Colfax Ave, Denver’s historic main street is an integral part of the city’s culture, history, character, and contributing component to Denver’s identity. The identity, nature, and character of the ‘longest, wickedest street in America’ is composed of all the buildings, public spaces, and people in the corridor. An important part of placemaking is the preservation of historic buildings as well as smaller scale development.

The preservation of Colfax is currently under pressure with the various barriers and rules that discourage reuse, renovations of older buildings, and transit-oriented development. Hilarie Portell, Executive Director of the Colfax Mayfair Business Improvement District pointed out that “under current zoning, 93% of new development in the past 10 years on Colfax has been single-story, national chains and drive-throughs.” The regulations in place encourage new buildings over the rich in character, smaller scale, historic focused developments. Portell pointed out that “it’s easier and cheaper to demolish an old building and build a new one." 

The lack of consideration for smaller-scale development, protection of historic character, and the corridor’s atmosphere negatively affects the economy and people’s well-being. Areas with smaller scale, multi-use buildings, and variations of building ages, and types contribute to positive economic activity. The National Trust for Historic Preservation found that “older, smaller buildings provide space for a strong local economy.” In addition to the effect on economy there is an effect of people’s well-being through poor air quality from the traffic on Colfax because there hasn’t been a focus on enhanced transit options. People’s well-being is also affected by increasing taxes and cost of rent. Property taxes are increasing which increases rent cost, and affordability of living in an area. As Portell emphasized “neighbors along Colfax and in the East Area are experiencing homelessness, hunger, and displacement—now.” All of these topics needs to be addressed with a new approach and some creativity.

Join us Thursday, March 5 from 4:30 – 7:30pm at the Carla Madison Recreation Center Rooftop for a discussion and brainstorming session to address building small solutions to the missing commercial middle on main street corridors. In this forum we’ll share new approaches to zoning, adaptive reuse, business support services and property taxes. Lessons learned on Colfax may be applicable to other neighborhood nodes, community corridors and main streets in Colorado. Let’s start a wave of development possibilities that protect and enable small business and property owners to stay put, grow, and thrive!

For more information similar to what will be discussed at the event check out Hilarie Portell’s article, “We Can Do Better on Colfax” and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Report, “Older, Smaller, Better: Measuring how the character of building and blocks influences urban vitality.”

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