May 16, 2022 - News

Benefit for slain man brings La Alma residents together amid park tension

Several people attend a benefit inside the Denver Inner City Parish building in west Denver.

Family and friends of Gary Arellano gather for a benefit at Denver Inner City Parish on Saturday, May 14. Photo: Esteban L. Hernandez/Axios Denver

A Saturday benefit saw more than 100 people gather at the Denver Inner City Parish across from La Alma Lincoln Park, where 63-year-old Gary Arellano was fatally shot late last month.

State of play: The violence led the city to close the park — inside Denver's second historic cultural district — for the third time in one year.

  • Flashback: Denver Parks and Recreation closed La Alma last December for multiple weeks, citing gunshots fired, and again between mid-January and March because of a nearby shooting.

At a strained public meeting on May 4 at the parish, Arellano's family and other residents urged the city to reopen La Alma, and Denver Parks and Rec followed suit the next day.

Zoom out: Civic Center Park and the Union Station bus terminal are among other public spaces in the city that have been shut down or partially closed due to quality of life and public safety issues, including crime, drug use and homelessness.

The back-and-forth is evidence of broader challenges in the city, as the estimated number of violent crimes in Colorado spiked last year to its highest level in 25 years.

  • Yes, but: Data does not show that park closures have had an impact on arrests or violent crime, Denverite reports.

What they're saying: People living in the La Alma Lincoln Park area felt shuttering the park — which serves as a gathering space for a primarily Latino community — was punishment.

Of La Alma's significance, City Council member Jamie Torres told Axios Denver: "It goes way back to when [the] Chicano community was really starting to organize themselves for a variety of things in Denver."

  • She described the park closures as ineffective, telling The Denver Post, "When something like this happens, we should have swarmed the park and neighborhood with love, with resources, with programming."

The other side: During a public meeting earlier this month, Denver Parks and Recreation executive director Happy Haynes cited some "really scary moments over the last few months," for the La Alma park closure, per the Post.

What to watch: The city and police say they are trying to improve public safety at the park, including increasing police patrols and adding security cameras.

  • Moreover, the city says it wants to allocate $2 million to reopen the La Alma rec center pool, which has been closed since 2020, next summer following repairs.

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