Seems Like Olde Times

Ron Domenick, dealer of model trains and antique china, gulps the dregs of his morning coffee and slams a meaty fist on the counter.

"You want to know what's really going on?" he asks. "Come on, I'll show you. No bullshit."

Domenick, a burly guy with a beard, ponytail and tattoos, storms out his shop door and stomps down a few blocks of Olde Town Arvada.

"See that?" he asks, pointing toward a teen-pregnancy prevention center. "That used to be a DMV office. It was great for business. Fucking great. People wandered around while they waited, and sometimes they came back on the weekends and bought stuff. It was a draw. A big draw. Then they upped the rent, and it moved to 64th and Wadsworth."

Stomp, stomp, stomp...
"See that building?" Domenick continues. "That used to be a drugstore. People used to go there all the time for medications, ointments, gift cards and little bullshit like that. Then the city somehow got it, and now we don't have a drugstore in Olde Town. It's a rehab office."

Stomp, stomp, stomp...
"That used to be a ceramic shop...That used to be a framing store...That used to be a leather shop...

"Gone," he says. "All fucking gone. They cleaned the whole block out. I've been here fifteen years, and do you know how many businesses have come and gone through here? Christ, I can't even begin to count them. All the people who put time in are gone. All the draws are gone. Gone!"

And soon Domenick's Elegant Glass Antiques will be gone, too. The windows of the shop are plastered with "Going Out of Business" and "Sale" banners. So when you mention the latest plans to revitalize Olde Town, laser beams shoot out of his eyes.

"It's a goddamn blow job," he says. "Smoke and mirrors. All bullshit."

Last fall, a coalition of Arvada business leaders, merchants, politicians and planners hired Denver redevelopment messiah Dana Crawford to visit Olde Town and make recommendations for a project called "Renaissance."

Olde Town, founded in 1870 as a new town named Arvada, today is a cluster of 61 brick and wood buildings on a shady hill overlooking the mountains and the Denver skyline. Trains rumble nearby; a water tower looms in the distance. Bounded by Grandview Avenue, Ralston Road, Yukon Street and Old Wadsworth, the historic district (Olde Town was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989) contains an eclectic mix of shops--Steve's Homemade Jerky, Your German Bakery--where you can find everything from wedding-cake ornaments to computer disks to out-of-print collections of Ernie Pyle's World War II dispatches.

Olde Town is the kind of place where signs on shop windows say "Welcome Friends" and "Back in five minutes: Went to the bank." But over the past few years, "For Rent" placards began popping up in those same windows.

Today, some storefronts along the main drag sit empty. Surly teens congregate outside a video arcade. The occasional vagrant sleeps on a park bench at the village square.

Before things could get worse, the Arvada coalition hired Crawford to plan a rebirth. Among her recommendations: Add outdoor cafe seating, public art, lofts and upscale housing; improve streetlights, landscaping and traffic; offer shuttle buses and free parking; hire a foot-patrol police officer; relocate the library to the village square; schedule more festivals; hang banners and awnings: repair sidewalks; refurbish and repaint the landmark water tower.

Crawford, who built her reputation on such historic renovations as the one in Larimer Square, said Olde Town should also adopt design guidelines, reorganize its merchant association, hire a management team and seek government funds. If, as projected, 2,000 people move into Olde Town lofts and apartments, $13 million would pour into Arvada's economy each year.

"It's a pretty unique place," Crawford says. "You've got a lot of examples of diverse small-town architecture. It's pretty unusual in America to find a collection of eclectic buildings representing generations. It has a lot of potential."

Domenick, an Arvada native who's visited Olde Town "since the beginning of time," has heard it all before.

"Let me ask you a question," he says. "How much money have they already spent hiring some yo-yo to tell us what needs to be done? Wait until you see that figure. You'll jump for joy over that one. And now they're paying this broad $70,000 to tell us to paint the water tower and plant trees? I don't need more flowers and sidewalks; I need parking. But do you know what? It doesn't matter what the study says. Nothing ever happens."

And if something does happen this time, Domenick predicts the so-called renaissance will destroy whatever authentic vitality Olde Town has left, while the breweries, lofts and boutiques will fizzle. Instead of focusing on luring new, high-dollar businesses, he says, the revitalization committee should spend its time and money helping the existing businesses revitalize Olde Town from the inside out.

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Harrison Fletcher

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