What's in store for downtown Denver in 2022 and beyond
A shadow looming over downtown Denver, when it comes to its health and economic well-being, appears to be darkening with the dawn of 2022.
Why it matters: Urban centers help define cities and attract tourists, conventions and companies. As the biggest city in the state, Denver is core to Colorado's economic development.
State of play: Numerous factors are fueling uncertainty about the city's center, including the most severe COVID-19 surge since the start of the pandemic, which is shuttering businesses and thrusting many workers back out of their offices — if they ever returned at all.
- As of December, downtown traffic remained down 10% from 2019, according to data from INRIX, a mobility research firm.
- Reported lawlessness in and around Union Station, and persistent homeless camps and crime near the 16th Street Mall have threatened the city's image.
- Even before the latest COVID-19 surge, vacancies in Denver's office buildings were up 4% compared to pre-pandemic levels.
What they're saying: "The greatest challenges we are seeing on the 16th Street Mall downtown [are] the delayed return of downtown workers and the lack of conventions," Denver Pavilions spokesperson Meagan Feldhaus tells Axios.
- The forecast would be bleaker if it weren't for visitors bridging "a lot of that gap," says Richard Scharf, president and CEO of Visit Denver.
The other side: Local officials are working to clean up downtown, cracking down on homeless camps, increasing security at Union Station and ramping up patrols in crime hotspots. Denver's downtown promoters also point to new developments and upgrades in the area they say will revitalize the heart of the city.
- McGregor Square, a 655,000-square-foot project that debuted last June near Coors Field, could spur growth near the ballpark and encourage more people to visit and gather.
- Renovations to the 16th Street Mall, worth nearly $150 million, will kick off this year and "make our downtown area more exciting, vibrant and inviting," Scharf tells Axios.
- The River Mile development aims to "bring additional mixed use that revitalizes and recaptures outdoor spaces adjacent to the South Platte River," Denver Mayor Michael Hancock's spokesperson Mike Strott tells Axios.
- Other areas of downtown, including the former Greyhound bus station site, the old Emily Griffith school building, the Populous Hotel and micro-unit project at 14th and Court, also intend to bring "new life" with mixed uses, per Strott.
- The Colorado Convention Center is expanding, with a projected completion date in late 2023. Business leaders say it will drive more people to Denver and boost the bottom line of numerous industries, including hotels.
What's next: As Denver's 2023 mayoral race heats up, the current state of downtown and its long-term recovery may become political talking points.
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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