Denver Businesses and Nonprofits Succeed Together – Community Engagement — by Mike Hanbery December 10, 2018

December 18th, 2018

Webolutions Mike Hanbery wrote an incredible article about the Havana Business Improvement District. We celebrated our 10th Anniversary this year. Over the decade of improvements and accomplishments “On Havana Street is proof a community can improve the lives of its residents and merchants while reinforcing, rather than compromising, its soul.”

See the article by Webolutions published in their December 2018 Newsletter 

Denver Businesses and Nonprofits Succeed Together

Community Engagement

by Mike Hanbery

Perhaps the ecosystem is less fragile than feared. Here are examples of how Denver public entities, private enterprise, and cause-focused nonprofits are supporting each other to achieve common goals.

Havana Business Improvement District

In the early 2000s, Havana Street — from 6th Avenue to Dartmouth Avenue — was a small stretch of road with a bad reputation. As evening commuters passed through this area from their jobs in Denver to their homes in Aurora, they encountered urban blight, condemned buildings and abandoned retail outlets with few prospects, none of them attractive. Activities outside a largely empty shopping mall required frequent attention from Aurora’s police force. Residents suffered from malaise.

This is a common story in metro areas all over America. A popular solution is for the merchants to leave or close from necessity, allow the residents who can afford to exodus to do so, neglect the infrastructure and let the property values bottom out. As we’ve seen in Denver, this creates an attractive environment for developers. The problem gets “solved” by gentrification. The economic woes are replaced by opportunity, at the cost of the type of misplacement inherent to market economies.

Havana Street thought differently. A coalition of public officials, merchants and resident leaders sought to maintain the integrity of the community they envisioned, and which they felt they had earned. They banded together to create the Havana Business Improvement District. Among the group’s top initial priorities was to brand the district and the 4.3-mile artery bearing its name. District leadership worked with Webolutions to moniker and market the district as On Havana Street.

The first two signs bearing the On Havana Street name and logo had to be removed within 48 hours, and replaced, due to the fact that the script and imagery were significantly and irreparably marred by bullets.

Today, the district is an annual leader in sales tax revenue. A parking lot where gang violence was once the norm, families attend free concerts and help maintain a community rose garden. 2018 retail vacancy rates in the district are below 2%. 2018 average family income in a 1-mile radius from the district’s center is up nearly 5% over 2017, which was in turn a 27% increase over 2015. Home values are also rising. Replacement is under way of one of the most iconic eyesores in the Denver metro area by a modern mixed-use development. The district holds an internationally recognized public arts program and annual events drawing tens of thousands of people.

The beauty of this story is in the fact that, at an inflection point, this community took the road less traveled by. Given the choice of turning away or doing the hard work, these people bet on themselves. Today, when stakeholders gather — as they did for their annual meeting in November — pride and confidence fill the room. This group of people needed help and strength and found it in themselves and each other. On Havana Street is proof a community can improve the lives of its residents and merchants while reinforcing, rather than compromising, its soul.

Thank you to Webolutions!