The second West Denver Rising International Night Market coming up this Saturday, August 20, will showcase the transformational effect of community-led revitalization efforts in collaboration with state government agencies. This innovative project turned a Colfax Viaduct underpass typically reserved for parking into a vibrant community gathering space in the Sun Valley neighborhood of West Denver.
“This is a great example of how there is so much more we can do with our public spaces besides just moving and storing cars. And really, it doesn’t take a huge amount of time or money. It just takes the political will to reimagine how we're using these public spaces. So we hope that we have sparked the imaginations of folks not just for this space but other similar spaces around Denver,” said Jill Locantore, Executive Director of Denver Streets Partnership.
“A key piece of this project is that the voices from the community have provided so much input on what they want to see, and it was a matter of connecting the resources to that vision,” said Anne Kuechenmeister, representing the West Colfax Business Improvement District (WCBID). “People want to have spaces where they’re safe, comfortable, they can connect with each other and they can grow the really diverse rich cultural wealth they have in a bigger way.”
The vision for the market and revitalization project grew out of the community as groups like WCBID, Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center, Denver Streets Partnership and others contemplated how to sustain a community feel in an area bisected by the Colfax Viaduct.
“We wanted to take a space and activate it and give residents an opportunity to benefit… to give them a place where people could come experience their food, their artistry, and that they could personally and economically benefit,” said Manuel Aragon, Director of Sun Valley Kitchen and Community Center.
With grant funding from state and local partners, the vision and project gained momentum. In 2021, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) awarded WBCID a Revitalizing Main Streets grant of $44,700 to create a community space, night market and mobility improvements below the Colfax Viaduct. In 2022, the Colorado Creative Industries Division of the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) awarded a Colorado Creative Corps grant to muralist Julio Mendoza to paint the underside of the viaduct in a bold, colorful design intended to honor the diversity of the neighborhood, link the space to nearby Empower Stadium and honor the artist’s hispanic roots. Additional financial support came from the Colorado Health Foundation and Denver Arts & Venues. These grants filled in the funding gap necessary to make the night markets a reality.
“It would not have been possible without the grant funding. The vision has been around for years, and it was just a matter of bringing some catalytic funding to start making it into a reality. And so, we are so grateful for all the funders who came to the table,” said Jill Locantore, Executive Director of Denver Streets Partnership.
For Mendoza, being selected as the muralist and as a grant recipient gave him the opportunity to grow as an artist by completing a project unlike any he’d done before and by contributing to the community.
“To be selected means a lot to me. It means that I am doing something right in the community, something right as an artist and it just makes me want to keep going. And I know that people appreciate what I’m doing so I’m really grateful for that grant,” said Mendoza.
The first Night Market hosted in May drew hundreds of people from the community and across Denver. The event featured food prepared by local chefs and local musicians—it far exceeded organizers’ expectations and demonstrated the value of community revitalization projects like these.
“CDOT is thrilled to contribute to creating better and safer active transportation opportunities in a creative way through the night markets in Sun Valley,” CDOT Executive Director Shoshana Lew said. “This project illustrates the Revitalizing Main Streets grant program goals including increasing opportunities for businesses to thrive, imagining innovative uses of public spaces, and supporting community access to the right of way that safely accommodates all modes of travel.”
“The Colorado Creative Corps grant was designed to connect artists and arts organizations to local initiatives. Julio’s mural is such a great example of how art can enhance community spaces and gatherings. His bright, beautiful design adds energy to the space and provides a celebratory setting for the market that we’re excited to see and support,” said Libby Barbee, Program Manager for Colorado Creative Industries.
The next West Denver Rising International Night Market is taking place on August 20, 2022 from 4 to 10 p.m. There will be live music, family-friendly games, beer served by Raices Brewing Company and over 30 food and craft vendors. The market takes place at the south end of Empower Field, parking lot B, under the Colfax Viaduct.