For most of its 125-year history, Brighton was a sleepy, rural dot on the map on the edge of the eastern plains, far from the hustle and bustle of Denver. But after the opening of Denver International Airport and the E-470 beltway, all of that changed.
“Suddenly, we were just 20 minutes from everything,” David Ross and Manual Esquibel, the chairman and executive director, respectively, of the Brighton Urban Renewal Authority, wrote in a report released today that highlights $420 million in private investments since BURA was created in 2001.
“Developers turned farmland into residential neighborhoods,” they wrote. “New homes went up faster than we could count them. New investment didn’t happen as fast in older parts of town, because urban development is more complex and often more expensive.”
Despite the growth spurt, much of Brighton, 21 miles northeast of Denver, was as forlorn as Detroit.
“Ten years ago, we had old empty buildings downtown left by the lumberyard and the hospital was leaving downtown; we had whole vacant blocks and aged, worn store fronts; we had no new housing for our seniors and no real entertainment options,” said Alan Lemons, BURA chairman from 2001 to 2010.
The Brighton City Council decided to take control of its destiny, creating BURA. Efforts paid off, not only attracting $420 million in investments, but creating or retaining at least 1,200 jobs.
“Today, we have the cultural center, new healthcare and educational center, modern housing for seniors and new businesses with clean new faces downtown,” Lemons said. “If not for urban renewal, I’m not sure people would even recognize our community as a vibrant place. Our downtown would be dead.”
The BURA 10th-anniversary report highlighted achievements, including the Pavilions lifestyle center, the Armory at Brighton Cultural Center, the Brighton Learning and Resources Campus and two factories opened by Vestas, the giant wind-turbine company.
“Urban Renewal has been a major tool to support reinvestment in key areas of our community,” said Esquibel, who in addition to being the executive director of BURA is Brighton’s city manager.
“Our small but targeted public investments help ‘prime the pump’ for private sector partners to get a project underway.”
The report showcases a wide range of projects and initiatives, including:
- Platteview Landing Apartments, Brighton Village and Hughes Station have added nearly 400 affordable housing units in Brighton.
Arts and Culture
- Thousands of citizens each month visit the Anythink Brighton Library, the Armory at Brighton Cultural Center and Main Street Creatives art co-op and gallery.
- Thirty three buildings have gotten facelifts through façade improvement grants.
- Improvements to Fourth Avenue and Cabbage Street enhance and provide better access to downtown.
- Year-round events and beautification projects to make its downtown more inviting.
- Urban renewal played a role in the Adams County Government Center, Kaiser Permanente offices, Big Lots store and Greenleaf Wholesale and Kitayama Brothers headquarters, as well as new firms related to Vestas.
- Brighton Pavilions lifestyle and entertainment center, Platteview Farms Retail Center, and downtown restaurants such as Pinocchio’s, Flood Stage Ale Works and the Copper Rail.
Education and Training
- The Brighton Learning and Resource Campus is now home to Front Range Community College and Colorado State University classrooms, in addition to healthcare, early childhood education and small business support services.
“Having grown up here, I always felt the Highway 85 corridor gave people a negative impression of Brighton”, said Candace Black, a BURA trustee. “Now you see the AMC Theater and restaurants in The Pavilions and Mi Pueblo Market and Big Lots in the former grocery warehouse area. We’re a progressive city committed to reinventing what we have, while other communities let their older areas deteriorate.”