Denver artist community on edge after surprise inspection at warehouse in RiNo

90 artists and small businesses call space home

DENVER -- An old Denver warehouse once used to store lumber is home to a diverse group of 90 artists, but now they say their community is being threatened. 

“It would be a real shame if we couldn’t keep having this place on many, many levels," said Susan Dillon, manager at the Globeville Riverfront Art Center, simply known as GRACe.

City inspectors showed up at the two warehouse buildings Thursday morning, tucked into an industrial area near East 50th Avenue and Washington Street. The surprise inspection caught Jamie Licko, president of the River North (RiNo) Art District, off guard.

What happened next -- and the requirements imposed for a building like this -- are turning into a source of dispute for everyone involved. City spokesperson Andrea Burns told Denver7 that officials recently met with the owner and learned about the extent of build-outs in the space. She maintains the work took place without permits or inspections.

According to Licko, the building was inspected by the fire department at least three times after it opened. The first artists moved in during January 2016, but the space wasn't fully up and running until August.

"There isn’t really a great code section, if you will, for these artist-shared maker spaces," said Licko.

She insists the building is safe, but city officials are worried it might not be. Burns said inspectors identified several aspects of the site that are of concern and must be addressed in the near future.

Community Planning and Development released the following statement:

"At this time the city does not plan to shut down the space. The city will detail code violations and next steps for the owner so that the building can be brought in line with standard safety codes for the safety of the artists and visitors who use this space daily."

Denver's artist community in RiNo is left feeling targeted, pushed out by the city and developers. Licko said six buildings have been inspected by the city after a large warehouse fire happened in a California artist community. The Ghost Ship fire killed 36 people in an Oakland warehouse in December 2016.

"There was no conversation with the city about this at all until Ghost Ship happened, and I’ve been involved in the art district for many years," said Licko.

Back in December, the Denver Fire Department shutdown a DIY venue called Rhinoceropolis. The building was red-tagged when five people were found living inside. The space was also used by musicians and other artists for concerts, fundraisers and exhibitions since 2005. No one is living inside GRACe.

The artist and RiNO's collaborative community could end up suffering. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find affordable studio spaces in Denver. Rent at GRACe starts at $175 per month and any upgrades to the facility could mean a drastic increase. The building owner estimates compliance efforts could cost in excess of $1 million.

"I don’t know what I would do, quite honestly, if I can’t have a space here. And I know there’s quite a few people in that same boat," said Dillon.

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