First-time developer and long-time community advocate Jennifer Peterson knew for years she wanted to build something special on the rundown northwest corner of Ninth Avenue and Main Street in Longmont.
Peterson saw a mix of environmentally friendly apartments and spaces for coffee shops and other small businesses, flourishing on a busy corner of the city. “I wanted a place where everyone could gather, where we could expand our social circles,” Peterson said.
She bought the “two ugliest buildings” at Ninth Avenue and Main Street, Peterson said, and gathered a team to transform the corner into a gleaming, modern three-story building. The older buildings — including one dating back to 1919 — were demolished in May.
She also sought a brick-and-mortar tribute to a woman from Longmont’s Hispanic past. With the help of Longmont Museum’s Curator for Research Erick Mason, Peterson quickly came up with a name to affix to the development — Lou Cardenas.
The result is a July 28 groundbreaking of Casa Lou Cardenas, which is scheduled to be finished in fall 2023.
Cardenas was the ideal choice to remind residents about the importance of Hispanic people play in Longmont’s history, Peterson said. Her name also should be part of a revival of that corner of the city, she said.
“There is not much named after women, especially Hispanic women, in Longmont, “ Peterson said. “And Hispanics are such an unrecognized part of our city.”
“And Lou was all about inclusion and bringing people together.” she said.
Cardenas, who died at age 99 in 2017, was a true Longmont pioneer and a forceful advocate for a generally silent Hispanic population, Peterson said. Cardenas worked the local sugar beet fields but also radically changed Longmont’s cultural landscape, Peterson said.
She regularly attended city council meetings to fight for equity and started the city’s first senior center in 1971.
“She was not afraid to step into the all-white space and bring more Hispanics in,” Peterson said.
Peterson consulted with Cardenas’s children about the designation and they came away enamored with the idea. “They remember that their mom was always active, always curious about new things and what was going on,” Peterson said.
Victor Vela — a longtime Hispanic advocate — said he is happy that someone is acknowledging the importance of Hispanic heritage in Longmont. “For anyone to note what Latinos have done for Longmont is a good idea,” he said.
Vela, who knew the Cardenas family, said Lou was known as feisty and unapologetic about voicing her opinions. “She did a lot of work for Longmont and I know she did not take no for an answer.”
“And those days in the 70s and 80s, they were tough times for Latino families,” he added.
Peterson, of JSY Properties and Tom Moore of Thomas Moore Architects, is looking to house a variety of styles and uses in the 12,000-square-foot building.
The first floor will house four commercial spaces ranging from 400 square-feet to 1,700 square-feet, according to the Casa Lou Cardenas Longmont website. The second floor will have five two-bedroom, 2.5 bathroom apartments that are between 1,175 to 1,196 square-feet.
The second floor will have one commercial space that is 1,074 square-feet and the third-floor will have one, one-bedroom, 1.5 bathroom apartment that is 1,074 square-feet, according to the website.
Each apartment has a 180 square-foot roof-top patio and there will be a separate 180 square-foot patio for use by the commercial tenants.
Peterson has worked on the Loma Linda and Columbine elementary schools parent teacher organizations and has hosted fundraisers for the Mwebaza Foundation. She helped raise over $35,000 to promote cross-cultural exchanges, enhance educational opportunities and foster healthy learning environments for Ugandan and Colorado schools, according to the website.
Peterson admits diving into commercial development is a big step. “But I’ve always liked challenges and this project just seemed ideal for me,” she said.
Scott Cook, CEO of the Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce, said Casa Lou Cardenas can be a “catalyst project” for a very busy and visible intersection on Main Street. But, “a part of Main Street that hasn’t seen a lot of recent development and investment,” Cook said via email.
“Longmont certainly has housing needs and this neighborhood has retail space needs,” Cook said. “Jennifer Peterson has worked closely with the neighborhood and this project will reflect the history and culture of Longmont but also where Longmont is going — an enhancement of this part of Main Street that everyone in Longmont can take pride in.”