AHEC has responded to the branding push by designating different "neighborhoods" on campus for each institution, along with one shared neighborhood, in order to allow each school to better shape its own identity. That's led to the current pile-on of new flagship buildings, as well as a decision by CCD officials to rename several buildings in their neighborhood after Platte tributaries, apparently to give them a bit more personality. The South Classroom Building will soon be known as "Cherry Creek," the Technology Building as "Boulder Creek," and so on.

Some faculty have wondered if the neighborhood concept merely promotes more competition and balkanization, but UCD chancellor Elliman doesn't see it that way. "Our students don't go to the University of Auraria," he says, adding that the new building will provide larger, university-level lecture halls than can be found in the present classrooms. "Each institution has its own identity. But the neighborhood concept allows us to develop that without taking away from the efficiency of working together when that makes sense."

While the schools are busy carving out their neighborhoods, there's also an emerging effort to connect the campus to the neighborhoods around it. Auraria has always been an island of sorts, cut off from downtown and the Lincoln Park area by raging streams of traffic on Colfax, Speer and Auraria Parkway, as well as the light-rail line. Proposals for better pedestrian access, a bike network and other improvements figure prominently in the latest master plan.

Mayor Michael Hancock and others broke ground last month for a $65 million University of Colorado Denver building (inset) on the north side of campus.
Mayor Michael Hancock and others broke ground last month for a $65 million University of Colorado Denver building (inset) on the north side of campus.
Gregorio Alcaro, who offers tours of Ninth Street Park, views the current frenzy of development at Auraria as “a slap in the face.”
Anthony Camera
Gregorio Alcaro, who offers tours of Ninth Street Park, views the current frenzy of development at Auraria as “a slap in the face.”

"We've been very cognizant of activating our edges," says AHEC campus planner Jill Jennings Golich. "One of our main concerns is improving connectivity to the adjacent areas. All three of the major arterials were built with the auto in mind, but 35 percent of our population arrive by transit now. Some of them live in the neighborhood and make use of the retail there. Improving access to all of that is foremost in our minds."

Perhaps the boldest step in connectivity is Metro's decision to move its athletic fields across Colfax, to the site of a former Unocal chemicals warehouse. The move hasn't stirred up the kind of outrage that greeted UCD's effort to develop student housing south of Colfax a decade ago, for several reasons — the most obvious being that most people prefer a soccer field to a decaying industrial site, with soil and groundwater contaminated by toluene. The turf will be artificial, since irrigation would only spread the groundwater plume, but locals figure some remediation of the property, which has also served as a homeless encampment, is better than none.

"That area has been blighted for a long time, and I'm pleased it's going to be used at all," says David Griggs, president of the Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association. "I think it's a reasonable best use of that property. I'm also excited about the potential for the community to utilize it."

Metro officials have kept residents apprised of the project for years and have even hammered out a memorandum of understanding with the LPNA, pledging to make the fields available to community groups when not otherwise occupied. Planners have also agreed to a walking trail around the perimeter of the thirteen-acre site suitable for seniors and strollers.

"This fits with Metro's mission of reaching out to the community, trying to be a resource," says Sean Nesbitt, the school's director of facilities planning and space management. "Ideally, there could be clinics and camps held in the summertime, and we could work with the community on returning baseball to the inner city."

The potential for the fields to become a community asset has gone a long way toward overcoming concerns among residents about Auraria creeping south. Doricel Aragon, the vice president of the LPNA, put aside her ambivalence after receiving assurances that no academic buildings would be placed on the acquired property. "We can't continue to live in the past," she says. "Everyone keeps talking about an agreement that Auraria would never cross Colfax. People were displaced, and I definitely want to respect whatever was agreed upon back in the day. But we haven't seen anything on paper, and nobody really came out to oppose this. It's hard to fight someone else's battle."

Both Aragon and Griggs give Metro officials high marks for their efforts to involve the community in their planning. So does veteran community activist Veronica Barela, president of NEWSED, a community development organization. Her group recently presented MSU president Stephen Jordan with a civil-rights award for his outreach to minorities, including sticking to the plan to reduce tuition for undocumented students despite scathing criticism.

"Dr. Jordan is a real community person," Barela says. "It's been such a change that this man has accomplished. He doesn't try to do things without community input."

Although she was strongly opposed to student housing going into the La Alma/Lincoln Park area, Barela sees nothing but positives in the ballfields project: "This development is going to benefit everybody. And that's what this campus should be about. There are hard feelings going way back, but maybe we are entering a new era here."

Griggs hopes his group will have a chance to become more involved in other design decisions as Auraria grows — including the question of what to do about what Lincoln Park residents call "the wall," the extended barrier along the light-rail track on the southern edge of campus. "The campus is oriented toward Speer," he notes. "There hasn't been much thought given to the Colfax edge. It should be more of a gateway rather than the way it seems to turn its back to the neighborhood."

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I give daily tours for one of the colleges on this campus. I am also a student here. Talking about the St. Cajetan's and Auraria's history is always one of my favorite parts of the tour. I know that there is a lot of anger and negativity around this development, my Chicano studies professor and I would have plenty of talks about it often. However, I always try to out a different spin on it. This campus has a beautiful history and though it's gone now it should be celebrated. The history parts aren't required on the script for our tours but I include it because I love it and almost always get a positive response from prospectives. This was an awesome article and it confirmed some information I already knew (people always asked where I got the line that none of the development was supposed to go south of Colfax, I'm glad other's are saying the same) and also helped with providing some more tidbits I might work into future tours. I hope the issues on this campus can be resolved, I have enjoyed my time here and when I graduate next year, I will miss this campus for sure.