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Park Hill Commons Timeline of Events

On May 16, 2016, a representative of the development company HM Capital reached out to city Councilman Chris Herndon, who represents Park Hill. The developer announced he wanted to share plans with the councilman to “gentrify” the business block of Fairfax between 28th and 29th avenues. Part of that plan included the idea of a land swap with the city of Denver. Specifically, HM Capital wants to build a small public park inside the development project. In exchange, the city would give the developer the former Xcel property across the street, which had originally been the planned site for the public park. The twists and turns of what has happened since then have sometimes been difficult to follow. Here is a timeline of developments.

April, 2015

City Parks Deputy Director Scott Gilmore tells Greater Park Hill Community that the city plans to purchase the former Xcel substation on the west side of Fairfax Street between 28th and 29th avenues. The city will develop the property into a pocket park, possibly a dog park. Gilmore indicates funds would not be available to complete the project in the near future.

Sept. 8 and Oct. 15, 2015

Erin Reynolds, who lives nearby, emails Gilmore, indicating interest in helping to get the ball rolling for the park. Among her questions: What is the public input process? A planner from Parks and Recreation estimates the full cost for the park would be in the range of $80,000 to $120,000.

Early 2016

The City and County of Denver finalizes the purchase of the Former Xcel substation. The city pays $50,000 for the property.

April, 2016

former GPHC board chair Dave Felice emails Gilmore, asking the status on the former Xcel property. He asks that the city make sure to convey accurate and timely information to the community. Gilmore responds in agreement.

May 16, 2016

Alex Lovera, a representative of the development company HM Capital, emails city Councilman Chris Herndon, seeking the councilman’s help to “gentrify” the 2800-2900 block of Fairfax Street. “I wanted to request a meeting with you to see how you could help us gentrify the area and turn it into a main street for the neighborhood with new restaurants, stores, and residential apartments,” Lovera writes.

Spring, 2016

During a meeting with Herndon, the developer proposes a land swap: HM Capital would get the Xcel property on the west side of Fairfax for a future development. In exchange, HM Capital will build an equal-sized city park within its residential, retail and commercial development on the east side of Fairfax.

July, 2016

HM Capital begins to quietly buy up all the properties on the east side of the business block of Fairfax Street, paying a total of approximately $6.4 million. The developer also purchases the former gas station on the west side of the street, next to the Xcel property, for $800,000.

Sept. 7, 2016

HM Capital submits a project application with the city for Phase 1 of Park Hill Commons project, to include 20 townhomes on the south side of the block. Estimated start date is identified as Spring, 2017, with estimated completion January, 2018.

Nov. 1, 2016

The Greater Park Hill News publishes an extensive story detailing Maxwell’s plans to redevelop Fairfax Street, including the plan for the land swap. You can read that story here.

Dec. 23, 2016

HM Capital submits project application with the city for Phase 3 of Park Hill Commons project, to include mixed-use development with restaurant and retail at street level and office above. Estimated start date is Spring 2017, with estimated completion Spring 2018.

January, 2017

HM Capital secures the final property on the east side of Fairfax Street.

Feb. 2, 2017

Ben Maxwell of HM Capital presents an overview of the Park Hill Commons project to the Greater Park Hill Community. The project spans the east side of Fairfax Street between 28th and 29th avenues. It includes 20 two-story townhomes (rental estimated at $2,500/month), 21 micro-units (350 square-foot studio apartments renting for $800-$1,000/month), as well as retail, office space and restaurants. The developer’s plans include a park within the project. Maxwell describes the proposed land swap, noting he has already invested $75,000 in design costs. While the park would be a public park, the developer would pay to build it. Many in the audience express enthusiasm for the overall project, noting the business block has long been in need of revitalization. Open drug use and prostitution, for example, has marred the otherwise legitimate businesses on the block. Several say they particularly look forward to eating at the new restaurants at the development.

Summer, 2017

The entire east side of the block is demolished. Construction area is surrounded with chain-link fence, displaying cloth banners advertising Park Hill Commons.

Summer, 2017

The cloth banners are defaced, spray-painted with various versions of the message “Don’t Gentrify Park Hill.”

Sept. 7, 2017

Chris Herndon

Scott Gilmore and Councilman Herndon express support for the land-swap deal at a GPHC community meeting. Gilmore says a public park could not be developed at the Xcel site for seven or more years due to lack of financing. Design costs alone for such a park, he said, could run $150,000 (which is more than a city park planner estimated to build the park two years earlier).

Oct.  5, 2017

Councilman Herndon reiterates his support for the land-swap during the GPHC annual community meeting.

October, 2017

Longtime residents and community advocates criticize Herndon and Gilmore, accusing them of operating in secret to craft the deal with HM Capital without notifying residents or the neighborhood association – even after several had asked that they be informed of any developments with the Xcel property and on the surrounding business block.

Oct. 14, 2017

A GPHC-sponsored meeting is held to discuss the pros and cons of the proposed park land swap. One reason to support: taxpayers would not have to pay to build the park, as the developer would pay for it. Others, including African American and other longtime residents, say they would not feel welcome at a public park built in the middle of a high-end development project. Several people suggest the park should be built at its original location – on the west side of the street – and that the developer should also include an open space/plaza on the east side of the street, to mitigate increased density on the block.

Scott Gilmore

Oct 18, 2017

Councilman Herndon and Gilmore, along with developer Ben Maxwell, host a meeting at Stedman Elementary School to discuss the proposed park within the development. Gilmore says the city has “no funds to develop the parcel” into a park for the foreseeable future. Most of the attendees are supportive of the land swap, and of the overall project.

October, 2017

A GPHC committee announces it is poised to raise the funds to build a pocket park at the Xcel site, if the city is unwilling to immediately pay for it.

Nov 1 and Nov. 2, 2017

The City and County of Denver and HM Capital privately enter into a Letter of Intent to “work in good faith” to make the land-swap happen, pending final City Council approval. In exchange for the Xcel property, Maxwell agrees to build a designated city park within Park Hill Commons. The Letter of Intent is not shared with the community.

Nov. 2, 2017

The board of GPHC overwhelmingly passes a resolution to oppose the land swap. In addition, the resolution notes the city did not follow correct procedures when privately pursuing the land swap deal.

Nov. 12, 2017

GPHC kicks off a series of meetings to collect input on amenities people would want in a public park on the west side of the street. The make-up of the audience includes longtime African American residents, as well as residents who are newer to the neighborhood. Neither Councilman Herndon nor Gilmore participate in these meetings.

Nov. 20, 2017

The Parks and Rec Committee of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation, a consortium of dozens of Denver neighborhood groups, passes a resolution supporting GPHC and criticizing the lack of public process and government transparency with the proposed land swap.

Dec. 17, 2017

At the third of three GPHC-sponsored meetings, organizers unveil a design for a pocket park at the former Xcel substation, with picnic and play areas, green-space and a shade structure.

Jan 4, 2018

Organizers of the park meetings provide an update at the monthly GPHC community meeting. They say they plan to reach out to Councilman Herndon and Parks and Recreation officials to ask for a meeting.

January, 2018

Original estimated completion date for Phase 1 of Park Hill Commons: the townhomes. Construction has not yet begun on the project.

Feb. 20, 2018

HM Capital hires the powerful lobbying group CRL Associates to urge city officials to support the pocket park being built on the east side of the street, inside the development.

Feb. 22, 2018

The city Parks & Recreation department announces the city will hold four new public meetings to discuss what kind of park people want, and where it should be.

Steve Charbonneau

Feb. 22, 2018

The Parks & Rec meetings are being moderated by Steve Charbonneau, who has a four-year contract with the city for $418,500, with a monthly retainer of $11,583. Charbonneau’s work includes facilitating meetings and mediating disputes with various city departments and the public.

Jesse Clark

Feb. 22, 2018

The city hires landscape design company Stream Landscape Architecture to develop three new conceptual designs for a pocket park. The community meetings are facilitated by managing partner, Jesse Clark, who says the actual site of the park will be decided at the fourth meeting. Cost of contract: $30,000.

Feb. 22, 2018

Director Happy Haynes addresses the group, and denies the city has already made a deal with the developer on the land-swap. “There is no deal,” she says.

Feb. 22, 2018

Ben Maxwell, checking out the city’s designs.

Councilman Herndon makes brief appearance at the meeting, but leaves without speaking. He and Scott Gilmore have not attended any subsequent public meetings regarding this project. By contrast, developer Ben Maxwell has attended all meetings, and has addressed questions regarding the park land-swap.

Feb. 22, 2017

Ben Maxwell reports that if the city does not agree to the land swap, finances would prohibit him from including an open space area within the Park Hill Commons development. HM Capital will instead build out the entire east side of the block as residential units.

Feb 23, 2018

HM Capital launches a Facebook social media campaign to support the Park Hill Commons project (not just the land swap).

FB respondersFeb. 27, 2018

In response to HM Capital’s social media campaign, 55 people weigh in, mostly in support for the overall development project. Some bash those who have expressed opposition to the land swap deal, including Greater Park Hill Community. The developer has indicated these comments have been forwarded to city officials.

March 23, 2018

In an interview during the second of four city-sponsored meetings at Stedman Elementary, Happy Haynes denies the city has entered into a Notice of Intent supporting the land-swap with the developer. “There is no letter of intent; nothing has been signed,” Haynes says. (Haynes later claims through a spokeswoman that she hadn’t known about the Nov. 1 Letter of Intent.  That agreement, she says, is no longer applicable since the city is starting the process from scratch.

March 23, 2018

Owetta McNeil is one of five black participants in the third meeting. Another 35 people are there.

April 3, 2018

At the third of four city meetings, Stream Landscape Architecture unveils three new possible park designs. Organizers say the recommended site of the park – on the east or the west side of Fairfax Street – will be announced at meeting No. 4.

April 17, 2018

The fourth of four Parks and Recreation-sponsored meetings. Organizers say that no decision will be announced for where the park will be after all. Instead, Happy Haynes will make a final recommendation in May.

April 18-Current

The park (Called “The Square at Park Hill Commons”) is still featured on HM Capital’s project website at parkhillcommons.com.

May, 2018

Happy Haynes expected to announce her decision about whether the park should be on the west side (at the Xcel site) or on the east side (in the Park Hill Commons development). If she recommends proceeding with the land swap, the city council would have to vote on the issue.

Spring, 2018

Original estimated completion date for Phase 3 of Park Hill Commons restaurants, retail and office space. Construction on the project has not yet begun. Developer Maxwell says that delays in permitting, as well as awaiting final decision on the park issue, are the reasons for the delays in moving forwad with the project.

2019-2022

Park and Recreation’s current expected completion of the pocket park, if the city develops it on the west side of the street.

2020-?

The developer’s current expected completion of the pocket park, if it is built inside the Park Hill Commons on the east side of the street. (Completion date depends on when HM Capital secures all construction permits and completes entire block-long project.)


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