The redevelopment of the Holly Square Shopping Center, after it was burned to the ground by arson in 2008, marked a significant transformation for the Northeast Park Hill neighborhood and was an impactful endeavor for Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) as well. ULC acquired the 2.6-acre site in 2009, with support from the City of Denver, and immediately commenced an extensive community engagement process, led by the Holly Area Redevelopment Project (HARP) and The Denver Foundation’s Strengthening Neighborhoods Program, to determine future redevelopment plans. Today, Holly Square is a vibrant community hub.

Place-based businesses and organizations may come and go over time. As such, the ongoing success of accessible, affordable community hubs relies heavily on community-engaged processes and a mechanism that ensures properties are maintained for community-serving uses over the long term. ULC uses a unique community land trust model, in which we hold our properties in 99-year ground leases, automatically renewable for an additional 99 years, to ensure long-term community benefit. 

When the Roots Elementary School (Hudson Building) closed in 2019, ULC again partnered with HARP to gather Requests for Statements of Interest to select a new community-serving organization to purchase and operate out of the building that met HARP’s Guiding Neighborhood Principles. ULC ensured community voices were a part of selecting the next building owner by building HARP’s Guiding Neighborhood Principles into the ground lease with Roots Elementary School. This allowed ULC to guide negotiations with the construction financing lender for the building to respect the community’s desire to shift away from another charter school. 

HARP and the surrounding community chose The Center for African American Health (CAA Health) to move into the Hudson Building due to their longstanding commitment to Northeast Denver and focus on the African American community. CAA Health is a Family Resource Center dedicated to improving the health and well-being of infants, seniors, and everyone in between by providing culturally sensitive health education and health promotion programs. Beyond health care, the organization advocates for health equity and addressing the social determinants of health. CAA Health’s location at the Hudson Building situates them in the heart of one of Denver’s few remaining historically Black neighborhoods. 

“It was heartwarming that HARP selected us to be the next occupant in the building, and it speaks volumes to the 24 years we’ve been working to serve the community,” says Deidre Johnson, CEO and Executive Director. “We’re grateful for ULC’s partnership in allowing us to enter into a lease with purchase option in 2020, as well as for the funding we received from multiple foundations and individuals. When I first joined CAA Health, I remember Grant Jones [the organization’s founder and former Executive Director] sharing a desire to eventually acquire a building. Our determination, coupled with favorable circumstances and timing, provided us the means to purchase our new home.”

Due to the terms of ULC’s ground lease, we were able to exercise our first right of refusal to purchase the Hudson Building in January of 2020, thus preserving CAA Health’s opportunity to raise the additional capital required to purchase the building themselves. CAA Health moved into the former school with a rent-to-own agreement in January of 2020. In June of 2021, through an ongoing capital campaign, they secured significant foundation grants and other funds to buy the building from ULC – a full two years ahead of schedule! 

“Without ULC’s community land trust and our ability to purchase the Hudson Building, we would not have been able to re-engage with the community to decide which nonprofit’s services would be most beneficial in this location,” says Erin Clark, ULC’s VP of Master Site Development. “In addition, ULC went the extra mile to ensure the building remained a community asset by working with lenders and purchasing the building to give CAA Health time to raise the capital required for the purchase. This is a critical story about partnership, creativity, commitment to community needs, and the importance of community land trusts in meeting those goals.”