On May 18th the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships and Denver Shared Spaces hosted their first Learning Lab, focused on needs for affordable real estate beyond traditional administrative office space settings. I am increasingly receiving calls from mission-driven organizations in need of non-office spaces, and I believe we are on the cusp of finding innovative solutions for these types of uses. With over 40 RSVPs to the event, representing a mix of nonprofit, small business and city government representatives, it was clear that lack of availability of non-office spaces represented a crucial community issue in the Denver Metro Area. We met at the Social Enterprise Foundry, a light industrial building owned by the Urban Land Conservancy, representing a strong example of how multiple mission-driven organizations can share industrial space as inspiration for innovative solutions to combat this issue.

An overheated market in Denver is creating displacement that negatively affects the ability of organizations to effectively achieve their missions. In May 2016, the Denver Office of Economic Development (OED) completed a gentrification study recommending support of four focus areas to prevent displacement: affordable housing, middle-skill jobs, small businesses, and vulnerable neighborhoods. At the Learning Lab, we discussed the challenges of continuing to support middle-skill jobs and small businesses when organizations are competing for space in a narrow stock of non-office buildings. Nonprofits and social enterprises are small businesses, sometimes with very complex supply chains. While the lexicon mission-driven organizations use may be a bit different, each of these supply chain functions are common to most organizations, which we confirmed by survey of event participants.

Space competition is understandable, as communities throughout the Denver Metro Area focus on expanding housing and mixed-use developments that are not complementary to industrial uses needed for manufacturing and distribution.

Highlighted in purple on the map are the parcels in the city zoned for industrial uses. These industrial land-use parcels are concentrated around I-25 and I-70.

Denver Office of Economic Development, “Gentrification Study: Mitigating Involuntary Displacement”

It is precisely these industrial areas that are feeling the pressures for rezoning and displacement. Major transformations are under way in the RiNo Art District, and major projects are planned in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea with the National Western Center, as well as the redevelopment of Washington Boulevard, and in Sun Valley with the creation of the Stadium District and Eco-District. Therefore, going forward, there is likely to be more and more pressure on industrial space in the City of Denver required to support warehouse manufacturing and distribution activities.

Many thanks to the panel of experts who helped us steer the conversation and break-out sessions: Molly Mullner, Community Engagement Manager for PCs for People, Tamra Ryan, CEO of the Women’s Bean Project, and Tessa Schuler, Director of Operations at Work Options for Women. Each expert provided a short introduction of their organization’s mission and a bit of information about operational scope. Further, they provided insight into the pressures they were feeling due to displacement and partnerships that have been valuable in securing the space they needed. We are very grateful for their insight and the advice they provided to other organizations.

We asked all participants three questions in breakout sessions, and we would like to hear your feedback. First, what challenges are you facing in operations due to displacement? Second, what challenges are you having in finding non-office spaces in Denver, and third, where are the opportunities for collaboration and sharing in these types of spaces? We’d love to hear about your experiences and thoughts to these questions. In subsequent blog posts, we will share community insight.