WHEAT RIDGE —Change is underway in Wheat Ridge, and with it comes a whole slew of new opportunities to eat, drink, socialize and have fun.
Local nonprofit Wheat Ridge
Localworks — formerly known as Wheat Ridge 2020 — decided almost six years ago that enhancing this community spirit could be done through tours of local restaurants.
"We not only wanted to get more people to come into Wheat Ridge, but we also wanted our residents to do more than just sleep here — we wanted to offer them an opportunity to live here, as well," said Wheat Ridge Localworks executive director Britta Fisher.
Since that initial effort, the city has seen a surge of development and outside interest while longtime residents are quick to say Wheat Ridge has retained a small-town feel.
Wheat Ridge Localworks has expanded the Live Local Diner series into an "active" program, with activities like a weekly run club, bike crawls and yoga. The "harvest" programs support urban agriculture and home gardening.
"Our three pillars of action are to connect, volunteer and create," Fisher said. "We want both our new and long-term residents to feel connected to Wheat Ridge. When people are eyeball-to-eyeball, that's when community happens."
On a recent Wednesday evening, almost three dozen community members showed up at the Wheat Ridge Grange on West 38th Avenue for a Localworks Harvest Food and Film event.
Residents mixed with out-of-town visitors at the potluck dinner, chatting about urban agriculture and gardening before watching the documentary "Growing Cities," an award-winning film about urban farming in America.
Wheat Ridge resident Jon Genova said he's attended every event in the Film and Food series.
"The sense of community and good food is what brings me back," Genova said. "It really hearkens back to the early days of Wheat Ridge when it was an ag-based community."
For Dan Ryan, the films and food have inspired him to learn more about community gardening.
"It kind of seems like things have come full-circle," Ryan said. "There used to be civic organizations like the Wheat Ridge Optimist Club. But boomers and their kids weren't as active in local meetings and that waned quite a bit ... it's great to see events like this happening again."
Wheat Ridge 2020 formed 10 years ago when the city mapped out a plan to reverse a decades-long economic stagnation.
Part of the effort called for the creation of a city-funded nonprofit that would promote development and revitalization while marketing the rich agricultural history and other strong points in the city of 30,000.
While the nonprofit has undergone a recent rebranding effort, its mission to promote the city hasn't changed. Among its many initiatives, Wheat Ridge Localworks has doled out thousands in grants for facade improvements to city businesses and has added value to older properties through low-interest loans for home improvement.
The city funded roughly 75 percent of the organization's 2015 budget of $428,444.
Wheat Ridge Mayor Joyce Jay said the money is a good investment for the city.
"Localworks helps us invest in our local economy and in our neighborhoods, leveraging our limited tax dollars to offer a greater impact," Jay said. "The organization has become a solid resource for small business owners, residents and community organizations who all have the same goal: making Wheat Ridge a vibrant and attractive place to be while holding true to its Wheat Ridge charm."