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Development Booming In Harlem Of The West

As the nation emerged from the Great Recession, developers looking for the next hot neighborhood started checking out Denver’s Five Points, a historically African-American neighborhood known as the Harlem of the West because of its long jazz history.

Palisade Partners is developing a plan for the historic Rossonian Hotel in Five Points.

Among the first developers to start working in the area was Palisade Partners, which began buying property along the Welton Street Corridor in 2013. 

“At Palisade Partners, our guiding principle is to do deals where others aren’t,” Palisade Partners Development Manager Tim Welland said. “At the time, there weren’t any other projects going on in Five Points. There hadn’t been a new development there in over a decade.”

Five Points’ location just northeast of downtown and the fact that Welton Street is the major thoroughfare running through the neighborhood’s business district made the area particularly attractive to Palisade. 

Five Points’ location just northeast of downtown made the area particularly attractive to Palisade.

“There was a backbone for a nice retail and mixed-use district,” said Welland, who estimates there are at least 30 projects under construction in the neighborhood, which has been designated a Historic Cultural District.

Palisade is working on two apartment projects on the Welton Street Corridor: The Wheatley and The Lydian. The Wheatley has 82 apartments, of which 18 are affordable at 80% of area median income, and 14 townhomes, as well as 3,800 SF of retail. The Lydian is an eight-story mixed-use building that will have 8K SF of ground-floor retail, 15K SF of office space and 129 apartments, 22 of which will be designated as affordable. 

In August, Palisade bought Five Points’ landmark jazz club and hotel that has anchored the corner of 27th and Welton streets for a more than a century. Opened in 1912 as the Baxter Hotel, the building was renamed the Rossonian Hotel in 1929. Its lounge gained a reputation as the best jazz club between the Midwest and the West Coast, with performances by jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Black performers that other Denver hotels would not accommodate stayed at the Rossonian.

The Lydian is next to a light-rail station.

Palisade has been working with Craine Architecture Inc. to come up with a plan for the historic building, for which it paid previous owner Carl Bourgeois $6M. Ideally, the building would be restored to its original use as a hotel, Welland said. Otherwise it likely will be office space on the second and third floors and a restaurant at street level.

“A hotel brings you a lot of benefits,” Welland said. “There’s round-the clock activity, and it would bring back the building to its original use, which is very appealing to us. I wouldn’t say it’s set in stone, but that would be the preferred option.”

Five Points became a predominantly black neighborhood because discriminatory home sale laws in other neighborhoods forbade black people from settling in them. The community thrived from the 1920s to the 1950s with a mix of business and commerce along Welton Street. There was a butcher, real estate companies, drugstores, tailors, restaurants and barbers. It also was home to more than 50 bars and clubs.

While all the recent development activity has caused concern that longtime residents and businesses will be driven out of Five Points, that does not appear to be the case, Five Points Business District Executive Director Tracy Winchester said. More than half of the property along Welton Street is still owned by African-Americans who either inherited it or bought into the neighborhood, she said. Five Points’ African-American population is estimated at anywhere between 10% and 17% on various demographic websites.

Light rail makes the Five Points neighborhood easily accessible.

While rising rents have pushed some businesses owned by African-Americans out of the neighborhood, others are moving in, said Winchester, who noted that rents have increased from around $12/SF to as much as $45/SF.

An African-American woman owns the Urban Sanctuary Spa, which opened on Welton Street about a year ago; and Rise Jones and her husband, Louis Freeman, opened TeaLee’s TeaHouse and Bookstore on Saturday. The TeaHouse provides high-quality loose-leaf teas, food and specialty drinks, including beer and wine, as well as a variety of books, chocolate and sundries in what its website describes as an afro-centric atmosphere.

While the demographics are changing, the metro area’s African-American community still considers Five Points to be its historic center. 

“This is the heart of the African-American community,” Winchester said. “African-Americans will come down here to patronize the African-American businesses that are on Welton Street.”

CORRECTION, FEB. 16, 2:20 P.M. MT: A previous version of this story did not include that the Wheatley has 18 affordable apartments and the Lydian has about 8K SF of retail. The story has been updated.