Inside $351 Million-Plus Plan to Revitalize Sun Valley Around Mile High Stadium

Despite providing a home for Mile High Stadium — one of Colorado's most iconic venues — Sun Valley is Denver's lowest-income neighborhood, according to data shared by the office of the city's mayor, Michael Hancock. But the area is now being targeted for economic transformation.

Hancock has announced that Sun Valley will receive one of five Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development. (The other neighborhood recipients are in Boston, Massachusetts; Camden, New Jersey; Louisville, Kentucky; and St. Louis, Missouri.) The $30 million allotment will supplement plans by the Denver Broncos, the main tenants of Mile High Stadium, to create a $351 million entertainment district in the northern part of Sun Valley that is expected to feature developments of the retail, commercial and residential variety.

Sun Valley has attracted some development prior to the latest windfall. As Westword contributor Margaret Jackson reported in her August feature article headlined "'Developer' Can Be a Dirty Word in Denver — Meet Five Exceptions to the Rule," Susan Powers of Urban Ventures is involved in a project called Steam on the Platte, which "will transform [a] three-story, 65,000-square-foot warehouse in the Sun Valley neighborhood into creative office space with NIMBL, an SAP [Systems, Applications and Products] technology-consulting firm, as the anchor tenant. A restaurant, to be located in a 6,000-square-foot building with a bow-string roof, will face the river and include a deck; pathways will lead to benches and water features on the river. Future phases of the project will include additional office and residential space."

Other instances of Sun Valley neighborhood revitalization have taken place on a grassroots level. In May, for example, our Lindsey Bartlett wrote about the Birdseed Collective's efforts to beautify the area's dumpsters — an undertaking funded by a grant from the city’s 2016 P.S. You Are Here project.

Obviously, the latest projects represent a massive increase when it comes to scale.

In a statement about the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative Grants, HUD Secretary Julián Castro said, "These game-changing investments will breathe new life into distressed neighborhoods and offer real opportunities for the families who call these communities home. What we do today will leverage private investment and bear fruit for generations of families looking for an opportunity to thrive in neighborhoods that are connected to the economic and social fabric of their communities."

Added Hancock in a statement of his own, "This grant award is a major step in our collective work to improve the lives of residents in the Sun Valley neighborhood. The cycle of poverty that many here are experiencing has gone on for far too long, and it’s time we reverse that trend. The residents of Sun Valley deserve the same access to opportunities that so many others in our city have, and this plan will breathe new life into all of these efforts."

Below, see photos and descriptions of the Sun Valley project from a Housing & Urban Development document that follows in its entirety.

Project Overview

The Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver and the City and County of Denver were awarded a $30 million FY2016 Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant for the Sun Valley neighborhood. Located just west of downtown Denver, Sun Valley is the lowest-income neighborhood in the city, and the Sun Valley Homes and Sun Valley Annex public housing developments are among the housing authority’s most distressed and isolated sites. Despite these challenges, Sun Valley holds incredible potential, with a new light-rail station and significant planned private and public investments. In hopes of capitalizing on this potential, local partners secured a FY2013 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant and created a comprehensive Transformation Plan for Sun Valley. With the award of a Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant, local partners will be able to build 750 new, mixed-income housing units; improve the neighborhood’s landscape by creating new open space and increasing opportunities for local businesses; and increasing families’ access to quality jobs and education.

Key Partners

Denver Public Schools, Denver Police Department, Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver Broncos, Mile High Youth Corps, Sherwin Williams Company, Metropolitan State University of Denver, Community College of Denver, Sun Valley Youth Center, The Denver Foundation, Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of Denver, Mile High Early Learning, The Bridge Project, Open Media Foundation, Servicios de La Raza

Key Funders

Housing Authority of the City and County of Denver, City and County of Denver, CitBank, Enterprise Community Investment, Colorado Housing Finance Authority, Bellwether Enterprise, Denver Public Schools

Committed Leverage

Housing Leverage Committed: $44.8 million
People Leverage Committed: $62.9 million
Neighborhood Leverage Committed: $11.3 million
Additional Neighborhood Investment: $105 million

Neighborhood Background and Vision

In recent years, Denver has become the fastest growing city in the country, balanced by a strong entrepreneurial environment, expanded infrastructure, and a talented workforce. However, due to a disconnected street grid, an abundance of vacant and underutilized land and concentrated poverty, the Sun Valley neighborhood has been isolated from the City’s growth. Eighty-three percent of Sun Valley households live below the poverty line and the neighborhood’s Part I violent crime rate is the highest in the city — 5.6 times the citywide average. Despite these challenges, new investments being made in Sun Valley are laying the groundwork for future growth. The Decatur-Federal Light Rail Station was completed in 2013 and now connects the Sun Valley to downtown and the surrounding region. In the northern part of the neighborhood, the Denver Broncos plan to construct a $351 million Entertainment District with retail, commercial and residential developments. Additionally, the City is continuing to invest in the neighborhood’s light industrial area to attract new businesses.

In hopes of capitalizing on this potential, local partners secured a FY2013 Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant and created a comprehensive Transformation Plan for Sun Valley. Now, with the support of the $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant, the Denver Housing Authority (DHA) will lead efforts to build 750 units of mixed-income housing on a variety of different sites throughout the neighborhood. Over the course of six phases of development, DHA will replace Sun Valley Homes’ and Sun Valley Annex’s 333 public housing units, as well as create 202 moderate-income housing units and 215 market rate units.

A range of housing types will be built, including townhouses near the neighborhood’s elementary school and higher density developments near the light rail station. This mix in housing types — and the mixed income population they will help attract — will help to create a more vibrant, economically diverse community.

With the commitment of their partners, DHA will also work to increase opportunities for local residents by improving access to job readiness, employment, education and health resources. DHA will hire a patient navigator to help residents secure quality health care and nonprofit partners will increase the availability of mental health and substance abuse counseling services. A variety of local education and job training partners will help residents enhance their skills so they can work in high demand industries and pursue new careers. Denver Public Schools will lead the plan’s education efforts and support cradle to career learning by expanding access to high-quality early childhood education, improving neighborhood schools, and increasing academic enrichment programs.

The City will lead efforts to improve the neighborhood’s physical and economic landscape by redeveloping vacant land, investing in new commercial and retail spaces, and creating new open spaces. New initiatives will include the Weir Maker District, which will offer flexible work spaces and tech shops; a micro-business incubator; an International Food Market, and loans to help launch new neighborhood-serving retail businesses. The neighborhood’s connectivity to the rest of the city will be improved through redesigning the neighborhood’s street grid. Expanded Wi-Fi access will also help to connect residents. A new riverfront park, community gardens, and Broncos supported sports fields will help address Sun Valley’s current lack of open and recreational space. Finally, the Denver Police Department will continue working with the city to improve public safety by investing in technology, youth programs, and resident engagement.

Choice Neighborhoods 2016 Implementation Grant Awards

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts