The Central 70 expansion project has created a lot of dissension in Globeville, Elyria-Swansea and other neighborhoods around Denver. "Ditch the Ditch" signs have popped up in many yards, and residents wonder how their communities will be affected by the five-year disturbance...and whether their communities will even continue to exist after more displacement and gentrification as a result of rising property values.
To help quell these concerns, Denver has created a public-private partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation and other groups to establish a new neighborhood career resource center at 3600 East 46th Avenue. On July 6, city officials and project partners gathered to celebrate the center's opening and tout its goal of training residents of the communities most impacted by the project for jobs in the Central 70 construction workforce.
"Starting next week, we'll have a few hundred people in this building," said CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. "We are creating jobs and opportunities."
The training project is primarily funded by a contribution of over $1 million from Gary Community Investments, which invests in for-profit and philanthropic solutions for low-income children and families. Other partners include the Community College of Denver and Emily Griffith Technical College.
The training center will support a local hire program requiring that 20 percent of the Central 70 workforce be from fifteen communities around I-70, including Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. The center will hold construction career-training courses and provide hands-on experience, and also offer an early childhood care program.
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"This is an opportunity for residents to increase their earnings," said Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega at the opening event. "This can help them avoid displacement and gentrification." The city may not be able to control market fluctuations, she explained, but it can help low-income families raise their income and acquire the financial resources required to remain in their communities.
"Residents are feeling disconnected from what is happening," noted Denver City Council president Albus Brooks, who represents District 9, which includes many of the affected communities. "We have to make sure we stay committed to this for the next five years, the next decade."
Steven Moss, the executive director of Focus Points, a local nonprofit that supports low-income families through programming in areas like school readiness, health and wellness, and workforce development, agreed: "There is a history of wariness in this community, and people are wary about getting involved in government programs." For this project to be successful, he stressed, "the emphasis has to be on existing residents, not future ones. We have to make sure they are at the table and speaking their minds."
Looking around the room, Moss pointed out that he didn't see a single resident of Globeville or Elyria-Swansea who hadn't already been involved with one of the organizations working on the project.
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"This is a step in the right direction, but it's going to be our job to maximize these benefits," Moss said, referring to the door-to-door work that Focus Points often does to keep community members informed. "We need tangible goals attached to this to put the burden on the contractor."
Moss is optimistic that the career training center will benefit communities impacted by the highway project, but emphasized that the city and its partners will have to stick to their commitments.
And there are more obstacles ahead; The Denver-CDOT partnership announcement came at a critical time in the Central 70 expansion project. The deadline for filing any legal challenge to the project is today, July 10 — 150 days after the January 19 publication of the Federal Highway Administration's Record of Decision. And at 9 a.m. on July 10, a group of citizens plans to file a lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration, arguing that the Central 70 project bypassed National Environmental Protection Act regulations and will disproportionately affect already vulnerable minority populations.