The historic Rossonian lives again.
After decades of trial and error to revive the 106-year-old building, the jewel of Five Points will return as a hotel, jazz venue and restaurant. The announcement came last night at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library where a surprising mix of partners revealed the plan to a packed room of community members. The key players include everyone from a developer (Palisade Partners), Five Points community members and entrepreneurs (Norman Harris Jr. and Haroun Cowans), a Washington D.C. poet (Andy Shallal) and even an NBA basketball star (Chauncey Billups). While the group may seem to be a hodge-podge of participants, decades of failed revitalization plans made it clear that many hands are needed to make The Rossonian sing once again.
Before the announcements could take way, the library’s senior special collection and community resource manager Charleszine “Terry” Nelson made it known that the past of this project was just as important as its future and proceeded to give a brief history on the area.
The Rossonian began as The Baxter Hotel in 1912 where it was originally designed to cater to white clientele. Later, as the African American population grew in the area, the building was sold to A. W. L. Ross. who renamed it The Rossonian in 1929. From there the hotel experienced its golden years from 1929 to 1960 when Black culture thrived in the area. Notably, America’s best jazz musicians performed and stayed at the Rossonian. Everyone from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald graced its stage. Because of its famed performers and its vibrant culture, people from all over Denver came to enjoy the neighborhood and its crowning jewel.
“As far as Denver and the west is concerned, [The Rossonian] was a keystone space. This is what The Rossonian meant to everyone who lived in the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s. [Everyone] had a Rossonian story,” said Nelson.
Unfortunately, by the 1960s the unintended consequences of desegregation disbanded much of the population and businesses of Five Points. Performers, out-of-town travelers and residents of color slowly moved out of Five Points as they were able to live and perform in other parts of the city. Afterward, a string of owners bought and sold the hotel and venue during decades of failed plans to fully revive it to its former glory.
The Rossonian is a registered national historic landmark. This means that the changes to the building will fall under certain regulations to preserve the space. Even so, the developers promise to build on the hotel’s past instead of forging an entirely new future.
“We wanted to create a team that reflected the history and culture of the community and create projects with uses that reflects the culture with the history of the community,” said Paul Brooks, founder of Palisade partners.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes. Among the biggest change is the addition of a fourth floor. The additional space will bring up the capacity of the hotel to 41 rooms but will be indented by 15 feet so it’s hard to see the ground level. The goal of the inset is to maintain the look and feel of the historic Rossonian — although it clearly made some area residents uncomfortable during the meeting. Similarly, residents had several concerns about the construction of a new secondary development that will adjoin the Rossonian on 26th and Welton streets. The mixed-use space will feature 7,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, 29,000 square feet of office space (which will be part traditional and part co-working) and 101 apartments which will cater to mixed-income residents. Lee Kathryn Gash-Maxey of the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce specifically voiced concerns that the project did not have quotas in place of how many community members will be included in the development of the site.
“First the area absolutely needs revitalization. The key is it is to be a partnership. I’m really pleased that we are having these discussions before the decisions are made and I have had conversations with Paul [Brooks]. But I believe there are things that should have been announced today,” she said in reference to the community involvement.
Despite some pushback, there were several project announcements that appeared to be crowd-pleasing. Among them was the news that Billups, a Denver native, will open his first restaurant on the ground floor of the hotel. Called Chauncey’s, the man himself was onsite for the meeting. He wanted to make clear that the residents of Five Points knew he was invested in this space personally and wasn’t slapping his brand on the project.
“I never put my name on something unless I am 100 percent involved,” said Billups. “I’ve been dying for an opportunity to be apart of what’s going on here in this area and in the city.”
Chauncey’s will also operate the basement jazz lounge, which according to Palisade Partners’ Paul Brooks, will be managed by Sila White out of Los Angeles.
Down the street, Five Points will also get some national influence with the opening of Busboys and Poets, a famed Washington D.C. cafe known for creating a space for community, diversity and inclusion. Located in a secondary development that adjoins the Rossonian on 26th and Welton, the cafe will also have a children’s bookstore, restaurant, bar and performance space for local poets to perform. This includes youth programs that encourage the younger generation to find their voice through poetry.
Shallal, Busboys and Poets founder, was also on hand to announce his participation.
“It’s really exciting to see the commitment that everyone has. That is why I believe that this project with Busboys and Poets [is] going to succeed because it requires community involvement and we are a community space,” he said.
Construction on the space aims to start next year, but an exact date or timeframe on completion is still yet to be determined. From the looks of last night’s meeting, it seems the community is not only ready for the revitalization to begin but impassioned by it.