Las Animas County Earns $1.1 Million In EPA Grants To Scrub Toxins From Trinidad’s Fox West Theatre And Other Historic Buildings

Courtesy of Caiti Beckwith
Inside the historic Fox West Theatre in Trinidad. An EPA grant will help clean up toxic materials in the venue.

The Environmental Protection Agency isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the performing arts.

But the EPA recently awarded $500,000 in Brownfields grant funds to help clean up toxic building materials at Trinidad’s historic Fox West Theatre.

Built in 1908, the brick structure has two balconies, a ballroom and great acoustics, according to Trinidad city manager Mike Valentine.

“It's a majestic building and it's kind of been frozen in time so we're lucky there,” Valentine said. “We need to clean up all the hazardous lead paint, asbestos, those types of things, and this is a godsend.”

The city hopes to raise some $18-20 million for further renovations and reopen the theater in a few years. It’s a key asset in Trinidad's economic revitalization plans, he said. 

“It fits in with everything that we're trying to do with the city between outdoor recreation and the arts and cultural assets. It's huge in the whole big picture,” Valentine said.

The Fox Theatre grant was one of two EPA Brownfields grants totaling $1.1 million flowing into Las Animas County. The other was a $600,000 grant that will be used for environmental site assessments and creating cleanup plans focused on historic buildings in Trinidad’s creative district and Aguilar’s Main Street.

Trinidad’s planning administrator Georgi Ann Clark said the city’s historic district has a lot of buildings that have been empty for years, like old schools and a former brewery.

“There's a lot of development potential,” she said. “But sometimes the fear of hazardous contamination can put a halt on things, so with this grant we can offer ... assessments, so the developer understands what they're getting into.”

The EPA’s Danny Heffernan said that’s what Brownfields grants are designed to do.

“Our funding is often to take away some of that uncertainty, take some samples and figure out what's there, and then try and quantify what it might take to deal with it ... instead of some kind of a boogeyman that’s standing in the way,” he said.

Heffernan said these projects are different from some of the EPA’s other work. 

“It's very much the opposite of Superfund in terms of the contamination that we're finding," he said. "These types of projects are not an imminent threat to public health,” but instead are inhibiting productive reuse of vacant buildings and properties.

The EPA also awarded $800,000 in Brownfields grant funds to Cañon City.

Nationally, the EPA awarded 154 of these grants, totaling $66.5 million aimed at supporting underserved communities.