By Toni Tresca
After years of planning, negotiations and construction, the Arkins Park community performance and art venue is now complete.
Denver Parks & Recreation (DPR) and RiNo Art District, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit art organization partner of the park, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony recently to commemorate the opening of a brand-new community and performing arts venue in Arkins Park.
“This has been an amazing journey over 12 years,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. “This is the culmination of a lot of visionary people, a lot of imagining things that didn’t exist, a lot of thinking outside the box about how we could breathe life and energy into an area of Denver that had, quite frankly, been perennially overlooked and underinvested in. This is a powerful example of how we come together to use assets we already have to meet the needs of our community.”
The opening of the 4,000-square-foot adaptive reuse space at Arkins Park is the result of years of advocacy by the RiNo Art District. With seating for up to 200 people and standing room for up to 450, the location will offer flexibility for Denver’s performing arts, nonprofits, creatives and the larger community.
“Working with the (DPR) has just been such an incredible opportunity to be kind of the intermediary between private and public for the community,” said Charity Von Guinness, executive director for RiNo Art District. “Those buildings that were previously in the space were city owned and slated for demolition; it really was the community that came together to say they wanted to see these buildings revitalized and used as a community resource hub for creativity.”
The project was made possible by a unique partnership with DPR, in which RiNo was in charge of fundraising, building out and aging the structures inside Arkins Park. Gordon D. Robertson, DPR’s director of planning, design and construction, said the park was built in three phases.
“The park was initially funded with bond funding from the city, and so we were excited to deliver a new park to what was essentially becoming a new portion of the Five Points neighborhood,” Robertson said. “While that park was being delivered, we were in negotiations with the RiNo Art District on the initial building, which was an exciting project that brought together a new city library, new artist-in-residence spaces and the new location of the Comal Heritage Food Incubator. Then, as soon as we opened that space (in August 2021), the RiNo Art District turned their gaze over to the other building in the park and raised a bunch of money to fund their vision for a new cultural center.”
Although the city intended to demolish the buildings on the property in order to create more green space, the neighborhood had other plans.
“The community came out loud and clear and said, ‘We have lots of exciting ideas for how we can use these buildings.’ So, we took a step back and allowed the neighborhood to really work with us and drive the boat,” Robertson said.
After hearing from constituents in the area that they wanted to make the park more accessible to the community, DPR issued a request for project proposals in 2017. After reviewing RiNo’s proposal for the neighborhood, DPR knew they were the right organization to collaborate with.
“We really felt like RiNo understood the neighborhood,” said Robertson. “They represent the artists, who are the core of the community, and were instrumental in helping us keep art and culture in the neighborhood.”
The new structure, designed by Tres Birds and built by Mark Young Construction, features a stunning high-barreled wood ceiling, a modular seating stage and doors that open into Arkins Park’s green space.
“Finding the right design always takes a bit of push-pull,” Robertson said. “It was important for us to honor the park while at the same time keeping an open mind to new, innovative ideas. RiNo was very interested in creating a space for theater experiences, and we were interested in that, but we didn’t want it to only be a theater. So, we kept pushing and pulling to make sure the venue space was very adaptable to a lot of community uses.”
Arkins Park is now open to the public following the ribbon-cutting last month, and DPR and RiNo are enthusiastic to work with the neighborhood to create engaging programming there.
“People are eager to see these spaces come to life with creative making and activity and are really rooting for this park to succeed,” Guinness said. “The excitement at the ribbon-cutting ceremony was palpable, and the community’s support has been invaluable.”