While Colorado as a whole is enjoying a period of economic growth, the benefits of the new economy are not spread evenly. The Front Range and some mountain towns are growing in size and prosperity, while many rural communities are in decline as mining, oil, and gas industries exit and family farms and ranches struggle. Meanwhile, Colorado also has a persistent wage gap by race and ethnicity — and income distribution in the state is more unequal today than the 1920s.
The Gates Family Foundation is committed to helping urban and rural communities grow stronger and more resilient, so that all of Colorado’s residents have vibrant environments in which to live, work, and play. We believe in the power of community-driven solutions, and seek to empower underrepresented residents and stakeholders who are working to advance equity and opportunity in their communities. We support the long-term sustainability of Colorado’s cities and towns, by investing in infrastructure and projects that strengthen local assets and foster connections in all corners of the state:
As Colorado’s population density increases, traffic congestion threatens our quality of life. Mobility options such as public transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and shared vehicles can improve air quality, encourage economic development, and provide opportunities for safe, healthy, active travel.
The Foundation supports efforts to build transportation systems that empower residents to move efficiently and affordably. We prioritize transportation infrastructure that also fosters placemaking and community development, such as enhanced sidewalk spaces, safe pathways to schools and community facilities, affordable housing and development along public transit lines, and connections between trails and parks.
Food Systems and Agriculture
Ranching and farming are not only a way of life in Colorado, but also significant economic drivers. Food production has a major impact on statewide economic health, fresh food access, and land and water usage. Colorado’s agricultural industry has been under strain due to shifting commodity markets, competition for land and water resources, and intensifying weather patterns. As older farmers and ranchers retire, more of Colorado’s farm and ranch land will be threatened and could be removed from productive use.
To confront these challenges, the Gates Family Foundation supports farmers and ranchers as they adopt more efficient aggregation, processing, and distribution strategies — such as local food hubs and cooperatives — and innovate to develop more profitable supply chains and new institutional markets, such as local school districts and hospitals. We invest in projects that create value for food producers and their communities, strengthen economic opportunity throughout the supply chain, conserve our state’s land and water resources, preserve agricultural communities and promote multi-generational land transfer, and increase access to fresh, healthy food options for all Coloradans.
Informed Communities and Local News
Informed, engaged communities are vital to a well-functioning democracy and key to the future of many important issues in our state – public education, natural resources, community development, and more. Trustworthy, rigorous, fact-based local news is a fundamental component of healthy, thriving communities – and its absence is an indicator of failing communities.
Gates has supported public media as a civic institution for decades, and nonprofit digital startups since 2011 as in-depth news coverage of our strategic priority issues has declined. Through the Colorado Media Project, the Foundation also works to galvanize support for public service journalism and help local newsrooms evolve in ways that meet the needs of more Coloradans in the digital age.
Access to Economic Opportunity
Communities thrive when residents have access to good jobs, affordable housing, and economic mobility. As many mountain towns and cities along Colorado’s Front Range experience rapid growth and investment, the rising cost of living is pushing low- and moderate-income residents farther from the opportunities they need to attain a high quality of life. In rural areas experiencing job loss, residents are grappling with ways to create new opportunities and livelihoods that sustain communities into the 21st century. Across the state, entrepreneurs who are women, low to moderate-income, and people of color continue to face greater barriers to accessing capital, limiting innovation and job creation in Colorado communities.
The Gates Family Foundation supports innovative approaches to local community wealth building such as community land trusts, support for non-traditional entrepreneurs, and small business incubation. We also encourage projects that revitalize main streets, support heritage tourism, and develop or enhance a locally-driven creative economy. We look for projects that have both public and private stakeholder involvement, broad community support, and a demonstrable pathway to increase jobs and economic opportunity for local residents.
Robust public spaces create opportunities for people to gather, recreate, and celebrate. If done well, they also can promote local tourism and economic activity. Particularly in Colorado’s rural communities, public gathering spaces are important cultural and civic infrastructure that require intentional planning, community input, and funding. As municipal budgets are stretched thin, communities must rely more heavily on public-private partnerships to offer public services and facilities.
The Foundation supports public space enhancements, rural main streets, public parks and plazas, and greenways that enhance quality of life for all residents. We prioritize projects that significantly leverage other public and private resources and provide meaningful benefits to the community. Our strategic grantmaking in this area generally supports demonstration projects and pre-construction planning, while our capital grants program supports bricks-and-mortar projects.
Without adequate planning, growth and development can be detrimental to communities. The land use patterns that Colorado establishes today will shape quality of life and resource consumption patterns for decades to come.
The Foundation invests in community planning projects that have an explicit goal to create on-the-ground improvements for residents. We support projects and activities that advance smart growth and sustainable development, green building techniques, community engagement, and neighborhood revitalization and stabilization in distressed areas. Foundation resources in this area are highly limited, so investments are reserved for select, catalytic opportunities that leverage other public and private funding opportunities and demonstrate an exceptional opportunity for impact.
How We Support Vibrant Communities
Foundation staff work closely with a diverse group of partners to initiate and support community projects that advance the strategic priorities and goals listed above. Examples include the launch of a community land trust to combat gentrification and displacement, food hub collaboration that supports small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers, and efforts to strengthen trustworthy, local journalism throughout the state. If you think your project or organization might be a fit, we encourage you to browse our past community grants or contact a team member below.
Two times a year, we accept applications for projects that build vibrant communities and fit the criteria of our capital grants program. We support a wide range of rural and urban acquisition, construction, expansion, and renovation projects that are responsive to community needs, benefit Colorado and its residents, and fall into at least one of the following categories: arts and culture, community development, education, parks and recreation, or well-being of children, youth and families.
Alongside grantmaking, impact investments deploy more of the Foundation’s capital in mission-aligned ways. Our impact investments in vibrant communities support acquisition of sites for affordable housing and other community uses in close proximity to transit stations, provide below-market-rate loans to small businesses in low-income communities in Colorado, and provide growth capital to Colorado companies that have potential to generate strong market returns alongside social and/or environmental benefits.
Vibrant Communities Team
Gates’ staff members bring an array of experiences and talents to work with our partners and communities.
Vibrant Communities News & Insights
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Vibrant Communities Grantmaking
Roughly 40% of the Foundation’s annual grant making budget is allocated to the capital grants program, and an additional 10% is devoted to addressing the strategic priorities for rural and urban community development that are listed above.
|Year||Grantee||Amount||Type||Strategic Priority||Area Served|
|2020||Mi Casa Resource Center||$30,000|
|2020||Artspace Projects, Inc.||$75,000|
|2020||Mile High Connects||$150,000|
|2020||Big Green (The)||$20,000|
|2020||NPX Charitable Inc.||$25,000|
|2020||Denver Urban Gardens||$15,000|
|2020||Rocky Mountain Employee Ownership Center||$50,000|
|2020||El Alba LLC||$55,000|
|2020||San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition||$40,000|
|2020||Montbello Organizing Committee||$150,000|
|2020||Solar Energy International||$15,000|
|2020||RiNo Gives Back||$35,000|
|2020||Village Exchange Center||$20,000|
|2019||Rose Affordable Housing Preservation Fund V||$3,000,000|
|2019||Center for Community Wealth Building||$100,000|