Sep 8, 2021 - News
Denver tries to "take back" Civic Center Park amid temporary closure
A photo of a park closed sign in the foreground with people experiencing homelessness in the background
Fencing and closure signs installed at Civic Center Park on Sept. 7. Photo: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

Denver’s Civic Center Park is closing Sept. 15 until further notice and will reopen with new safety measures intended to crack down on crime, drug use and homeless camps.

What’s happening: Mayor Michael Hancock's administration is shuttering the park for at least two months, citing deteriorating conditions that pose public safety and health concerns, including violence, rodent infestations and improperly discarded needles.

  • After the national historic landmark is restored, the city will upgrade the park’s camera system to cover the entire site and add rangers to patrol the area full-time, CBS4 first reported.
  • The park’s trees and grass also will be renovated.

Why it matters: The move marks an admission by the Hancock administration that activity in the park has created an eyesore — and danger zone — in the city’s center.

What they’re saying: "It’s not safe," Denver Parks and Recreation director Scott Gilmore told CBS4. "We need to take back the park."

  • "The current challenges within Civic Center Park have reached a tipping point," Hancock said in a statement. "This cannot and will not be allowed to continue."

By the numbers: This year through Aug. 28, 184 crimes were reported inside the park, including two murders, Denver Police Department data provided to Axios indicates.

  • 44% of reported crimes were narcotics-related.
  • Another 268 offenses occurred in the immediate vicinity of the park.

Flashback: This isn’t the first time city officials have closed a public park in the heart of downtown.

  • In January 2020, Hancock’s administration shut down Liberty Park across from the Colorado Capitol due to a rat infestation. The move displaced about 100 people experiencing homelessness who had been camping in the park for the two weeks prior to the closure.

Between the lines: As we previously reported, homelessness and crime in Denver are increasingly political talking points.

  • Criticism from conservatives has narrowed in on the prevalence of tent cities, violent offenses and drug use under Democratic leadership.
  • On Nov. 2, Denver voters will weigh a GOP-led ballot measure that would ban camping on private property and give residents the power to sue the city if tents fail to be cleared within three days of receiving a complaint.
  • Meanwhile, Hancock, a Democrat, launched a campaign last week to find housing for 200 people on the streets and in shelters within 100 days.

The bottom line: Crime and homelessness continue to rise on Hancock’s watch and, with less than two years left in office, could shape his legacy if the issues go unabated.

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