Builders are still leaning into a pandemic-stricken Denver
Denver proved a popular place for real estate development in 2021.
- Now the challenge is reenergizing its downtown core.
Why it matters: Despite the city's center taking repeated blows to its image amid the pandemic, the 2020 protests and a surge in violent crime, developers continue to bet on Denver's long-term health.
- Even one of the world's wealthiest businessmen, Jeff Bezos, is opening an office in the metro area for his space company, Blue Origin.
State of play: Denver permitted $4.5 billion worth of construction in 2021, down 13% compared with 2019 but still more than 2017 and 2018 levels, per Denver Community Planning and Development data provided to Axios.
- Residential building permits were also up nearly 25% from December 2020 to December 2021, according to a recent report from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.
Of note: Valuation is determined by the sum of the labor and materials used on construction sites and a measure of the size and complexity of projects, Denver Community Planning and Development spokesperson Laura Swartz tells Axios.
Driving the trend: Much of the city's permit volume stemmed from larger commercial and residential projects in 2021, with a good deal of that growth concentrated around the edges of the city's center, in Lower Downtown, the River North Art District and Five Points.
- On the contrary, 2020 was driven by smaller residential projects, such as remodels and home repair work, Swartz says.
Yes, but: City officials are still wrestling with the challenge of reviving downtown Denver and attracting new companies to the area. Office vacancy rates sat around 14% in the fourth quarter of 2021, 2 percentage points higher than the previous year, and the retail space vacancy rate hovered at about 5%.
- Meanwhile, at least one downtown business has implemented a fee to counterbalance shoplifting.
What's next: To draw businesses back, Denver is launching a new pilot program that will offer five companies rent-free space and $20,000 in services to open a pop-up shop on the 16th Street Mall.
- The goal is to "reimagine downtown one storefront at a time," the program's website reads.
The bottom line: A shadow continues to loom over downtown Denver, further bringing into question the future of a core piece of Colorado's economic development.
More Denver stories
No stories could be found
Get a free daily digest of the most important news in your backyard with Axios Denver.