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Red Fields to Green Fields: Wall St. banker has grand plan to turn abandoned malls into parks

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A Wall Street investment fund manager has an ambitious plan to double Denver's parkland -- along with the parkland in other cities such as Atlanta and Cleveland. Called Red Fields to Green Fields, the project would use loans from the nation's banking system to buy distressed properties such as shuttered malls, demolish them and build parks where they once stood.

The benefits would be twofold, supporters say. In addition to more green space for recreation, new parks increase the value of everything around them. Or, as Gordon Robertson, director of planning, design and construction for Denver Parks and Recreation, puts it, living next to a basketball court and walking trail is more desirable (and better for your property value) than living next to an abandoned Kmart.

Plus, Robertson says, green space attracts development. For proof, he says, look no further than Denver's Confluence Park, which the city transformed from a dump site into, as Robertson says, "a gorgeous green space with a beautiful river running through it.

"In so doing, you incentive that developer to come in because you've taken out the boarded-up buildings and built nice parks," Robertson explains. Now, Confluence Park is surrounded by development. "LoDo wouldn't have happened if we didn't clean up that area," Robertson says. "That happened first and the buildings came second."

Turning Kmarts into parks is easier said than done, however. It takes money and buy-in, both of which Red Fields to Green Fields is working on obtaining. Robertson has just returned from the second conference organized by the project, at which city planners, banking officials and other government officials gathered to discuss the idea.

"It's very ambitious, and today, ambitious ideas are a tough sell," Robertson says. "But I have yet to talk to someone who says this is a bad idea."

And Denver, which Robertson says was approached about participating in the project, is forging ahead -- with or without Red Fields to Green Fields. The city parks department recently purchased two distressed commercial properties -- one in west Denver and the other in the River North Art District, or RiNO -- and has plans to convert them into green space. "There are sales to be had today," he says. "It's too important to pass up."

Click for details about Red Fields to Green Field's vision for Denver -- and watch the video below.

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