Ruby Hill Park Getting Ready to Shine

By Vic Vela, Confluence Denver

 Photo: Confluence Denver

Photo: Confluence Denver

Welcome to Ruby Hill. The long underused city park is going through an extreme, culturally infused makeover that is expected to turn it into a Denver gem. It's quite a turnaround for a former landfill with a considerably lower profile than many other parks in the city.                

In the latter half of the 1800s, miners camping alongside the South Platte River, on high ground about five miles south of what is now known as downtown Denver. Instead of gold, they would often come across red-hued gems during their extraction efforts.

The area was named after the gems' bright coloring, taking on the name of Ruby Hill -- never mind that the minerals found were actually garnets.

Today the area's landmark is Ruby Hill Park, an impressive piece of land that's always had plenty of possibilities, but is hardly considered by folks outside of Denver -- or even by those who live here -- to be one of the city's top parks, if they know it exists at all.

But Ruby Hill's time to shine may finally be upon us. Nowadays, one could argue that the park is getting more attention than it ever has received before, even more than it did during the mining period generations ago.

The City of Denver is in the process of reinventing Ruby Hill Park as a potential companion to the nearby and uber-popular Washington Park. It started with the modest addition of a new pavilion, playground equipment and picnic tables, but the project will soon culminate in the creation of an urban mountain bike course and an amphitheater with capacity for 7,500 concert-goers.

So the city has big plans for Ruby Hill Park, a long-underused 80-acre gem that the Parks and Recreation Department sees as a diamond in the rough.

"Once we get this all built, I think it's going to be a big hit and a big success," says Kent Sondgerath, Senior Landscape Architect and Project Manager for the Denver Parks and Recreation Department.

The park nobody knows

The Ruby Hill neighborhood is bounded by South Federal Boulevard, South Platte River Drive, West Mississippi Avenue and West Jewell Avenue.

Its centerpiece, Ruby Hill Park, has been around since the mid-1950s. It has 80 acres of green grass to play on and its elevated position above the city offers one of the most serene and panoramic views of the Denver skyline and the Rocky Mountains in all of town.

But if you've never known any of that, you shouldn't feel too bad, because you're not alone.

"We were walking around Washington Park one day, talking to people about the city's plans for Ruby Hill Park," Sondgerath says. "Probably about 85 percent of the people we talked to had never heard of Ruby Hill, and it's only a couple of miles away from Wash Park."

The folks at Washington Park whom Sondgerath spoke with weren't the only ones who had never heard of Ruby Hill Park. Even those who are now playing a pivotal role in the park's make-over had to do a little bit of research.

"When I first heard someone mention Ruby Hill Park, I said, 'Where's that?'" says Chris Zacher, CEO and executive director for Levitt Pavilion Denver, the name of the amphitheater that will open in Ruby Hill Park in 2016. "I don't think that people realize that it's not much smaller than Wash Park. It's a big, big park that nobody knows about."

The area has an interesting history. Aside from once being a mining hub, the park's bluff had once been used by Native Americans as a lookout point. Then there's the part of the area's history that has posed challenges to the city, such as the fact that Ruby Hill served as a landfill in the decades that preceded it becoming a park. The landfill debris led to asbestos being found in the park's irrigation system, which has proven to be a costly hang-up for improvement projects.

But the asbestos-plagued landfill that the park once was is a distant memory. And, pretty soon, park-goers won't even be able to recognize it.

The phases of RubyThe picnic pavillion was part of the first phase of the park's improvement projects.

The initial driver of Ruby Hill Park's revitalization efforts turned out to be the success of the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, the country's first winter urban terrain park. The rail yard opened in 2007 and has become a huge hit with the community.

The rail yard's success made it a model for other cities that teamed up with ski resorts for similar collaborations around the country, according to Winter Park Resorts, which partnered with the Parks and Recreation Department and other entities to launch the rail yard.

"Our goal was to extend what we do up here for city communities, especially those under-served city communities," said Bob Holme, a youth marketing manager and terrain park and bike park operations manager for Winter Park Resorts.

Less than three years after the launch of the Ruby Hill Rail Yard, the City of Denver embarked on the first of three phases aimed at remaking the entire park.

Phase one began in the summer of 2010 and culminated with the improvement of several park projects the following year. They included the laying of 20 miles of irrigation pipes; the erection of a 150-person capacity picnic pavilion; the addition of new playground equipment; and the redoing of park roads, a dual-purpose effort that will allow access to the Levitt Pavilion and one that the city expects will cut down on cruising and other activities that local police are looking to curb.

Sondgerath says the price tag for the total cost of phase one -- which took into account asbestos removal, design and construction – was close to $5 million. About 75 percent of the funding came from bond money, with the rest coming out of city capital improvement funds.

The two primary projects that will be included in the city's phase two work at Ruby Hill will be the building of a grand promenade, as well as the creation of a mountain bike park.

A two-mile loop will circle the park and allow for gateway trails into a mountain bike skills course area. Right now, the state's only urban bike park is located in Boulder.

The addition of the mountain bike course excites Sondgerath.

"With the rail yard and now the mountain bike hill course, we have a lot of kids who may not otherwise have a chance to do these kind of things, who now will have that opportunity," Sondgerath says. "And, who knows? They may end up going up to the mountains and trying it there."

Phase two work will also include the addition of a 32-feet wide promenade, which will serve as the park's spine, allowing access through the park from Florida to Jewell Avenues.

Phase two will cost about $1.5 million and will be funded primarily by city capital improvement dollars and grants. It's expected to be completed by the end of next year.

The 'jewel of the city' Levitt Pavilion Denver will break ground on a state-of-the-art amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park in 2015.

The piece de resistance of the Ruby Hill makeover will come during phase three – an amphitheater backed by Levitt Pavilions, a national nonprofit that teams up with cities to provide venues for free music in urban areas.

The pavilion will be located in the park's bowl, below the existing picnic area, and it will provide more than 50 free concerts every year.

Zacher says that Levitt's entry into the Ruby Hill neighborhood will be similar to that of other efforts that the nonprofit has been a part of over the years.

"We provide a cultural infusion into a community that feels a little neglected by the city," Zacher says. Zacher also says that before Levitt amphitheaters erected in parks in Los Angeles and Memphis, the areas were underused and "were in bad condition."

"They had a problem with a park or a problem getting people to a park," he says.

Sondgerath says work on the amphitheater is scheduled to begin by either late next year or the early part of 2015, with the first concerts expected to be held in 2016.

Phase three will cost $4 million, with there being "a fifty-fifty split" in funding between the city and the Levitt Foundation.

"Our hope is that people see that as a great venue," Sondgerath says. "There's not a single outdoor permanent venue within ten miles of downtown Denver, other than the Greek Amphitheater at Civic Center Park.

With all of these new additions coming to Ruby Hill Park, it's no wonder that the people involved in its revitalization efforts are starting to get excited.

"During public meetings over last couple months, a lot of people have said that ever since the improvements started, they see a lot less issues of vandalism; before that, it was a constant problem," Sondgerath says. "We want people to see that were trying to make it a better place so they want to take care of it too, take pride in in and get some of that bad behavior out of there."

Ruby Hill Park will always hold a special place for Holme, who grew up in Littleton and who remembers sledding there when he was a boy. He's appreciative of the positive changes that are coming to Ruby Hill.

"For a city to be as progressive as Denver has been, and to open their arms to new ideas, it really speaks volumes," Holme says. "That park is going to go from something that's already special into a jewel of the city." 

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Coming Attraction: Levitt Pavilion

By Daliah Singer, 5280 Magazine

Outdoors concerts are on our minds this week as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival gets underway. There's just something special about whiling away a Sunday with a picnic and City Park Jazz or breathing in fresh air while guitar solos by your favorite band reverberate off the walls at Red Rocks. Soon(ish) Denver will have another open-air venue: The Levitt Pavilion Denver. 

Yes, it's a little early to get excited about a venue that won't open until 2016, but there's a heck of a lot to look forward to:

1) Construction (slated to start in 2015) is part of the Ruby Hill Park master plan, which will revitalize the spot into a more welcoming and functional area for residents. We already adore Ruby Hill for its sledding area and winter rail yard. The pavilion gives us another excuse to take in the 360-degree views afforded by the park's high elevation.

2) Levitt Pavilions is a national nonprofit dedicated to creating "community through music." The sole purpose is to bring people together and turn underutilized areas into "welcoming destinations." (When the Denver location opens, it will be the seventh in the country.) 

3) The best part: All concerts at the Pavilion will be free. Yes, free. Up to 7,500 people can pull up lawn chairs to enjoy 50 no-cost concerts a year, highlighting all genres and including local, national, and international acts. When the venue isn't being used for this free concert series, schools, arts organizations, and nonprofits can request access. 

Three years is a long time to wait, but we don't mind. Any organization that improves cultural awareness and access for all citizens is worth it.

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Levitt Pavilion Concert Series Will Take Center Stage At The New Ruby Hill Park

By Paul Kashmann, Washington Park Profile

performance spaces sponsored by the Levitt Foundation offering 50 free 
concerts annually to urban audiences.

LEVITT PAVILLION STEELSTACKS IN BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA is one of six performance spaces sponsored by the Levitt Foundation offering 50 free concerts annually to urban audiences.

Those of you who have lived in Denver long enough to remember when winter’s snowfall was regular enough to allow for frequent frolics in the great outdoors, probably know Ruby Hill for its great sledding runs.

More recent arrivals to the Mile High City may make the trek to the southwest Denver park when the Ruby Hill Rail Yard returns for its (weather permitting) six-week winter run, inviting urban athletes to sharpen up their ski or snowboard chops on a base of manmade snow and a series of ramps, jumps and rails.

If you’ve not yet found your way to this 80-acre haven at the junction of S. Platte River Dr. and W. Jewell Ave., we’re thinking that could change in the not-distant future. Denver Parks and Recreation (DPR) is currently in the mid-stages of a three-phase redevelopment that will transform Ruby Hill into one of the crown jewels of Denver’s already quite impressive parks system.

The Ruby Hill Master Plan completed in 2006 is the guiding document for the work in progress. Phase One improvements, finished in 2011 with $4 million in Better Denver bond funding, focused on infrastructure basics, including a top-of-the-park picnic pavilion structure, a new playground and some 20 miles of new irrigation system.

DPR spokesperson, Jeff Green, told The Profile that the goal is to “activate Ruby Hill as an outdoor recreation destination.” In addition to continued playground improvements, upgrades currently being designed include removing the existing swimming pool and adding an interactive fountain/splash area, expanded walking trails, a mountain bike skills course and a skate skills area.

While these substantial changes promise to make Ruby Hill a more appealing choice for Denver families, an outdoor performance space slated to produce 50 free concerts every year could be the deal maker that elevates the park to the head of the pack.

Levitt Pavilions, a California-based non-profit that has helped fund and run performance spaces in six U.S. cities – Westport, Conn.; Bethlehem, Pa.;  Memphis, Tenn.; Arlington, Texas; and Pasadena and Los Angeles, Calif. – has announced a partnership with the City and County of Denver that will place the lucky seventh Levitt Pavilion at Ruby Hill.

A permanent covered stage and state-of-the-art sound system will provide the launching pad for a free concert series that will run Wed.-Sat., from May to September, presenting local, regional and national performing artists of all musical genres. There will be no permanent seating; the vision is for up to 7,500 people to gather on blankets and in lawn chairs.

Chris Zacher – music fans may know him from his years with the City Park Jazz series – is executive director of Levitt Pavilion Denver. Zacher explained that overall construction costs for the new facility are estimated at $4 million. Levitt is providing $400,000 in construction money, as well as $775,000 in operational funds over the first five years, and $100,000 per year after that, in perpetuity. The city is putting up $2 million in Better Denver bond money, leaving it up to Levitt Pavilion Denver to raise the remaining money needed to complete the deal.

At the May announcement of the agreement with Levitt, DPR Manager Lauri Dannemiller said, “Ruby Hill is a great park already. We’re continuing to unlock the hidden potential to make it a destination in its own right. We expect the Levitt Pavilion to be the centerpiece.”

The Levitt Foundation is named for and funded by monies set aside for support of the arts by its founder Mortimer Levitt, described by the New York Times in his 2005 obituary as “an irrepressible and outspoken patron of the arts who made a fortune selling custom-made shirts to celebrities, business executives, political figures and others who didn’t have to ask the price.”

His daughter, Liz Levitt, explained that, “The Levitt Foundation exists to strengthen the social fabric of America with the power of live music – to break down socio-economic barriers. Among our core values is accessibility to the arts. We want this to be a living room for the entire city.”

Zacher emphasized that the free concert series will focus on local musicians: “There’s so much local talent here, we want to give them the stage whenever possible.” Larger names do find their way to Levitt stages, with nearly a dozen Grammy winners performing for Levitt audiences in recent years.

Zacher is aware that bringing thousands of music lovers to the park presents its share of challenges. “We want to keep any impact on the surrounding neighborhoods to a minimum. Parking, security and toilets are the most important non-music elements of a concert. We’re working on a plan that will address these concerns.

“We certainly don’t expect 7,500 people to attend our shows right away. It took 23 years before City Park Jazz was averaging 2,500 people at its Sunday night shows. It will take time to build an audience.”

The Pavilion will be able to host up to five fee-based events per year. “We’ll probably start with one or two as fundraisers for the free series,” said Zacher. “We’ll also permit it out to groups that further our mission, be it symphony, opera or other appropriate organizations. Our mission is to bring arts to the underserved, and we’ll try our best to do that.”

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Solera National Bank Selected as Levitt Pavilion Denver's Banking Partner

LAKEWOOD, May 13, 2013 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE via COMTEX) -- Solera National Bank, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Solera National Bancorp, Inc. (otcqb:SLRK), today announced that Levitt Pavilion Denver has selected Solera National Bank as their local Denver banking partner. Solera National Bank and Levitt Pavilion Denver have a similar vision to build community through creative and diverse programming. While Levitt Pavilion Denver's mission is to build community through music, Solera National Bank's vision is to become one of the premier, independent community banks in Colorado by delivering banking solutions to meet the unique needs of small to medium-sized businesses, professionals, consumers and non-profit organizations. Further, Solera is striving to be top of mind for banking products and services to the Hispanic community and other minority communities in Colorado.

"Solera National Bank is thrilled to be aligned with the creative vision of Levitt Pavilion Denver. With the opening of the 7 Levitt Pavilion right here in Denver in 2016, and the importance of embracing the local community for services, support and talent, this was a natural connection for our two organizations to make," said Douglas Crichfield, President and Chief Executive Officer.

"Solera National Bank is a locally-owned and operated bank with philanthropic and community goals closely aligned with the mission of Levitt Pavilion Denver. Choosing Solera as our banking partner falls in line with our philosophy of working with local companies. We are impressed with Solera's dedication to serving not only the Hispanic and minority markets but also the local non-profit community. We believe that we have found the perfect banking partner," said Chris Zacher, CEO & Executive Director of Levitt Pavilion Denver.

About Solera National Bank - Solera National Bancorp, Inc. was incorporated in 2006 to organize and serve as the holding company for Solera National Bank which opened for business on September 10, 2007. Solera National Bank is a traditional, community, commercial bank with a specialized focus serving the Hispanic market. It prides itself in delivering personalized customer service -- welcoming, inclusive and respectful -- combined with leading-edge banking capabilities. The Bank is also actively involved in the community in which it serves. For more information, visit

About Levitt Pavilion Denver - Levitt Pavilion Denver is a non-profit formed in 2012 to strengthen the Denver community through music by providing free access to the performing arts for people of all ages and backgrounds. Opening in 2016 the Levitt Pavilion Denver will be located in Denver's Ruby Hill Park and will be the seventh Levitt Pavilion in operation in the United States. For more information on the Levitt Pavilion Denver and to find out how you can be involved please visit

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Attorney Joins Levitt Pavilion Denver Board

 Becky Seidel

Becky Seidel

Becky Seidel, an attorney at Leaffer Law Group, a boutique law firm serving Colorado’s charitable foundations and nonprofit organizations, has joined the board of Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver.

Friends of Levitt Pavilion Denver, an organization dedicated to community building through creative placemaking and free access to performing arts, will break ground on a state-of-the-art amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park in 2015.

A unique partnership between the city and county of Denver and the national nonprofit Levitt Pavilions, Levitt Pavilion Denver is expected to be Denver’s next great outdoor concert venue. Beginning in June 2016, Levitt Pavilion Denver will provide 50 free concerts a year featuring local, national and international musicians, with an emphasis on creative and diverse programming.

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Denver to get a amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park

The Denver Post

Denver’s Ruby Hill Park will get a new amphitheater that could host as many as 50 free concerts and other events each year.

Officials from the city of Denver, along with the nonprofit Levitt Pavilions, are expected to officially unveil the project this afternoon. Levitt Pavilions is a foundation, based in Beverly Hills, Calif., that contributes money toward performance venues across the country.

Denver to a new music venue at Ruby Hill Park

 Marquez Rodriguez takes a moment from to reflect from the outdoor pavilion at the top of Ruby Hill Park in West Denver on Thursday, October 13, 2011. Lindsay Pierce, YourHub

Marquez Rodriguez takes a moment from to reflect from the outdoor pavilion at the top of Ruby Hill Park in West Denver on Thursday, October 13, 2011. Lindsay Pierce, YourHub

By Ray Mark Rinaldi

DENVER (CBS4) – Denver will be getting another concert venue.

On Monday the city announced a new amphitheater for Ruby Hill Park. A nonprofit group called Levitt Pavilions is pledging $1.2 million to help build it. Bond money and private donations will cover the rest of the cost.

The city hopes to break ground on the 7,500 seat amphitheater in 2015. When it opens the following year it will host more than 50 free concerts a year along with other events.

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New Amphitheater At Ruby Hill Park


DENVER (CBS4) – Denver will be getting another concert venue.

On Monday the city announced a new amphitheater for Ruby Hill Park. A nonprofit group called Levitt Pavilions is pledging $1.2 million to help build it. Bond money and private donations will cover the rest of the cost.

The city hopes to break ground on the 7,500 seat amphitheater in 2015. When it opens the following year it will host more than 50 free concerts a year along with other events.

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Mayor Hancock's plan: Levitt Pavilion Denver to share $57 million bond windfall

The Denver Post
By Ray Mark Rinaldi


Nine of Denver's largest cultural institutions would receive a windfall of capital improvement cash under a mayor's office plan to spend the last of the money voters agreed to borrow for building improvements in 2007.

The $57 million remaining from the Better Denver bond initiatives would fund a new shared parking lot for The Denver Zoo and the Museum of Nature & Science; a new amphitheater in Ruby Hill Park and a pedestrian bridge over Champa Street connecting the Denver Performing Arts Center to the Colorado Convention Center parking garage.

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