Life looks bleak at the intersection of 33rd and Arapahoe streets in Five Points. One corner is an empty lot filled with weeds. A dilapidated brick building stands on another.
But by spring, the old brick building — a 19th-century horse barn that once served the Denver City Railway Co. — will be a hub for 30 international-development nonprofits and Denver Urban Gardens. It will sport a sleek glass-walled farmers market on one corner, and, across the street on the empty lot, a state-of-the-art demonstration garden will sprout.
It's a big deal for the troubled corner in a neighborhood identified as a food desert.
"As soon as you bring people, life, bikes and pedestrians, it will cure a blighted building, especially when there is a storefront facing the corner, with an emphasis on fresh vegetables," said Melissa Rummel, development-program manager for the Denver Housing Authority, which owns the building.
The renovated building will be home to a community center forthe burgeoning food-security movement, linking nearby urban farms to global agriculture technology practiced by some of the international-development nonprofits based in the new building.
The DHA bought the 25,000-square-foot building in 1992, intending to tear it down and replace it with apartments. But the community felt the historic structure was an asset, a link to the days when the city transportation system relied on horse-drawn street cars.
To retain this historical connection, the DHA got a Denver Landmark designation for the facade that fronts 33rd Street, along which a future link to theRegional Transportation District's 23-mile East Corridor commuter line is expected to run in 2016.
"The new light-rail station going in will be five blocks from the building," Rummel said. "It will be the first stop out of Denver Union Station on the way to the airport."
It should be a catalyst for development, she said, particularly for the northern edge of Five Points, which is less developed than the area around 24th and Welton streets.
But right now, the buzz in the community is about the amenities that Denver Urban Gardens will bring: a large commercial kitchen for healthy-cooking demonstrations and nutrition classes; a demonstration garden with horticultural training; and a seasonal farmers market that accepts SNAP benefits and sells low-cost organic produce.
"I've been selling out," said Grant, who plans to open a second location in the neighborhood next year. "These neighbors have been suffering for many years because of food deserts here, and there are a few of us emerging to do what we can to change whatever we can."
In addition to farmers markets, Granata Farms, Produce Denver and GreenLeaf urban farms are growing at theDHA's Sustainability Parka few blocks from the barn.
Low-income families are a big part of those served by DUG's community gardens, but growing vegetables is just a start.
Learning about seasonal foods is important education for the community, Grant said, so cooking demonstrations at DUG's new community center are critical.
"People often work two jobs, they're tired and hungry when they get home, and they may have lost the connection with how to cook fresh produce," DUG executive director Michael Buchenau said. "We're competing with fast foods."
The hope is that the vast shared meeting space in the barn also will yield cross-pollination of ideas and technologies.
"It's a very interesting partnership, especially for the agriculturally focused organizations," said Andrew Romanoff, senior adviser atInternational Development Enterprises,who conceived of an international-development hub in Denver.
"Kids can come learn how to grow food, and then they could come across the street to learn what life is like when you have to grow food to survive," he said.