Triggering Economic Growth in Denver, CO

The Denver Skyline overlooking I-25, originally uploaded by Flickr user mandymooo.

The South Platte River has been an integral part of Denver, Colorado’s history, spanning 14 neighborhoods across the city and bordered by a railroad track dating back to the mid-1800s. Unfortunately, the river has also endured pollution from a variety of sources over the life of the city: early railroad cars dumped their waste directly into the river, gravel quarries along its banks were later converted to landfills that leached pollution into the water, and a number of abandoned gas stations, smelters, and coal burning plants line the river as well.

In October, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded the City and County of Denver an Area-Wide Planning Pilot Grant to clean up the South Platte River and the properties along its banks. The area also received a Community Challenge/TIGER II Grant from HUD and DOT to create a new transit station nearby.

Through the EPA pilot grant and a partnership with the Greenway Foundation, which has worked to protect and clean the river since the early 1980s, the city will undertake a 2-year effort to develop to redevelop the brownfield sites along the river, restore the river’s ecology, and attract private investment to the area.

Notably, Denver’s plan will focus on identifying sites that will attract more economic development to the area. Denver has a rapidly growing population, expecting 80,000 to 100,000 new residents in the coming years. The city also has a high demand for more homes, office buildings, retail, and clean energy facilities. The pilot grant will help Denver create a vision to use these key sites effectively and make each one of the city’s redevelopment investments go even further.

One such potential site is Sun Valley, an outdated public housing development that the city is seeking to expand and build into a mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood (without displacing any current residents). To redevelop Sun Valley successfully, the city will need to undertake a number of coordinated efforts: assessing and cleaning up the brownfield sites that flank the area to make room for expansion, connecting Sun Valley to an adjacent planned transit station to provide access to jobs and amenities, and reinforcing the river’s banks to prevent potential flooding in the low lying area.

“We’re so happy that we’ve been lucky enough to receive both an Area-Wide Planning Grant from EPA, and a Community Challenge/TIGER II Grant from HUD and DOT,” says Dave Wilmoth of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health. “Combining these federal resources will make it possible to transform an area like Sun Valley into a neighborhood of choice for our residents.”