CHUN looks to create the future of community

Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods goes back to its roots and celebrates 50 years

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Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods (CHUN) has a lot to celebrate as it looks back at its first 50 years. Now, board members are shifting gears to to make plans for the next half-century — starting with its dramatically improved financial status.

Two years ago, CHUN was $30,000 in the red. Today, CHUN has more than one year of operating expenses — about six figures — in its reserves.

One reason for the improvement: halting the People’s Fair after 47 years. Earlier this year, Team Player Productions, the company CHUN brought in to organize the People’s Fair in 2017, annouced it wouldn’t be running the festival in 2019, and the future of the People’s Fair is unknown. Now, CHUN can take its time to determine the fate of the massive street fair that featured dozens of vendors, restaurants, musical acts and more.

“We’re not going to go back and produce the People’s Fair to the scale that we did in years past,” said Travis Leiker, CHUN board president. “It’s an opportunity for us to completely re-imagine the event.”

That could include finding another event producer or creating a scaled-down festival at a smaller location. CHUN is evaluating such factors as vendor relationships, event production partners and more.

CHUN started the fair in 1972 as a block party. Team Player Productions ran the event in 2017 and 2018, after CHUN handed over the reins. CHUN no longer holds the permit to be in Civic Center Park on the first weekend in June and would need to apply to the city for a permit to hold the event in the future.

50 years of community activism

Formed in 1969 by citizens who wanted to stop the proposed conversion of East 11th and 12th avenues into one-way streets, CHUN set as its mission “preserving the past, improving the present and planning for the future.” The organization covers a large portion of central Denver, from East First Avenue to East 22nd Avenue and from Colorado Boulevard to Broadway. It includes Capitol Hill, Cheesman Park, Uptown and City Park West. It is a nonprofit organization, as well as a Registered Neighborhood Organization.

CHUN advocates for what it calls smart, responsible zoning and land use; a livable, walkable city and innovative transportation solutions; preservation of historic landmarks and architectural gems; promotion of community safety; helping the homeless and others in need; and supporting efforts to protect parks, open spaces and community beautification.

“Some of the things we have coming up are trash cleanups all over the neighborhood and holding a gardening class for urban gardening and more,” said Karen Van Haaften, CHUN’s vice president of community engagement.

A strategic planning retreat in March helped CHUN, which currently has 38 board members, focus on priorities as it begins the next 50 years: refine administrative processes and procedures, hire additional administrative and program staff, develop an endowment to ensure that its work continues in perpetuity, focus on retaining board members and recruit new ones from diverse backgrounds, and revise the committee structure — including forming one to address climate change and good environmental practices.

“I think there’s going to be some returning to our roots in terms of community engagement, but also enhancing how we do our work and leveraging the various tools that we have available to us to do that work,” Leiker said. “We aim to add to our membership rolls.

“We are focused like a laser on the critical policy issues that are going to face the city in the next 50 years,” he continued. “The city is diversifying, so we have to be inclusive and collaborative with various community partners.”

Sarah Wells of CHUN board’s executive committee added that since the organization is now in a good place financially, the board can start to look at programming that benefits residents.

The organization’s efforts to preserve the 120-year-old Tears-McFarlane house, CHUN’s headquarters at 1290 N. Williams St., also have helped generate revenue for CHUN. The neighborhood group is working on more than $250,000 in renovations and replacements, including a new water heater, carpeting, boiler repairs, lighting, painting and more. CHUN also filled every office in the building with tenants. The building generated more than $81,000 in revenue in 2018.

“When the city decided it was too expensive to run this house as a community center, we were the logical people for the city to say to, ‘Why don’t you take this over? We’ll give it to you,’” said Richard Wilson, CHUN board treasurer. “We were given this responsibility because we were seen as a responsible organization that could take it on and fulfill its original mission.”

That responsibility can be translated into policy, Wilson said. CHUN works to hold town halls with the public to keep it informed on different development projects and zoning changes. Board members frequently hold votes to see how community members feel about different projects. The city can then better gauge community input, Wilson said.

“It’s the same, I think, with a lot of the community issues that we deal with, whether it’s zoning, licenses or city mandates that they’re considering. CHUN has been a huge organization that they go to, to try to gauge the temperature of the community,” he said. “That did not come without a lot of hard work and a lot of responsibility on a lot of people’s parts.”

That work is starting to pay off. Memberships at CHUN have continued to increase. More people involved in the organization will help CHUN bring residents together.

“We’re one of the most urban neighborhoods in the state, so it can be more challenging to bring people together and feel more connected, and to really celebrate a sense of place,” said Georgia Burleson, vice president of membership. “That’s part of what CHUN tries to do with our events and programming.”

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