On Dec. 28, 2021, Carbondale’s Board of Town Trustees quietly accepted a generous land donation from a party requesting anonymity, though reporting in 2018 linked the donated properties and others with the Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation. In addition to the park at Fourth and Main, the donation included 1.4 vacant acres surrounding the Thunder River Theatre.
The land reacquired a former moniker, Town Center, and is poised to be developed in partnership with ArtSpace, a national nonprofit that conducted a feasibility study in Carbondale in 2017.
Sixteen lots surrounding the Thunder River Theatre now belong to the town, thanks to an anonymous donation of the land late last year. Courtesy graphic
With a public process anticipated to begin early in 2023, The Sopris Sun thought it apt to travel down memory lane and pay homage to Bonanza Trailer Park, scraped from the Town Center site in the summer of 2002. Anyone wishing to fill in details we missed is welcome to write to email@example.com
Krista Paradise, now living in Washington state, remembers that the park was shaded by tall elm trees and buzzing with children. “Everybody seemed to know everybody,” she said, “though it was quite rundown” with a sizable pothole in its center that would often fill with water.
Paradise, a former town trustee, lived in Bonanza for around five years before she and her former husband, Scott Chaplin, sold their trailer for $1 to a friend. “She was able to live there for a few years before being forced out,” said Paradise. “I saw the writing on the wall … I knew that it was such a prime piece of town real estate, and it had a limited number of years before somebody wanted to redevelop it.”
Paradise’s trailer, like most of the 18 others in the park, was too old to be relocated when Bonanza tenants were evicted in 2002.
“It was a social justice travesty,” said Chaplin, also a former trustee and now the mayor of Langley, Washington. “Everyone lost much of their investments.”
Bonanza provided low-income, affordable housing for workers, with under $40,000 average annual income per household according to a survey conducted around 2001. Most of the residents were Latino, reported the Post Independent at the time. They were carpenters, construction workers, housekeepers, cooks, a ranch worker and more.
Trailer owners are typically locked in a vulnerable position. Although they may own their home outright, that’s commonly not the case for the land beneath them. Investors may buy the land and raise the land leasing fees, or redevelop the property, leaving people with no recourse but to abandon their trailer.
In 2020, the Colorado Legislature passed several new laws to give park residents more of a shot at organizing and obtaining financing to own their park as a community. Today, nonprofits like Thistle and MANAUS are actively working with park residents to preserve this type of affordable housing.
Long before their displacement in July of 2002, the people of Bonanza banded together to try to purchase the land from Fourth Street Corporation of Carbondale, which bought it in 1994 for $460,000.
In 1997, the Bonanza Families Secure Home Project offered $600,000, then $800,000 and eventually $1 million, but all the offers were rejected. Fourth Street Corporation asked for $2 million which was out of reach for the residents. In 2001, the park sold to a Houston realty firm for nearly $1.5 million (and the property was assessed at $60 per square foot, or $3.7 million, in 2022).
Each trailer owner was given seven months notice with free rent and $1,500 to relocate. The land’s new owners, Bill Smith and Ed Podolak, were “credited with generosity toward the tenants,” wrote the Post Independent, though 30 of them appeared at a town trustees meeting with a translator asking trustees to pass a replacement housing ordinance to guarantee that homes lost to redevelopment would be replaced. No action was taken.
“I think the town has always presumed in the long run that a trailer park on the Bonanza site did not have an indefinite future,” the Post Independent quoted Michael Hassig, then chair of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Although Chaplin doesn’t deny that a trailer park in the heart of town was unfeasible given Carbondale’s growth, “the people who were there could have been given more equity,” he said. “Probably three-fourths of those families moved far away or definitely outside of the city limits. There was a loss of cultural cohesion and neighborhood ties, and then everyone lost a lot of money.”
For years, the Bonanza Families Secure Home Project attempted to purchase their park, eventually offering $1 million to the Fourth Street Corporation. Courtesy graphic
Smith and Podolak, meanwhile, were optimistic that a mixed-use residential and commercial project could be completed on the site within five to seven years. By 2003, the building that now houses Backbone Media was under construction. Progress on the other lots, however, dragged on and was altogether halted by the recession of 2008-2009.
“It is such a shame that all this time later nothing happened,” Chaplin continued. “There was a real lack of understanding and empathy for Latinos in affordable housing at the time, and I was guilty of that as well. I didn’t understand dynamics as well as I do now … we’re all learning.”
Chaplin moved from Bonanza to Thompson Corner, “the preeminent affordable housing at the time” and remembers that all of his neighbors were white. “Not a single Latino family there,” he remarked to The Sopris Sun, 20 years later. In terms of affordable housing, “you still have to be pretty ‘white’ to qualify,” he continued. “You have to be documented, have credit to make a down payment, do things that are harder for people of color in general because of systemic racism to achieve.”
As presented to the trustees by consultant Robert Schultz on March 15, 2022 (available for review at www.bit.ly/TownCenterPres), the land was under contract in 2019 after going up for sale in August 2018.
Chaplin was glad to know that it now belongs to the town. “If they do something with it, I’d like to see them incorporate the displaced people into the process,” he remarked.
Scott Chaplin rented a cabin at the northwest corner of Bonanza at the time of eviction. Courtesy photo