The Urban Land Conservancy celebrates the achievements of its partnerships that create and preserve nonprofit facilities and affordable housing for communities in metro Denver. ULC’s Monthly Partner Spotlight is awarded to partners who demonstrate the value of collaboration, furthering our mission to improve the lives of Metro Denver residents through our real estate investments and community assets.
Congratulations on our September 2017 Partner Spotlight of the Month: BuCu West Development Association!
Located just a few miles southwest of downtown Denver sits Westwood, a culturally vibrant neighborhood with a population of just under 17,000 residents. The neighborhood has been a popular topic in recent years, due to Westwood’s community members rallying for the city to take notice of issues disproportionately affecting the quality of life for families in this working class neighborhood. In the past six years alone, Westwood has undergone a catalytic change. Due to key players including local stakeholders and community residents – Westwood has seen improved infrastructure, the demolition of vacant buildings, the construction of 371 new affordable rental housing, a new park and the adoption of an updated neighborhood plan.
Through this change there has remained a leading constant – the BuCu West Development Association. With a mission to “create a destination that promotes and supports entrepreneurs, small business, cultural organizations and residences in an authentic, energetic and colorful environment,” BuCu has often led the charge on creating positive change in the Westwood community. As many neighborhoods in Denver sit on the precipice of gentrification and displacement, the Westwood neighborhood has grown vulnerable to the same fate. With a population that as a whole sits below Denver’s Area Median Income (AMI), Westwood residents recognized the need for action to slow down the threat of neighborhood gentrification. According to the Westwood Neighborhood plan, which was adopted in 2016:
“The Westwood community has a culturally rich population that has proven to be resilient despite its many challenges including a lack of neighborhood amenities, unsafe pedestrian environment, and a higher rate of poverty and crime than Denver as a whole. Through the impressive grassroots efforts of the community coupled with significant amount of investment by the City and other partners, Westwood has entered into a phase of cultural celebration and reinvestment.”
It can be safely assumed that much of this celebration and reinvestment is due in part to the efforts of BuCu. In 2013, the Colorado Health Foundation partnered with BuCu, residents, community stakeholders, Westwood Unidos and Councilman Paul Lopez’s office, to invest $1 million dollars through a three year grant awarded to Westwood. The grant was called the Healthy Places Initiative, it was aimed at addressing built environment issues negatively affecting the health of communities in Colorado. With Morrison Road being a main focus of BuCu and a major identifying feature of the community, BuCu led efforts to make improvements and the implementation of those improvements to the corridor. Successful Healthy Place projects include a new stoplight at the intersection of Morrison Road and Perry Street, bike safety programs, a pocket park at the old Thriftway site, murals and façade improvements to existing building and the creation of the Morrison Road Streetscape Implementation Plan — a multi-year design strategy that includes full reconstruction of Morrison Road.
The Morrison Road Streetscape Implementation Plan works through the details of creating a corridor with infrastructure and new amenities to prioritize pedestrians, increase biking and reflect the Mexican culture of many community residents through unique community plazas. The plan subdivided the 1.4-mile long Morrison road into three districts: the entertainment district, the community core and the arts district.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop Westwood as a Mexican cultural district,” said Julie Casault, the Community and Development Coordinator at BuCu West. “We want to recognize and celebrate the community that is already here.”
The timing of the creation of the Morrison Road Streetscape Plan was ideal, as it coincided with the request for proposals process by the city for Denver’s 2017 General Obligation (GO) Bond. If approved, bond financing will “repair roads and bridges, improve parks, playgrounds and rec centers, upgrade police and fire stations, and enhance libraries, cultural centers and Denver Health Medical Center.”
BuCu West presented the streetscape plan earlier this year, and Westwood would benefit from an investment of $12.24 million, which Casault explained would go towards two of the three districts along Morrison Road, bookending either side of the community core. This will be catalytic to improving the overall safety, transportation and mobility of Morrison Road.
“It has been exciting how everything with the GO Bond has played out,” explained BuCu West Executive Director Jose Esparza. “During our planning process we were on the edge of our seat, wondering if we made all of the right decisions in prioritizing projects for our submission. Based on the final approved recommendations in the bond, I think we did.”
Today, as BuCu prepares for the November ballot, their focus is on other happenings in the Westwood community. On Saturday, September 16th they hosted the 7th annual “Westwood Chile Fest” a free event for the public that celebrates Hispanic culture with a strong focus on authentic food and the arts. This year’s event – which is the largest in the neighborhood each year – attracted over 3,500 guests (hundreds more than were expected). The festival included a beer tent, live music, food trucks, live mural paintings, pepper eating contests, a farmers market, a climbing wall and more. While the event attracts thousands of local community members each year, outreach was also directed towards non-Westwood residents, promoting both a diverse and inclusive environment.
Esparza and Casault both agreed that exciting things are on the horizon for BuCu West. They explained their future goals include continuing to identify the community’s needs, sustaining the blue-collar workforce, securing space for the art community and developing relationships with existing businesses. BuCu is also set to secure a permanent source of funding through The Kitchen Network, a shared kitchen workspace and bottling facility located along Morrison Road in Westwood. BuCu started managing the 12,000 square foot space in 2016, and is transitioning into full ownership in January 2018.
As a strong partner and fellow member of Westwood Unidos and Healthy Places Westwood, ULC is so excited to recognize BuCu West as our September Partner Spotlight. Our partnership dates back to 2010, and has resulted in so many accomplishments that directly benefit the residents, businesses and stakeholders in this passionate neighborhood. We look forward to our continued and ever strengthening partnership as ULC works with the community in our real estate work. BuCu is an essential partner in our success!
To learn more about the work of BuCu West, please visit their website here.