Local greenhouse closing after 39 years to make way for new community park

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DENVER – For nearly 40 years, Groundcovers Greenhouse on E. Iliff Ave. near Colorado Blvd. has been the go-to gardening spot for the North University Hills neighborhood.

“I grew up around this place. It’s my home away from home. We’ve helped the neighborhood for years. Employed lots and lots or people and have become friends with many of our customers,” Vice President Keri Luster told FOX31.

Luster took over the family business several years ago after the owners, her parents, retired. This summer, she will help her parents close up shop at Groundcovers for good.

“No one is forcing us out. It was just the right offer at the right time,” Keri said.

About a month ago, owner Gary Luster says the City of Denver approached him about selling the property. He says he has never put the building up for sale and vowed that he never would. He always planned on waiting for an offer to come to him.

In the past decade, Gary says he has turned down at least a dozen offers.

“We get offers on this place all the time. Every year there is a few,” Keri said.

This time, however, Gary has agreed to sell his property to Denver for $5.1 million. He told FOX31 by phone that him and his wife are in their mid-70’s and want to close the business while they still can.

“If you’ve got the right offer for the right reason, then sometimes it’s just time to say yes,” Keri said.

Denver Parks and Recreation has been scouting the neighborhood for greenspace locations for the past seven years.

“It is actually land-locked by major streets and so that is really important that we have a park in this area that people can walk to safely,” Scott Gilmore, Deputy Executive Director of Parks for the City of Denver told FOX31.

The closest parks to the neighborhood currently are Observatory Park, Eisenhower Park, McWilliams Park and Prairie Park. All would require a 20-30 minute walk.

“We want to make sure that everybody is within a ten-minute walk of a park in their neighborhood,” Gilmore said.

The proposed park would comprise nearly two acres of land. It is unclear what features the park could have.

“This is going to be a community process. We want to get the community’s input on what is going to go in the park,” Gilmore said.

The final plans could include things like playgrounds, fitness equipment or a splashpad.

The city will pay for the proposed park using funds from ballot measure 2A, which Denver voters approved in November 2018. It imposes a 0.25 percent sales tax on purchases made in Denver.

The five cents collected for every 20 dollars spent is estimated to generate around $37 million per year for Denver. The city can only use that money for creating, maintaining and upgrading Denver parks and other natural spaces.

“There is no park in this community and because voters passed 2A in November, we now have the resources to go out and actually identify a space and actually go out and purchase it,” Gilmore said.

The land purchase proposal still needs to be approved by the full city council. If approved, the closing is scheduled for mid-July.

Groundcovers is operating business as usual right now. In fact, they are hiring.

They currently employ around 12 year-round staff members and usually have 30 to 35 seasonal employees from May through July.

They currently are preparing for their busy spring planting season. In the month of May alone the businesses brings in around fifty percent of its annual sales. The business had already purchased its flowers and supplies for this season months before Denver offered to buy the property.

“We would appreciate if people didn’t think we were closing tomorrow because it’s probably not going to happen until mid to late summer,” Keri said.

The Luster family says it is bittersweet to close the business after so many years. They are sad to say goodbye, but happy the property may still have flowers after all.

“It’s the end of an era,” Keri said. “But I think the thing we’re very, very happy about is that it’s going to become a park and not another apartment building, which I know the neighborhood will really appreciate.”

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