The Denver Housing Authority did not stand on authority. Yesterday, the latest phase of Denver's newest city housing community broke ground with passed-out pinwheels, high school drummers and speakers ranging from Mayor Michael Hancock, Representative Diana DeGette and councilwoman Judy Montero to the Flobots' Jonny 5. Named after the Spanish word for butterfly, Mariposa officially began its transition from the former South Lincoln Homes to 93 units for mixed-income residents.
Mariposa, which will feature four new buildings at its 10th and Osage location in 2013, is the second part of a development project that introduced the Tapiz Apartments in the same area. Every lease in the first building is already claimed. Launched in 2010, Tapiz cemented the first portion of the DHA's plan to reenvision the neighborhood as a sustainable community for families and citizens of various incomes. Both communities spread across more than a half acre of land in a project funded largely by grants.
"We made a commitment to transform these obsolete and out-of-date South Lincoln Homes," Ismael Guerrero, executive director of the Denver Housing Authority, told the crowd at yesterday's ceremony. In a list of values important to the community, Guerrero cited cultural diversity and sustainability. "Today we begin to deliver on that commitment."
The plan includes a focus on transit access for those who live there. The neighborhood lies close to the Osage RTD stop, which allows it so serve as a link to the area. Both brainstorming and planning stages of the development involved a resident-led community design committee, whose members weighed in with their concerns and goals. According to Congresswoman Diana DeGette, the project will create an estimated 300 jobs while generating $47 million in local spending through construction costs, supplies and other resources.
Mayor Michael Hancock, both a former employee and a former resident of the DHA, delivered a message similar to an address he gave to Mile High Connects at a lecture on public transit earlier in the morning. By creating a new model for public housing, he said, the city is preparing for future generations. "We're talking linkages to communities we've never had before," Hancock allowed. "That is what's powerful about this moment."
At the event, speakers earned commemorative bricks for their support. Taken from the former South Lincoln Homes, many still included their own commemorative prizes: spiderwebs and dead insects.
In many ways, the most difficult aspect of the development was the wait to launch it, said Judy Montero, District 9's City Council representative. During the final George W. Bush administration, supporters of the effort were unlikely to guarantee Hope VI funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which significantly influenced the project's prospects. Instead, they waited for Obama to take office while polishing their plans.
"I hope to see a shift in the way the public understands public housing," Montero told Westword. "There are stereotypes out there that are negative, but this project draws all walks of life and opportunities. The thought of housing people in some war bunker-like place is not how we want our community to live."
Construction on the Mariposa phase begins this month and is scheduled for completiom over the summer. During its groundbreaking ceremony, the crowd toured the open 100-unit, LEED-certified Tapiz Apartments in addition to classrooms already operating inside the space. At Tapiz, notable features include rooftop solar panels, a grey water recycling program and an extension of the Youth Culinary Academy.
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But its forthcoming neighbor is no slouch. In 2012, the first floor of the first Mariposa building will host a 6,000-square-foot youth media studio created in conjunction with Flobots.org. The Denver band is still finalizing the fundraising for its $2.5 million price tag and technologically advanced space, which will act as a venue for lessons, workshops and performances in design, music and poetry. For more information on the studio, visit our music blog, Backbeat.
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