Riverside: New things are happening in an old neighborhood
It’s one of Grand Junction’s oldest neighborhoods, within walking distance to downtown, with great views of the monument and right next to the Colorado Riverfront Trail. It’s also one of the most overlooked areas in town. All that could change as the Riverside Parkway transforms the lower downtown area and puts the Riverside neighborhood on display.
Although the parkway will run alongside the edge of the neighborhood, planners think it will improve the area. Before construction of the parkway, there were unobstructed views of the railroad tracks, a tunnel that went under those tracks and connected the area to downtown, a residential street that people from outside the neighborhood frequented as a shortcut to avoid traffic on busier roads, and a flood plain that didn’t have adequate levies to protect the neighborhood from the river during wet years.
When the parkway is complete, the city has promised landscaping to improve the look of the neighborhood, sound walls to mitigate the noise of the parkway, a pedestrian overpass to cross the railroad tracks and connect the neighborhood to W. Main St., closure of the shortcut road that brings too many people into the neighborhood and an adequate flood control levy.
“The city is putting an investment into neighborhood,” says Kathy Portner, the assistant community development director for the city of Grand Junction. “The neighborhood has a desire to remain an old, viable neighborhood; they have an incredibly strong sense of community.”
The Riverside Task Force is also committed to helping the neighborhood retain its sense of community while improving the lives of the residents. One of the longtime goals of the task force was to do something with the historic Riverside School, a building that first opened its doors to student in 1917, but closed in 1982 and sat vacant for years. That goal has been achieved this year; the building has been restored and remodeled and is currently a shared facility, used by many different groups that offer programs promoting the arts and literacy.
“Finally, after so many years of being a forgotten, neglected space, it’s getting attention. It’s very exciting,” says Kelly Schaefer with the task force.
During school hours, the building will be utilized by its next-door neighbor, the Dual Immersion Academy, a school of choice that offers students an opportunity for classroom instruction in both Spanish and English. DIA students eat lunch in the cafeteria, use the computer room and have access to the theater.
The building will also operate as a true community center. The Riverside Youth Council, which began as a service-learning project and blossomed into a mentoring program, will use the building, as will Ballet Folklorico. The business incubator offers a “How to Start a Business” class in Spanish at the site, the Riverside Educational Center offers tutoring and Project Common Ground, which supports immigrant and refugee families through community integration, are just a few of the organizations sharing space in the historic building.
“We want to make it very possible for programs to use the space,” says Schaefer. “Only good things are happening here.”
Instead of being a vacant eyesore drawing unwanted attention to the neighborhood, the new shared campus of the Dual Immersion Academy and the Riverside Task Force provides a gateway to the neighborhood that reflects the neighborhood’s desire to be a viable part of the community.
“I hope we’re changing the perception of the area,” Schaefer says. “People shouldn’t feel nervous riding their bicycles through Riverside.”
Real estate in Riverside has appreciated substantially in the last few years, but it’s still possible to find homes for less than $150,000. Some of them may require a little sweat equity, or they may not be as large as new homes built in new subdivisions, but chances are, they won’t have such a direct access to the Colorado Riverfront Trail, downtown or an established neighborhood park, either.
Although the Dual Immersion Academy is in the neighborhood, its status as a school of choice means there is a waiting list to get into the program. Student who live in Riverside attend Wingate Elementary, Redlands Middle School and Grand Junction High School.