Denver night market reimagines underpass as community gathering space

On a Friday night in May, muralist Julio Mendoza put the finishing touches on a colorful, vibrant design he spent almost a month painting under the Colfax Viaduct. To the north sat Empower Field, to the west views of downtown Denver, and beneath his feet—a good portion of his work had to be done from a lift—a parking lot most often used for Broncos games but would host an International Night Market the next day. 

“I came… early… the day of the market just to do a clear coat, so you could say I finished a couple hours before they started setting up. It was a huge project, and for one person,” he said with a laugh.

Volunteers set up a night market under the Colfax Viaduct and beneath a brightly colored mural.


The market would celebrate the culture of the surrounding community in Denver, known as Sun Valley, featuring local musicians and meals prepared by several local chefs. It would also exceed expectations, drawing hundreds of people from Sun Valley and nearby neighborhoods. Against the backdrop of the mural, it was the culmination of years of work by community groups to rethink how something like an underpass could add vibrancy to a community. It also serves as an inspiring example of what can happen when neighborhood, city and state organizations and leaders come together to support and fund a community’s vision. 

According to Jill Locantore, Executive Director of Denver Streets Partnership, “The community has had the vision for making better use of this space going all the way back to the early 2000s when the [Decatur-Federal] station was being built and they were talking about the surrounding area and supporting more walking, and biking, and transit. This just came up as such an opportunity of an underutilized space that could not only support people moving around the neighborhood, but also be a gathering space where the community could come together and celebrate all of the amazing cultural diversity and talent.”

When funding started to come together, the project gained momentum. The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) awarded the West Colfax Business Improvement District (WCBID) a Revitalizing Main Streets grant of $44,700 in 2021 to create a community space, night market and mobility improvements below the Colfax Viaduct. In 2022, the Colorado Creative Industries (CCI) Division of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) selected Mendoza for a Colorado Creative Corps grant funded through the American Rescue Plan (ARP). Additional financial support came from the Colorado Health Foundation and Denver Arts & Venues. 

People gather at a night market under the Colfax Street Viaduct in Denver, with Empower Field in the background.


Along with WBCID, Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center was one of the groups at the heart of the revitalization project. The Center led the planning committee for the Night Market and oversaw the day-of management of the event. Its leaders saw an opportunity to transform some of the infrastructure for the stadium into a space that also benefited community members. 

“We wanted to give them a place where people could come experience their food, their artistry, and that they could personally and economically benefit from these opportunities,” said Manuel Aragon, Director of Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center. The event delivered just what they hoped. “When you do an event like this you have this fear about people showing up and who is going to be there, is it going to be meaningful and well attended? And the night of the event, to see this space packed for six hours was … really personally gratifying. But for our chefs as well to be able to sell, say, $2000 worth of tacos and see hundreds of people enjoy their food—it was an amazing experience.”

The setting for that experience was enlivened by Mendoza’s mural. Bright yellows and oranges, blues and greens sweep across the infrastructure beneath the viaduct—a mix of colors he chose intentionally to represent the diversity of the neighborhood. There are also images of footballs to tie the space to the stadium, and a cactus and serapes to honor his hispanic heritage. He wanted to create a beautiful and happy space for the community and also reflect the neighborhood’s diversity.

For Glenn Harper, Founder of Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, the mural added so much to the space and the event. 

“The beautiful colors and having these vertical structures painted creates a connectedness between the different areas underneath the viaduct. You can see it from far away, and when you’re standing underneath it, it just livens the space up so much,” he said.

Muralist Julio Mendoza stands beneath the ural he painted under the Colfax Viaduct in Denver.



For Mendoza, the mural was the biggest he’d completed, and on the most complicated surface. Instead of a flat wall, he worked on columns and horizontal surfaces many feet off the ground. Everything took longer and required more paint than expected, from power washing to priming and finally painting. Community members helped where they could—primarily with priming—but for many days, Mendoza worked on the mural alone. After a full day of work, he often climbed down from the lift and felt as if everything looked the same as it had that morning. He loved the challenge, but was also grateful to finish on time and have the mural be so well received.

“I’m super happy that I accomplished this and [that] the people here really like it. They feel like it’s something that’s part of them,” he said. 

That is perhaps what makes the project so inspiring to so many, including the teams at OEDIT and CDOT: it is both a representation of the Sun Valley community and an example for other communities to follow. By hosting unique, neighborhood-based events, community partners are showing others what’s possible. 

As Anne Kuechenmeister, Planning Manager at Michael Baker International, said, “It really helps people think about a space that they’ve never thought about as a community space before in a new way.” 

A second West Denver Rising International Night Market will be held on August 20, 2022 from 4-10 p.m.