DENVER (CBS4) – The efforts to revitalize Denver’s historic Five Points neighborhood have seen successes and setbacks over the years, but there is some new optimism afoot with a plan to renovate a fire station.
A company called Civil Technology, Inc. is engaged in at least five different projects that are aimed at improving existing properties in the Welton Street corridor, and one is at Fire Station No. 3. It was built during the Denver’s segregation period and it was the city’s first African-American fire house.
Since most of the African-American population in the city in the 1920s through the 1950s was restricted to the city’s Five Points area, residents needed a fire station that would support the community.
“It’s just part of the history of Five Points that is so amazing. A lot of people don’t know about it. We have an opportunity to bring the fire station back,” said Carl Bourgeois, business manager with Civil Technology.
Bourgeois says the firehouse will be be renovated in a way that the history of the building shines through, and the hope is to have a restaurant in the space.
The plan to renovate historic buildings in the area wasn’t just thought up overnight. It has been a lengthy process for Bourgeois and the Civil Technology team, as detailed in a New York Times article published last week. The neighborhood declined rapidly starting in the 1970s and many buildings are in rough shape and unoccupied.
“It’s been a long process, and what we have discovered over the years is that the buy-in has to be from the whole community,” Bourgeois said.
He says he’s learned that stand-alone projects don’t work.
“You can have a building that you completely renovate, but if the rest of the area is blighted, eventually the newness wears off and there’s no incentive for people to come and spend money there. … The whole key, you know, to development is stability. If we expect people to move into this area, or businesses to move into this area, they have to know that you’re going to be there,” Bourgeois said.
Five Points is Colorado’s first and only cultural historic district, and a lot of that history took place at the Rossonian, a hotel where jazz legends stayed. Black jazz musicians during jazz’s heydey could play at venues downtown but they couldn’t stay downtown, so they went over to the Rossonian to stay and they played at after hours clubs there and in the neighborhood.
Bourgeois owns the Rossonian, but it’s not clear when a final renovation plan will come for the building. Part of that may depend on how successful new housing developments nearby are.
Martin Willie, director of project development for Civil Technology, said a tax incremental financing plan is helping redevelopment efforts, and he said both Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock have been very supportive in the efforts to revitalize the area.
And where did that Five Points name originate from anyway?
“It was originally named that way from the historic street car that came down Welton Street and the streetcar operator wasn’t able to fit all of the neighborhood and street names on the streetcar and he just called it the Five Points. That was the end of the line,” said Willie.
Civil Technology president Sheila King says the company has been in five points for almost 25 years — and they are committed to being there for at least 25 more.