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A City Deal

Denver wreaks havoc with the nonprofits that run its community centers.

After months of delays, city officials announced on February 9 their decisions regarding the future of five of the six nonprofits that currently lease city-owned community centers.

For Jan Belle, the director of the sixth nonprofit, the Southwest Improvement Council (SWIC), the wait has been "torturous," and it's not over. The selection process for the Westwood Community Center, at 1000 South Lowell Street, which SWIC leases, has been suspended for six months.

Margo Blu, director of the city's division of Public Office Buildings, won't comment on the suspension except to say, "We just ran into some delays, but we hope to have that done in the next couple months."

But city councilwoman Ramona Martinez, who sat on the committee that made the decision, has concerns about the condition of the building. "I just don't think it's a good idea to turn over a building that is not healthy or safe," she says.

For the other five groups, the future is more certain -- but for two of them, no less distressing. The Globeville Community Resource Center lost its building, a converted church at 4400 Lincoln Street, to another nonprofit, the Cross Community Coalition. In the case of the Five Points Community Center, at 2855 Tremont Place, the city rejected all bids, deciding to take over the building itself, despite an earlier assertion that it wanted to get out of the community-center business.

United Park Hill Neighbors, which runs the Park Hill Community Center; the Washington Street Community Center Inc., which runs the Washington Street Community Center; and Rocky Mountain SER, which runs the Pecos Community Center, will all keep their leases. If, after three years, the city thinks the groups are doing a good job of running community programs and keeping up the properties, they'll have the chance to buy the buildings -- many of which have been improved with public bond money -- for $10 each ("Centers of Attention," September 28, 2000).

With regard to the decisions, Blu says the committee made them as "impartially as possible."

The process, however, did not follow the schedule the city had laid out for bidders. According to the timeline, proposals were to be evaluated in September; groups submitting proposals were to give oral presentations in September and October; winners were to be selected on October 15; the lease agreements were to be signed on November 15; and, after final approval from city council in November and December, those agreements were to take effect on January 1. "It just took a whole lot longer than we thought, unfortunately," explains Blu.

As for the Five Points center (which, says director Eleene Scott, had to give its oral presentation on the afternoon before Thanksgiving, when most of its boardmembers were out of town), "we just felt that none of the applicants demonstrated the ability to run programs and operate the building," Blu says. City-run programs -- a branch library and human-services offices -- already occupy most of the building, and "social services needs a lot of space," she adds.

"The people who are dissatisfied can make their disappointment known to the mayor," she continues, "because he's the leader."

Wayne Cauthen, the mayor's chief of staff, and Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth met with representatives from Five Points Community Center Inc. last Tuesday. And although they agreed to look at a revised bid proposal from the center, Wedgeworth says she thinks the original bid process was fair. "We know that the community-center board cares about the community and wants to provide programs for youth and seniors," she says. "We want for them or any other entity to be able to do that, but the process is what it is."

But that process, says Scott, was "horrible. Just absolutely horrible. I think they knew all along that they wanted this building, but they put us through all of this. It was just such nonsense."

Briggs Gamblin, an aide to Mayor Wellington Webb, says that with the exception of the Five Points center, he hasn't heard about problems with the community-center bid process.

But Toni Riley, executive director of the Globeville Community Resource Center, says she and her board also plan to fight the city's decision to boot them out.

Her group is supposed to be out by May 31 so that the Cross Community Coalition can move in. But when city workers did a "walk-through" of the building on Tuesday in preparation for its handover, Riley's supporters picketed.

Riley also asserts that the loss of her lease was politically motivated. Ever since she locked horns with Councilwoman Debbie Ortega four years ago over Ortega's proposal for a soccer academy in Globeville, Riley has believed that the councilwoman has been looking to push her and her allies out of the center. In addition, Lorraine Granado, executive director of the Cross Community Coalition, is good friends with Ortega, whose assistant sat on the committee that awarded the center to Granado's group, Riley says.

Ortega did not return phone calls to respond to these allegations, but Granado counters Riley's claims. "I think Debbie Ortega is the best councilperson we've ever had in this district," she says. "We appreciate and we value what she does. [But] is it 'Debbie's my friend and we've cooked things up?' That's not real. I think it's really not okay to make things personal. This is not a personal issue. I would have nothing personal to say about either Toni or Debbie."

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