Renderings of the $9 million plan for Denver’s Paco Sanchez Park show “adventurous” new features

Starting this spring, the city will begin filling a quiet corner of the park along 12th just west of Federal with unusual playground equipment, resurrecting a long-debated plan that once was intended for City Park. 

A rendering of a play area meant for Paco Sanchez Park. A plaza envisioned for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)
A rendering of the long-term plan for a recreational area in Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio)
A rendering of the long-term plan for a recreational area in Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)

Starting this spring, the city of Denver will begin filling a quiet corner of Paco Sanchez Park with unusual playground equipment, resurrecting a long-debated plan that once was intended for City Park.

Within a few years, the $9 million “Re-Imagine Play” project could include a Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course, new athletic fields and a walking loop dotted with “play pods” at the park along 12th just west of Federal.

The city describes it as a “revolutionary” plan that will bring “adventurous play” and “active recreation” to northwestern Denver.

Phase One – what’s happening soon:

The area in question is just northeast of the Knox light rail station, along Knox Court. There’s not too much there now – just a grassy hill with a basketball court and a small playground, sloping down toward the light rail line. (The basketball courts will remain in the park in one form or another.)

The first phase of construction, starting in a couple months, will happen on the top of the hill. When the “play plateau” opens in spring 2018, it should include some fairly unusual new custom playground structures.

“The way we’re designing the play equipment is to encourage interactive play,” said Heather Runkel, project manager for Denver Parks and Recreation. “Parents will be able to play with the children – really kind of opening it up and saying everyone can play here.”

A rendering of a play area meant for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver)
A rendering of a play area meant for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)

Enhance…

A rendering of a play area meant for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver)
Love that lens flare. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)

The idea is that these structures are large enough that kids and adults can fit in them. Here it is in the context of the current park:

Playground structures planned for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver)
Playground structures planned for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)

The new playground will be themed around music. The big tower is supposed to resemble a microphone, and there’s a little gramophone-shaped slide off to the left.

That’s because Paco Sanchez, the namesake of the park, was a musician whose Spanish-language radio station became central to Denver’s Latino communities in post-war Denver. Sanchez also became a state representative and, through his Good Americans Organization, started a credit union and got affordable housing built, as The Denver Post reported.

The first phase also could include a walking loop dotted with additional play stations. The “pods” could include a “sensory garden” with musical instruments and tactile surfaces, as well as a large rope-climbing thing, among other ideas. However, this loop might also wait for a later phase.

Phase Two – what’s next:

After the new playground is installed, the city hopes to create a new home base for the park. A miniature recreational center near the Knox Court parking lot would include restrooms, a shaded patio and space for classes on cooking, yoga and more.

The building also would include a free check-out system for soccer balls, throwing discs for the nearby disc golf course and more. The idea is that Denver wants to increase “activation and programming in underserved areas citywide,” Runkel wrote in an email. ” … Having the needed recreational equipment on hand and available for check-out by members of the community will also help break down barriers and expand access to recreation for low income individuals.”

However, the funding for this stuff is a little less sure. Parks and Rec hopes to have it funded from the bonds package (new debt for the city) that Denver residents will vote on this November. The full project could cost about $9 million, but the city so far has secured only about $4.2 million for it, which will be used to at least get the first phase built.

A rendering of the mini-rec center planned for the second phase of a park upgrade at Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver)
A rendering of the mini-rec center planned for the second phase of a park upgrade at Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)
And beyond:

A third phase could include a rubberized quarter-mile athletic path, athletic fields and, potentially, matching obstacle courses for kids and adults.

If you’re wondering, like I was: Yes, the disc golf course will stay in the park for the foreseeable future, though its first hole might be modified.

Where did this come from?

You may remember some of these ideas as the “City Loop” concept, which was essentially shot down in 2014 by people living near City Park on the usual concerns: traffic and crowds.

The city essentially said, “OK, we’ll take it somewhere that wants it.” City staff and elected officials say they have the support of multiple neighborhood groups near Paco Sanchez and have presented plans for the park at two meetings. (If you have thoughts on the plan, email me.)

This new placement fits the city’s broader strategy of focusing parks efforts on low-income and historically disadvantaged areas. As a new city report explains, people in northwestern Denver more often lack access to cars and more often are obese or chronically ill.

“Combining these individual data points yields a picture of overall park and recreation demand in the northern and western parts of the city,” the report states. And Paco Sanchez Park, which is just west of Denver’s poorest neighborhood, Sun Valley, may be a prime spot to enact that strategy.

“That was one of the key pieces when we were looking for a new location,” Runkel said. “It’s close to public transportation, so you have light rail, and it’s in a community that really needs it.”

Of course, gentrification already is changing those demographics. New three-story condos are rising on the edges of Lakewood Gulch, and I’d bet good money that this park sees traffic from Sloans Lake too.

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A rendering of a sign that will honor Paco Sanchez. (City of Denver/Dig Studio)
A rendering of a sign that will honor Paco Sanchez. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)
An artist's rendering of Paco Sanchez Park after a few million of upgrades. (City of Denver/Dig Studio)
An artist’s rendering of Paco Sanchez Park after a few million dollars of upgrades. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)
A plaza envisioned for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio)
A plaza envisioned for Paco Sanchez Park. (City of Denver/Dig Studio/PORT Urbanism/Independent Architecture)

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.