Mar 3, 2021 - News

How downtown Denver will recover from the pandemic

Picture of buildings in downtown Denver taken while runners were in front of the camera

Runners particpate in a race in downtown Denver in 2018. Photo: Donald Miralle/Getty Images

The downtown of Denver, Colorado remains mostly empty amid the pandemic and the plywood remnants of civil unrest are still visible on a handful of state government buildings.

Why it matters: Denver's recovery will require downtown to return to normal — and thrive with a bustling convention center and busy sidewalks on the 16th Street Mall.

State of play: Downtown boosters tell Axios that two factors will determine how fast the city's core rebounds: tourism and return-to-work policies.

  • Tourists are expected to return as early as April, led by vaccinated older Americans who are itching to get out, officials said.
  • Colorado ranked eighth on a list of top domestic destinations, according to a recent Destination Analysis report that found 57% of people are ready to travel with little or no hesitation.

What they're saying: "From a leisure standpoint, the top is going to fly off around Memorial Day," predicts Richard Scharf, the president and CEO of Visit Denver.

The other side: An often overlooked factor in the recovery is the 145,000 workers who usually fill the downtown office towers and sustain the local food vendors and shops.

  • Right now, about 15% to 20% of these employees are at work, says Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership. But a more concerted return is expected to ramp up next month and expand in June.

Yes, but: Whether companies ask workers to return to the office remains an open question, particularly in the tech industry.

Take Salesforce — the customer relationship management company put its name on a downtown Denver tower but did not move into its offices in late 2020 as expected.

  • In February, the company's CEO told Axios' Ina Fried that it envisioned only a partial return to the office as part of its "work from anywhere" strategy.
  • A Salesforce spokesperson later told us that the company still plans to open its Denver office "when it's safe to do so."

The bottom line: The question of when downtown Denver rebounds vexes local officials. Mayor Michael Hancock is taking a cautious approach.

  • "I always said it's mid-to-late fall when we're going to begin to see people feel more confident," he told Axios.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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