DENVER — A brisk Wednesday morning in Denver's Elyria-Swansea neighborhood was met with the opening of a new chapter.
State, local and federal officials cut the ribbon to open a park that hopes to unify the neighborhood, which long has been home to a large portion of Denver's Hispanic and Spanish-speaking population.
"It’s a close-knit community. People are very, very attached to Swansea," Swansea Elementary School principal Vanessa Trussell said. “We have a lot of students whose parents and grandparents came to Swansea and bring their kids back here – back to our school."
The four-acre park runs directly over I-70. CDOT said it is the "crowning jewel" of the Central 70 Project, and looks to be the "final major milestone" of the project as a whole.
A long and sometimes frustrating build-up
In the end, CDOT said, the Central 70 Project is for the betterment of traffic safety in Denver.
Trussell recalled how unsafe some conditions were near the elementary school with regards to traffic.
“You can’t see it anymore because it’s underneath us, but we had multiple points for crosswalk duty, and nobody wanted to do it. It didn’t feel safe," she said. “Huge trucks were going past people and you have to stand out there with the stop sign…”
During the ribbon-cutting ceremony, several leaders, including Democratic Gov. Jared Polis and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, spoke of how they believe the park will benefit the community, and thanked those who built it.
Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration's acting administrator, Stephanie Pollack, took time to acknowledge the past.
"We can't turn back time and change the fact that a highway was built through the middle of this neighborhood, an emblem of how infrastructure was built in the 1950s and 1960s. But we can be very clear as we move forward," Pollack said. "The purpose of transportation must always be to connect, not to separate, and face between the choice of wallowing in the mistakes of the past and making new choices in the present for the future. We must choose to build our infrastructure with the intention and the impact of connecting communities."
For the last several years, the historic neighborhood was separated by I-70.
In May 2021, CDOT said, crews completed a "historic traffic shift" in the Central 70 project, which included tearing down the old viaduct that long cast a shadow and split the neighborhood in half.
"With the access changing weekly -- it seems like one road or another road is always changing or being closed – so with that being said, finding the way to get here is always different every time," Shawn Williams, who owns Hard Knocks Tattoo Parlor, said last summer. “In the long run, the bigger picture, is it’s going to be great for Colorado, but in the last couple years it’s been horrible for a small business like mine."
Lilia Uribe, the owner of Panaderia Juanitas, also shared last summer that business had started to grow back as construction neared its end by her business.
"Because that’s our life, our job. That’s how we support my family, the bills, and everything in the house. It’s everything," she said, adding she has a second job to help keep the business running.
On Saturday, CDOT will hold a "neighborhood appreciation/park grand opening" from noon to 3 p.m.
The celebration, CDOT said, is exclusively for residents of the Globeville and Elyria-Swasea community to "thank them for their patience through construction and celebrate the opening of the new neighborhood park."
Hope for the future
The park, CDOT said, was initially suggested by the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods.
The park features an amphitheater, two U8 soccer fields with exclusive use for Swansea Elementary School during school hours, a "tot lot" and splash park, and more than 100 trees, greenery and sitting space.
Trussell is excited for the many events, classes and more the school could hold in the park to help enhance the educational experience, as well as improve enrollment by attracting new families.
“I do feel like it’s a win for our community. It’s a place where people can come and bring their families," Trussell said.
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