Great garage makeover turns into neighborhood hub

WEST HIGHLAND — In the original North Denver, the garage was as ubiquitous as a burrito. The kind of garage that cars got fixed in. Scattered on every other block this kind of building was the backbone of blue collar, honest laborers. The kind of place that Bob and Ted built. It was the kind of place that felt real…kind of homey, in that down to earth way. No pretense.  But, as the Highlands started trading in low-riders for the Lexus, the garage was traded in for big boxes. All that seemed to be left were garage doors that started appearing as walls and windows in trendy restaurants. Mostly, though, the garage door closed on an era of the north side.

The garage that sits across the street from the Highlands United Methodist Church (HUMC) has long been abandoned as a mechanics joint. Although the community has gathered there often for events from Halloween to Christmas tree lightings to the Taste of Highlands, its use has been primarily for Church storage and the parking lot that the congregants utilize. That is all about to change.

Highlands United Methodist Church has a vision. Unlike many churches who have sold parcels of land to shore up financial reserves or fix failing infrastructure, HUMC’s mantra is “Building a Home Where all Belong.” Rather than sell out, Reverend Brad Laurvick plans to share this vision with the entire community to bring a beating heart back to the type of building that once represented the heartbeat of the community.

A capital campaign is underway to reinvest and renovate the building, as a community space, as well as for much-needed church improvements. On November 20 the congregation will make its commitments toward the $ 400,000 goal that will finance the renovation of the garage, as well as the restoration and preservation of the church’s stain glass windows, and swap a boiler before it bursts. While the congregants will finance the majority of needs within the house of worship, the goal is to engage the entire community in the effort to build the community hub.

Laurvick explained, “Finance wise, the church will be funding the majority of everything including the garage. We want to invest what we have, what we do, and whom we are to make this possible. We also want to invite the neighborhood to support it as well.” The idea is inspiring many and generous donations have started to flow in from neighborhood business leaders like Matthew Hibler, Cliff Bautsch and Fire on the Mountain.

He said, “With all the things the Highlands of Denver offers, one thing missing is space. There aren’t enough spaces for people to gather, for neighborhood get-togethers, for free classes and workshops, and more. We will turn our unused parking lot garage into a “Hub for All Things Highlands.”

Laurvick’s imagination runs the gamut for its potential uses including Co-working Monday’s that bring those who work from home together with other creative people. Early plans also include gardening workshops, bike maintenance classes, live music, and a spot for kids play days during the winter.

Getting under the hood of other ideas being considered include concepts as varied as a spot to stay in for youth groups on missions, a reclaimed and recycled playground with yard games and climbable art, a neighborhood art gallery with rotating exhibitions featuring local schools and local artists’ works, community yoga, quilting classes, dance classes, music lessons, a community conversation pit and after-school tutoring. He envisions it as “a community space with a micro-park vibe where people intentionally choose to stop by to see what’s going on while they are out for a walk.”

The old garage.

The old garage.

Laurvick believes the renovation and reimagination of this space will take it from “urban blight to urban delight. Instead of redeveloping, we will be reinvesting and reinvigorating.” He hopes that the building will be activated for community use by the summer of 2017.

The interior plan includes keeping the space open and airy to encourage a variety of functions. Exterior concepts include the integration of art and murals, another anchor concept of the old north side, now modernized. The wrap-around “guerilla-art” will reflect the various aspects of the neighborhood and Colorado that keep bringing new disciples to its mile high ground. Motifs on the mural could include imagery like bicycling, The Millennial Bridge, gardens, strollers, and eating ice cream. The idea is in very early conceptual stages, but ultimately serves to reflect the mission that HUMC stands by; to serve its community with “open hearts, open minds, open doors.”

The annual holiday tree lighting is on Sunday, November 27 at 7:00 p.m. Laurvick will open the garage doors in their current raw state to invite neighbors in for hot cocoa and cookies so that they, too, can be part of the dream team that reimagines what their community space could be. Laurvick will provide a financial update and is seeking ideation input for the plan. For this writer who has lived through the radical changes in North Denver and witnessed that everything old is new again, I hope they call it “The Garage.”

Everyone in the community is encouraged to donate to the capital campaign to have a place that we can all “own,” a place where all belong. For more details and to donate visit HighlandsUMC.com.

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