By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Klein, a graduate of Green Mountain High School who'd studied accounting and finance at CU, was just 25 years old in 1999 when he and a partner founded Icon Investment Group, a company with a simple mission: to buy and develop properties in areas ripe for gentrification.
In 2002, he made his first purchase on East Colfax: a mobile-home park across from Fitzsimons, where his high-school Spanish skills came in handy with the tenants. He didn't make a lot of money from the renters -- the park had a more than 100 percent turnover annually -- but Klein kept his eye on the big picture and kept buying properties. Icon soon picked up the Belair, the Family, the Weekly and the Sands motels, a mobile-home sales lot, two mobile-home parks, a satellite shop/junkyard and a defunct bar once known as the 4-U Lounge. Icon also arranged to swap one of its properties off of Sixth Avenue with the Retired Enlisted Association, which was ready to leave its headquarters on East Colfax. Icon bought three single-family homes. And the Dunes.
About $30 million later, Icon owned fifteen properties on East Colfax, everything from Ursula to Xanadu streets, all ready for redevelopment.
One day this past February, Klein got a call from Maggie Tidwell, executive director of the Colfax Community Network, which she'd founded the same year as he'd founded Icon. He hadn't heard of the nonprofit before, but remembers thinking that it was "really cool" that Tidwell's organization existed solely to assist and advocate for the families of East Colfax, "especially the children."
Eight years ago, Tidwell was working at Project Pave on anti-violence training for kids and domestic-violence prevention when she met some children playing in the parking lots of the East Colfax motels. Not only did the kids she saw need a safe place to play, but most of them were hungry, too. So Tidwell set up an after-school program for the motel kids and created CCN to reach out to people in need and connect them to resources. But those resources haven't been easy to find.
"It was interesting to me when Maggie Tidwell called and asked if we'd like to help," Klein recalls. "And we said yes, and she said she'd never heard of anyone willing to help before. I was shocked by that comment. The apathy galled me. Helping out is the right thing to do. When you're dealing with someone's home, it's very emotional. Maybe it's because I've got a heart, but I can't see being a contributor to homelessness in the area."
So when Klein decided that the time had come to close the Dunes, Icon offered to pay a housing security deposit for anyone who'd been living at the motel for six months. And anyone who'd been there for over a year was eligible for a deposit and first month's rent, up to $1,000 total.
Charles Young cruised his big, bad blue-and-white pickup down the dusty roads of Monticello, a rural farm town in Florida. He was looking for a laborer to help in the nursery where he was working, so he headed for the campfire where immigrants often went to drink beer and make new amigos. But when Charles asked the buzzed guys if they wanted work, they all said no. One muttered something in Spanish and whistled for a younger, wide-eyed cousin, Mary.
Although Mary was always looking for work, her cousins were more interested in setting her up with a gringo. Mary took the job -- mostly to get to know Charles, she admits. Soon he was spending way too much money on his gas-guzzler of a truck, running Mary the thirty miles to and from work every day. Mary didn't speak English. Charles didn't speak Spanish. But they fell in love, and poco a poco -- little by little -- they learned each other's language.
In 1996, 18-year-old Mary and 25-year-old Charles, a Texas native, moved to Denver. They stayed with Mary's brother for a while, then got their own place. Charles was doing landscaping work; Mary was about to give birth. Although Charles was catching a lot of shit from Mary's family, who said she was more in love with the idea of a green card than she was with Charles, he took his pregnant girlfriend to the Denver City and County Building and made her his wife.
In 2000, Mary and Charles and their two children -- son David and new daughter Linda -- moved back to Florida, this time taking a crack at Tallahassee, where Charles found work installing credit-card readers on gas-station pumps. But two years later, he returned home one day to find Mary packing. "We're moving back to Colorado," she told him.
Earlier that day, Mary had called her brother in Colorado and discovered that their sister was moving to Denver from Mexico. If Mary's sister was going to be in Colorado, Mary wanted to be there, too. So she, Charles, David, Linda and baby Mikey drove back to Denver, where they stayed with Mary's brother and his family for a couple of years. At one point, a neighbor must have called the authorities, because inspectors came to the house, Mary says, and made sure that the eight adults and nine children were living in safe and sanitary conditions.