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Today's post was way too good to pass up. What makes it too good to sit in the Blogger article file? The subject is pot. Seriously. You know, pot, weed, marijuana. Specifically, how Denver, Colorado's marijuana's growers are sowing fears of displacement. Legal cannabis growers replacing the galleries as harbingers of gentrification? Who would have thunk it? Let us begin with a story from Joe Eaton's Citylab article "Marijuana Growers Sow Displacement Fears in Denver."
Here is the story of Mark Sink, a fine art photographer, who returned home to Denver from New York in 1991. Mr. Sink bought his two-story house in the Lower Highland neighborhood for $50,000 (it was 1991) with additional owner financing. More than twenty years later, a house like his, in the now-trendy LoHi, can sell for $1 million upward. Developers, eyeing his house, have left their business cards in his mailbox, in case Mr. Sink wants to sell.
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First come the artists. Then come the developers. Then it's all over for everyone.
Sounds familiar. Joe Eaton writes, "That has long been a familiar lament in American cities, but Denver's gentrification narrative has an herbal twist: Since 2014, when recreational marijuana become legal in the state, the arts community and other residents who rely on low rents have been feeling the economic pressure from marijuana entrepreneurs-ganjapreneurs..." The gangjapreneurs need the same low-rent space to sell and grow their loco weed.
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Photograph by David Zalubowski/AP
"There's an irony to this, as Sink notes." A lot of creatives were big supporters of the 2012 ballot measure that resulted to legalization. Mr. Sink said,
Who knew marijuana would one of the strong forces keeping us out of affordable space?
Joe Eaton writes, "The impact of legalized marijuana on rising real estate values is difficult to quantify." Rents were already on the rise before legalization, the result of rapid population growth. According to Zillow,
"In 2013, the typical renter in the city of Denver could expect to spend 37.4 percent of his income on rent , compared to 56.1 percent in New York County...and 48 percent of in Los Angeles County...(http://www.zillow.com; date accesses June 6, 2017). In the past decade, the Denver area has been the benefactors of an economic renaissance, "with large gains in industries ranging from high tech to mineral extraction." The once-affordable neighborhoods carry the signs of the boom: "a proliferation of urban condos, yoga studios, and branded luxury." Spend time in Denver for a day, you will the common refrain, "how Denver gains 1,000 citizens a month. From 2004 to 2014, the city gained more than 430,000 residents."
The moral here: come for the jobs, come for the lifestyle, and in some cases, come for ganja.
|Map of states where you can legally smoke marijuana|
Since legalization, Colorado awarded over 300 licenses for Denver-based growers. Many of the growers either lease or purchased warehouses, pushing their values up-and driving out the creative from their low-rent spaces they previously occupied. Wow, talk about turnabout. The creatives who once desired the square-footage and affordability of the warehouse space for their studios, have rudely discovered that the very same raw space fits the needs of dope growers. Real estate broker and founder of Forte Commercial Real Estate Dustin Whistler said, "rents for industrial spaces have risen 40 percent since 2012. Spaces that before legalization were all but unrentable are now going for $10 to $12 a square foot."
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The resulting pressure related to the marijuana boom is affecting every Denver resident. An analysis by the Denver Post concluded:
"Facilities that grow recreational pot have concentrated along I-70 corridor to the north and the Santa Fe Drive and I-25 corridors to the south, in neighborhoods where residential and light industrial areas mix." (http://www.denverpost.com; date accessed June 6, 2017)
These are the areas where creatives have traditionally found inexpensive spaces to live and work.
Artist and curator Lauri Lynnxe Murphy has been working out of a renovated garage near the River North Art District for ten years. Although her landlord has been good to her, Ms. Murphy knows her time is limited. She anticipates loosing her lease any day. Most likely, the loss of her lease will force her out of Denver. She told Mr. Eaton,
You can't deny there are a good things and bad things that have come from legalization...But you can't say it hasn't caused a lot of pain.
Legalization has been good for the tourism market and tax revenues. Denver-based market-research firm The Marijuana Policy Group concluded , "legal marijuana sales generated $2.4 billion in economic impact in 2015. It brought 18,000 jobs and $121 million in combined sales and excise tax." (http://www.mjpolicygroup.com; date accessed June 6, 2017) Adam Opens, a partner in the firm, said "he expects the 2016 numbers to be larger. Marijuana is a Colorado growth industry...and that will likely continue, although the state may face competition if the states legalize recreational marijuana."
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Mr. Orens continued, saying "the industry is given too much credit-and takes too much blame-for the economic changes in the city and the state. He believes that increasing cost of living in Denver is the product of market adjustment; contemporary Denver has more in common with high-cost coastal cities such as San Francisco or Boston than western metropolitans. He said,
In 2014, marijuana legalization was a national curiosity; it was the reason a lot of people came to Colorado...Now it's just another amenity like brew pubs, the Colorado Rockies, and skiing.
|Interior of Rhinoceropolis|
Cheap rents are no longer a attraction and that has local creatives concerned about the long-term future of Denver's cultural scene. This past December, the city closed Rhinoceropolis, a popular underground venue in the heart of the city's Do-It-Yourself culture, over fire code violations in the wake of the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland. The creatives who lived and worked in the there say "the 11-year-old venue was targeted as part of the transformation of the city's River North Arts District." Stephen Herrera, an artists who lived in Rhinoceropolis and its sister venue Glob told Joe Eaton,
The city is basically sweeping us out of the places that we create and treating us in a similar way they treat homeless people.
Glob and Rhinoceropolis are not zoned for residential use. Mr. Herrera does not blame legal pot. However, without the warehouses to move to, Mr. Herrera believes the "DIY arts community has been dispersed, which makes it harder for younger artists trying to break in to the scene."
|Navajo Street Art District|
This is a subject of particular interest to Chandler Romeo and her husband Reed Wiemer, who own the majority of the buildings in the Navajo Street Arts District in Northwest Denver. Ms. Romeo and Mr. Wiemet, both artists, moved to Denver in 1980; buying their first building a few years later. In the succeeding years, they acquired four more properties, started an art co-op that evolved into the Zip-37 gallery, and rented out below-cost space to galleries. Among the galleries is Pirate: Contemporary Art, one of Denver's oldest galleries. Ms. Romeo said:
We became old crappy building collectors.
Investing in real estate has made the couple theoretically wealthy. However, rising taxes, insurances, and maintenance costs were eating into their finances. The couple was forced to significantly raise rents to cover the costs. Pirate and two other galleries have moved out of the area, replaced by a non-profit coffee shop. Joe Eaton reports, "The couple says the artists understand, and they haven't lost friends." Ms. Romeo adds, We were really concerned about that. It is our peer group.
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Denver's cultural scene is not about to go up in smoke. Mr. Eaton writes, "The city and cultural groups are floating several proposals to help artists find affordable places to work and live in Denver." One proposal is a development that includes 90 spaces for low-income artists in the River North Art District. However, Mark Sink is not sure that creatives can flourish on these types of official handouts; "he feels that the city and developers are selling the artists history of neighborhoods." He said,
It's just a big front...At $30 a square foot you are an arts district? Yeah, sure.
Mark Sink recently purchased a small vacant building outside the side the city. He remains pessimistic about the future of Denver's cultural scene.
In 20 years, it will be, "What happened? Where are all the cool people?