DENVER — As Denver city leaders consider how to move forward with the next phase of the National Western Center in North Denver, residents living nearby want the city to re-evaluate the project.
“Projects like these helps drive gentrification and the displacement of our people,” said Globeville Elyria-Swansea (GES) Coalition Community Organizer Alfonso Espino.
Espino said the National Western Complex displaced dozens of families through eminent domain and the GES Coalition doesn’t want to see this happen again.
“Our group, our people — we don’t stand in opposition to development. We’re just against the inequitable development that’s going on,” Espino said. “Recently, this zip code has been the most polluted in the United States. The 80216 zip code.”
The next phase of the National Western Center development, located on 45 acres of land in the middle of the Globeville Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods, involves a public-private partnership that could lead to the creation of new entertainment venues in the area.
However, due to the pandemic, the project was placed on hold.
Espino said this pause presents the city with an opportunity to create a community-public partnership instead.
“The first thing that the city actually has to do is center the conversation around the community and listen to us — listen to our people on how they can repair the damage of 100-years worth of history in our neighborhood,” Espino said.
Two weeks ago, the GES Coalition held a march to demonstrate their desire to take control of the 45 acres of land located in the middle of their neighborhoods.
Demonstrators said giving control of the land to residents could serve as a form of reparations.
“Reparations goes beyond the monetary and it goes deeper into a question of how communities define reparations for harms done in the past,” Espino said.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock recently joined other mayors from around the country working to provide reparations for Black Americans.
“Reparations are not just about a check. These are systemic challenges that people of African American descent face as a result of 400 years of slavery and discrimination,” Hancock said.
But Espino said that initiative should be expanded to include entire communities.
“The same descendants of slaves in our country are also some of the people that have been displaced,” Espino said. “What we’d like to see them do is to turn over the control of that land into the community’s hands.”
But the GES Coalition said this issue goes beyond their neighborhood and eventually the organization would like all marginalized communities to come together and take back control of development in their neighborhoods.
The City of Denver held several public meetings to solicit input from neighbors regarding the next phase of the National Western Center.
But Espino said many of his neighbors who attended public comment meetings felt the city's plans were already set, and their voices were not heard.
“What their definition of participation is, they have things defined, they have a plan defined, and they have some variation that they’re willing to work within,” Espino said.
Espino said after reviewing the funding structure for the projector and going over the budget, he has also questioned the city about why a public-private partnership is beneficial. But Espino said he has not received what he considers to be a satisfactory answer.