Oct 11, 2021 - News

Santa Fe arts district faces an uncertain future

The historic Aztlan Theatre sits adjacent to an apartment complex development project underway near the intersection of Santa Fe Drive and 10th Avenue.

The signature funk of Denver's Art District on Santa Fe Drive may be fading.

What's happening: Rapid development in a historically underserved area is raising rents and property taxes, pushing people out and threatening to upend the neighborhood's character and spoil the delicate dance between art, commerce and historic preservation.

  • Many residents and business owners in the neighborhood agree there is a need for more housing, restaurants, bars and shops. But most worry whether it's possible to build without losing what made the district distinctive in the first place.

Why it matters: The shift is seen as a warning symbol for both the artistic and Chicano communities — people who have called the area home for decades.

State of play: Several major housing developments are underway, changing the look and feel of the neighborhood — and many more are being proposed.

  • Construction on Pop Denver, a five-story housing development at 625 Santa Fe Dr., is expected to be completed in early 2023. The structure will feature 123 condominiums, including two penthouses, and 11,000 square feet of ground-floor retail.
  • Holland Partner Group, a Washington-based developer, is constructing two apartment buildings near 10th Avenue — a five-story project along Santa Fe and a six-story structure along Inca Street with a combined 208 units and retail space.
  • And Denver-based CRE Development Investments is building two eight-story apartment buildings — the Art District Lofts and the Art District Flats at the intersection of 12th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive — for another 241 units. Both are expected to have ground-floor retail space.
New construction near the intersection of 10th Avenue and Santa Fe Drive.

What they're saying: "I hope Santa Fe doesn't become anything like RiNo, but I'm afraid it's heading that direction with all of these new buildings going in," says Damon McLeese, executive director of Access Gallery, a nonprofit representing artists with disabilities.

  • "It's a Catch-22," he tells Axios. "Having more people in the area is great, but you're pricing out a lot of folks who live and work close by."

The big picture: The city has taken steps to preserve the area's history and improve its infrastructure in anticipation of the explosive growth.

  • In August, the City Council designated the La Alma Lincoln Park neighborhood, next to the arts district, Denver's second historic cultural district to praise and preserve the area's rich Chicano history. The designation calls for properties within the area to reflect the neighborhood's historic character.
  • The city also worked last year to create a new street design, aiming to make it more walkable and safe. That includes more planters and reducing traffic lanes from three to two — though some residents tell Axios the intended improvements have only made traffic and parking worse.

The bottom line: Keeping artists and residents in the area will require thoughtful development, locals tell Axios. The arts district will need a variety of businesses to remain vibrant, but also mindful developers who understand and value the community.


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