Off Limits

In the City and County of Denver, apparently waste can be cost-effective.

Of the $132.4 million spent on the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building, $10.7 million went to furniture. Walking through the shrine to our former mayor, it's abundantly clear how some of that money was spent. The airy central atrium is sleek and precise, lined with stainless-steel benches. Glimpses through windows offer views of aesthetically pleasing offices, with brand-new matching rolling chairs and neat, identical cubicles.

The furniture that 2,000 Denver employees used while they labored away in the City and County Building and other facilities was deemed wholly unacceptable for these fancy new digs, so in 2002 the city leased a warehouse at 3833 Steele Street to store the old desks, chairs, filing cabinets and bookcases after the move was made. In February 2003, more furniture was transferred to the storage space as the renovation of the Minoru Yasui Plaza at 303 West Colfax Avenue got under way.

Kate Javanbakht, senior buyer for Denver's purchasing department and administrator of surplus property, sent a notice to city agencies and local non-profit groups letting them know that in about a year, a surplus of city furniture would be available for the taking. But unforeseen complications delayed the completion of 303 West Colfax, and Javanbakht wasn't able to make the furnishings available until this past June, about four months later than she'd originally anticipated. With less than three months until the expiration of the warehouse lease, she set out to remind the agencies and non-profits that the used furniture was finally theirs for the taking -- after the architects on the Minoru Yasui Plaza project got first dibs, grabbing about two-thirds of the stash.

"We tried to get ahold of everybody on the list to pick up the remaining furniture," says stock-keeper Steve Wilbourn, who'd culled the remaining furniture and tossed any damaged items. "But a lot of the nonprofits had switched phone numbers or gone out of business. Not everyone was still around."

Some did get the message, though, and various people trickled through the doors before the storage space was closed on August 27. "Whatever is left over and is functional will be collected and moved to our permanent warehouse in Brighton," Javanbakht assured Off Limits at the time. "Nothing will be thrown away."

On August 26, the warehouse still held a healthy selection of unclaimed usable furniture. Dozens of chairs lined the perimeter of the space, stacks of desks sat clumped together in small pockets throughout, and filing cabinets with their drawers pulled open stood gathering dust in the corners.

The next day, the warehouse was locked and empty. The dumpsters behind the warehouse, however, were stuffed full. At least a dozen functional metal desks were crammed into three separate bins, buffered from each other by unsightly yet functional office items of every shape and size. At that point, Javanbakht conceded that some usable materials might have been tossed. "But we have to take care to have what we call Œdue diligence,' to make the most of city surplus and to utilize it properly," she explained. "We have to make those decisions on a regular basis. And there are some things that end up being of negative value, that are more trouble than they're worth, in terms of manpower, personnel hours, transporting and storage.

"Right now the market for used furniture is absolutely deluged, anyway," she added. "Not everybody wants junky desks."

Jack be NIMBY, Jack be quick: Last Friday, when the Governor's Awards for Downtown Excellence were announced -- to almost no fanfare -- the Champa Terrace Townhomes wound up with the prize for Best Design Project, a win almost as much for the surrounding Curtis Park neighborhood as for the project's actual design. That's because when neighbors found out that a 22-unit apartment building had been proposed for the 2900 block of Champa Street, two dozen of them got together and created the Curtis Park Investors Group, with the intent of building housing on that block that would better fit their Victorian-era surroundings.

"There is some inappropriate zoning in Curtis Park, and a lot of the empty lots are vulnerable to overdevelopment," says Joe Colistra of in situ, the design firm that worked with CPIG on the project. "A lot of the residents were very concerned, and a group of 23 people got together, and when this lot came up for sale, they put their homes up as collateral to close on the construction loan."

The group also pooled its professional resources -- involved neighbors include builders, real-estate brokers, historians, lawyers, etc. -- to come up with a million-dollar, four-unit townhome complex with an exterior that blends into the existing architecture but interiors that feature such modern amenities and design elements as bamboo flooring and concrete countertops. The Governor's Award cited Champa Terrace Townhomes for being "a true urban infill project that came to life as neighborhood activism focused on detail and quality."

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