Construction Watch

Northside Family Feels Duped in Forced Sale of Home for National Western Expansion

David Torres by his parents’ dream home, which is in the path of the National Western Center expansion.
David Torres by his parents’ dream home, which is in the path of the National Western Center expansion. Marvin Anani
In October 2014, two National Western Center representatives visited David Torres's home in Elyria-Swansea. They told him and his family that they would need to sell their home to the City of Denver, or else the city could eventually seize it under eminent domain to make room for the sprawling renovation of the entertainment complex.

The Torres family was painfully familiar with forced displacement. They had been forced to sell a previous home across the street on Baldwin Court in 1999 to make way for construction of an I-70 on-ramp. They didn’t want to move again, but their only other option was suing the city, a case they would probably lose. And they'd be on the hook to pay the city's attorney fees.

Years of haggling with a right-of-way acquisitions firm contracted by the city, H.C. Peck and Associates, over the home’s sale price ensued, until a deal was struck. The family handed over the house keys last summer, anticipating that the home would be knocked down soon thereafter. 

Even during his final walk-through of the family’s four-bedroom home, David says, contractors hired by the National Western Center were already boarding up the windows, and a representative from H.C. Peck and Associates showed little patience when David was reluctant to hand over the keys, telling him to “just get over it." The experience was a sour end to the family's years-long fight over their second forced displacement (“Home Wreckers,” August 17, 2017).

A rendering of the finished National  Western Center. - NATIONAL WESTERN CENTER
A rendering of the finished National Western Center.
National Western Center
David thought it was all over. But then, last week, his brother spotted a placard nailed to their former home. The sign stated: “The Office of the National Western Center is currently studying the retention of key historic properties for adaptive reuse on the future campus.” The placard included the addresses of five properties, including the Torres family's old house.

As soon as David learned about the placard, he says, “Everything I had pushed aside during the whole process hit me at once. This is devastating. There is nothing more disrespectful than someone kicking you out of your house and using it for something else."

click to enlarge A picture of the placard nailed to the Torreses' old home. - COURTESY OF THE TORRES FAMILY
A picture of the placard nailed to the Torreses' old home.
Courtesy of the Torres family
Property records show that the home was built in 1891, and during years of negotiating the forced sale, Torres says, “I tried to discuss the historic value of the home with [H.C. Peck and Associates], but they said it was off the table because it wasn't officially designated as a historic site by the state or the city."

But even now, the property hasn't been designated as a historic landmark, says Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver.

Levinsky explains that Historic Denver, along with History Colorado, has pushed the city not to demolish some old buildings such as the Torreses' former home during the National Western Center renovation. "We learned earlier this year that there was nothing going to be built in that part of the campus in the near future," Levinsky says, "so we said, 'Can you just leave these properties in place until [plans] are more clear? Because maybe there's an opportunity to retain them.'"

While David eventually got $250,000 for the home and an additional $250,000 in resettlement costs from the city, the family went from being debt-free to taking out a $60,000 mortgage to move into a similar-sized home elsewhere in Denver.

He and his family now feel duped. As David puts it, "I know that if there's any historic value to the home, that drives the price way up. We should have known this earlier. Go find a four-bedroom 'key historic property' in Curtis Park, for example, and tell me how much you're going to pay for that."

The National Western Center contests Torres’s claim. In an email, chief communications officer Marcy Loughran tells Westword, “Historic designation of a home or structure does not usually increase the value of a property. Oftentimes, a historic designation decreases the value of a home given the restrictions applied to the property by this designation.”

She adds that “land acquisition does not relate to historic assessments,” and that there are no concrete plans to reuse the Torres home.

But a number of studies, including one compiled by History Colorado, show historic designation rarely decreases a home's value. "Now, that doesn't necessarily mean that it increases it, either," Levinsky says. "There are numerous factors."

She adds that Historic Denver was not involved in the city's efforts to obtain properties, including the Torreses' old home, near the National Western Center.

click to enlarge The Central 70 project that will replace viaducts is just one of the changes in this part of north Denver. - WESTWORD
The Central 70 project that will replace viaducts is just one of the changes in this part of north Denver.
Loughran says that the five properties on Baldwin Court are being “set aside” for further studies, and that the city will decide whether to demolish or preserve the homes sometime in the future. She explained that the National Western Center is being responsive to input from History Colorado and Historic Denver to "ensure key historic preservation concepts are included in the campus redevelopment.”

The family's displacement has not occurred in a vacuum. As Gabe Fine wrote in our cover story about the family last year, the nearly $1 billion redevelopment of the National Western Center, which is doubling its size to 270 acres, is just one construction problem residents of Globeville and Elyria-Swansea are facing in the coming years.

Fine wrote: “Many community members feel alienated and uncertain about their futures. CDOT’s Central 70 project has met with fierce opposition, as activists band together to protest what critics call a 'boondoggle' that poses health and environmental risks. The expansion is paired with a massive stormwater drainage reroute intended to protect the below-grade interstate from flooding, but which requires digging through a Superfund site in what’s been deemed 'the nation’s most contaminated zip code.' Though the plan to lower the viaduct below-grade is meant to reunite the divided communities, many residents worry that the five-year disruption of construction will divide them even further.”

David says he is speaking with attorneys to see if the city or H.C. Peck and Associates can be taken to court for not disclosing that the city might reuse the house or commission studies of its historic value.

“I wanted this to be over,” he says. “But they’ve forced me back into it. I have to do something.”
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker