary jazz headliners like Stanley Turrentine, Jimmy Smith and Stanley Clarke -- it folded in 1999.

The future prosperity of the neighborhood will likely involve bringing more people to live there. In the 1940s, more than 30,000 people lived in Five Points, a number that has dropped in recent years to as low as 8,000. The numbers will probably rise again with the new construction, however. A residential project has been mentioned for the corner of Welton and Downing streets, and at the corner of 24th and Welton, a ten-unit condo project that includes the renovation of an old Victorian home is under construction. Both projects are near the light-rail line, as is The Point.

"I really would love to see students move into those lower-income ones," says Coleman. "If I could get students interested who were going to Auraria campus, they could take the light rail. They could work, live, eat and sleep right in the same area."

And maybe the Rossonian could be put to new use. Up close, it still looks great, from the stylized signage on its Welton Street facade to the skillfully detailed brick work and cornices. Like many older buildings, it possesses a subtle heft that seems to have totally escaped modern design. For years, the hotel was a focal point for black Denver -- ground zero for a vibrant neighborhood and a tour stop for many jazz players heading to California.

But that was long ago. In 1990 developer Tom Yates bought the Rossonian with the aid of a $350,000 MOED loan. Over the next few years, the city loaned Yates-controlled companies more than $1.8 million to renovate the hotel ("Hotel Reservations," July 6, 1994). But Yates was unable to get anything going, and the city foreclosed on the property three years ago, out about $1.5 million. The Denver Housing Authority has leased space in the building since 1993, and its payments have helped service the debt, says MOED director Bill Lysaught. DHA's lease continues until early next year, but the housing authority has already relocated to a new headquarters at the edge of Capitol Hill.

Lysaught is optimistic, though, that these residential projects will at last spark interest in the Rossonian. "I think we'll be able to recover what's outstanding on the building," he says. In fact, the city will probably try to sell the property sometime this spring or summer for the $1.5 million that it would need to recoup its investment. "Hopefully, with the breaking ground of The Point, and then this Fern Hall, we'll pique some interest," he adds.

 
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