Will Colfax Avenue Finally Get Funding?

Defiant Neighborhood Advocates Demand Action, Final City Council Vote Scheduled August 14

by Glen Richardson

Colfax Avenue is one the oldest and most prominent streets in all of Denver and was originally called “Golden Road” and then “Grand Avenue.” In 1868 in order to curry favor from the powerful Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Schuler Colfax, the city renamed the street “Colfax Avenue.” The renaming doesn’t appear to have helped much as there is no record of Schuyler Colfax ever doing anything for the city of Denver.

For a half century, there is no major commercial street that has been more ignored and non-funded than Colfax Avenue by the City and County of Denver. The street technically runs 26.5 miles through the cities of Aurora, Denver, Lakewood and Golden. But the stretch that is particularly denigrated is the eight miles running east from Sheridan Boulevard near Sloan’s Lake to Monaco Boulevard. The Denver Police Department is accused of dumping all of Denver’s social ills on this corridor including drugs and prostitution.

Bond Program

But notwithstanding that non-help, the eight-mile stretch has once again started to prosper. The mayor of Denver and the City Council have been mapping out what to include in the proposal of its massive almost billion-dollar bond issue to be presented to the voters in November. The Colfax Corridor was allocated a somewhat pitiful $20 million for improvements, but that is better than the usual nothing. The money would go to make the corridor more walkable and pedestrian friendly allowing more of a mixed use main street feel.

Another $55 million was to be shoveled to the always greedy RTD for Bus Rapid Transit (“BRT”) from Broadway to Yosemite. Colfax east of Monaco will also get paved and have improvements related to BRT.

Last month the Colfax Corridor was, however, given the short straw once again when the proposed bonding money was cut back by Mayor Hancock’s staff from $20 million to a mere $6 million. This time however, the businesses in the form of BIDs and nearby residents decided to fight back. They argued that without the original $20 million critical infrastructure would not be met and it eliminated items designed to make it a comfortable, walkable main street for the tens of thousands of Denver residents who live, work and go about their rounds there.

The enormous commotion raised by the Colfax Corridor advocates in fact worked, and the mayor’s staff restored the original amount in final recommendation to the City Council. But it isn’t over yet: City Council will make their final vote on August 14. If approved by the City Council and later by the voters in November it will be the first major public improvements on Colfax Avenue in 50 years.

All the city plans envision Colfax as a walkable, vibrant and safe main street that attracts people. Until now the reality hasn’t matched the vision because Colfax was designed and is maintained as a state highway. There are many lanes, the intersections are apart, with no landscaping or pedestrian lighting — all of this encourages motorists to speed. Colfax is now the city’s top crash corridor, with 10 pedestrian deaths in 2015-16.

“We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in the main street vision that has been on the books for so long,” says Hilarie Portell, executive director of the Colfax Mayfair BID. “If we make the area more comfortable and safe for people, we will attract more customers and more neighborhood-serving businesses.

Traffic, Flood Mayhem

The Mayfair BID is proposing a modest set of improvements, including enhanced pedestrian crossings, lighting, street trees and landscape, trash cans, bike racks and benches. These pedestrian-friendly improvements also reduce traffic speeds, promote stronger property values for businesses and homes, and create more local jobs and tax revenues for the city.

Parts of the Colfax Mayfair BID and adjacent neighborhoods are in the flood prone Upper Montclair Storm Water Basin. There is simply too much pavement and the old, small, underground pipes can’t handle heavy rainstorms. The Mayfair BID’s streetscape plans also include green space at intersections and 200 street trees. Fortunately these critical environmental upgrades have been restored to the bond package.

Portell’s point: These outcomes are precisely why the city has invested more than $40 million in Brighton Blvd. (20 blocks) and $37 million on South Broadway (17 blocks) in recent years. The current bond list also includes $23 million to improve five blocks of Washington St. north of I-70 and $16.7 million for a seven-block stretch of West 13th Ave. Apparently the Mayor has now found the additional $14 million for eight miles of our city’s iconic main street!

If Not Now, When?

It has taken 30 years for the four BIDs to organize, do the planning, accumulate funds for long-term maintenance costs and get the Colfax Pedestrian Improvement projects now on the bond list. Known as the Colfax Collaborative, the group is made up of four BIDS located along the corridor. They are from East to West the: Colfax Mayfair, Bluebird, Colfax Ave. and West Colfax. They continue working together on common challenges and opportunities on Colfax, including the safety and comfort of those living, working, shopping and socializing in each area.

Returning Colfax funding to the full $20 million supports the 15 neighborhoods representing 75,000 neighbors and six city council districts. Furthermore, it is projected to add 110,000 new jobs and as many as 25,000 new residents along the corridor in the coming years.

“Our BIDs are comprised of civic-minded business leaders who tax themselves more to make Colfax Ave. a better place for everyone,” adds Colfax Mayfair BID’s Jamie Harris. “As a group, we’ve already invested nearly $250,000 and have committed to spend millions on long-term maintenance. We are ready to partner with the city to bring Colfax to the next level as a truly great street.”

Councilman Chris Herndon adds: “This is an important investment in the character and usability of Colfax and one that I hope will have a ripple effect in encouraging reinvestment along the corridor and in the surrounding neighborhoods.”

Is Valley’s Main Drag At Turnaround Junction?

Colfax is a broad and bustling thoroughfare that in the past attracted hustlers and hipsters, not money and business. But despite the street’s hard-scrapped soul, construction projects keep popping up — especially on West Colfax. Could the Go Bond money be enough to cure its notorious hangover?

Colfax Ave., of course, is the official home office of Denver’s more than 10,000 city-county employees as well as the State Capitol building.

The old Denver post office building here has even attracted business. New York financial’s OnDeck Capital recently leased 72,000 sq. ft. The Fillmore Auditorium, the Ogden and Bluebird theaters, Twist & Shout and the Sie FilmCenter are all located along the strip. So is the McNichols Bldg. and Civic Center Park.

Furthermore, the street has always had “good bones” and wonderful neighborhoods, according to many BID officials, local businesses and residents the Chronicle asked about the street’s outlook. The $20 million in bond proceeds is but a fraction of what is needed for the Colfax Corridor’s lofty goals, but it is at least a start.

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