Last month, Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) learned that our new office at Mountain View Nonprofit Tower is included in the Colfax Business Improvement District (BID). Their boundaries – Josephine to Grant, between 14th and 16th streets – put our office just inside the border. The Colfax BID, arguably one of the larger and more successful BIDs in Colorado, aims to make Colfax a safer, cleaner and all around more enjoyable place to walk and live. Funded through commercial property taxes from businesses located along Colfax, the BID provides trash removal and graffiti services, street cleaning, safety initiatives and actively promotes the district through year-round events.

Upon learning we are a part of the BID’s territory, ULC hosted the Colfax Works team into our office for a lunch break. Colfax Works is a pilot project launched by the BID to run from June – August. The team consists of a supervisor and four crew members who are currently experiencing homelessness. This is not a volunteer program, as each employee makes a living wage with wrap around services included.

Colfax Avenue running north, downtown Denver. Photo Courtesy | Max Bohana
Colfax Avenue running north, downtown Denver. Photo Courtesy | Max Bohana

The crew works four days per week for six hours each day, and as the first three months of the pilot program comes to an end, not one single employee has missed a day of work. Their day-to-day responsibilities include trash pick up, power washing, graffiti removal and any other duties aimed to improve the cleanliness of the district.  (If you are a part of the BID and interested in hosting the crew for lunch you can contact Colfax BID here).

Michelle Valeri, the Communications & Programs Director at the Colfax BID, moved to Denver after working for a Business Improvement District in Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill. The Capitol Hill BID’s “Ready, Willing & Working” (RWW) program, which provides employment and supportive services for formerly homeless or incarcerated individuals, inspired the Colfax Ave BID to bring a similar project to Denver. The program, “empowers individuals to break the cycles of homelessness, welfare dependency and criminal recidivism through a paid-work rehabilitation program. RWW offers a holistic approach and supportive services that allow participants to achieve permanent self-sufficiency.”

Valeri explained that 70% of RWW’s participants are successful within just three years. This is a huge accomplishment, as they rate success by an individual being fully housed, employed and drug free. Upon taking a position with the Colfax BID, Valeri hoped to launch a similar program, and was able to do so with Colfax Works. While the official pilot phase has ended, the program will continue for the remainder of 2018 thanks to outside funding support. Valeri said the BID is now looking to the City for increased funding to continue the project for the long term, with a goal to be a year round, seven days per week program.

If you have driven down Colfax at any point, you might have noticed the cleaner streets, successful businesses (The Fillmore, Illegal Pete’s, Voodoo Doughnuts to name just a few) and colorful banners lining the street. You can thank the Colfax BID for each of these improvements, as their work goes far beyond the Colfax Works pilot project.

Art-I-Fax. the Colfax BID's annual block party, which shuts down a section of Park Avenue from Humboldt street to Colfax.
Art-I-Fax. the Colfax BID's annual block party, which shuts down a section of Park Avenue from Humboldt street to Colfax.

One of their largest projects is the Colfax Avenue Streetscape Plan, which was published in February 2017. The 100-page master plan includes six main themes: Accessibility, Land Use, Placemaking, Wayfinding, Final Streetscape Design and of course – Funding. Valeri explained that the plan was years in the making, as the BID worked with local stakeholders, community members and businesses to create the final product. The plan aims to increase safety, improve the pedestrian experience, and respect the historical and cultural nature of Colfax all while helping the district continue to thrive.

Following the announcement of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which will drastically change the shape and feel of Colfax, the BID has started worked closely with Denver Public Works in preparation for the build out. According to Public Works through their Colfax Corridor Connections study, the East Colfax corridor is expected to experience a 25% population growth and 67% employment growth in the next 20 years- only adding to the area’s preexisting congestion. The BRT is expected to run down the center lane of Colfax, with construction and planning anticipated in 2021 or beyond. To learn more about the Colfax BRT, click here.

In line with their efforts to increase the pedestrian experience, the Colfax BID recently shut down a portion of Park Avenue for their annual “Art-I-Fax” block party. The five-point intersection where Park Avenue and Franklin Street intersect Colfax near Cheeseman Park has been ranked the second most dangerous intersection in Denver. The BID (and many other organizations) advocate for a safer intersection, primarily by helping local residents envision the area as a more traditional four way stop. Last weekend, the BID shut down Park Avenue from Humboldt Street to Colfax in an effort to create a safer and more enjoyable pedestrian experience.

On behalf of the thousands of residents, businesses and tourists who frequent Colfax Avenue every day – thank you! Your efforts have created cleaner streets, opportunities for those experiencing homelessness and a sense of community in the heart of downtown Denver. We anticipate many future successes for the BID, and looking forward to our participation as a member of the district moving forward.