Aug 30, 2022 - News

Denver spends millions to bring downtown back to life

Illustration of a flower made out of dollar bills growing out of a crack in pavement
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Downtown Denver Partnership is getting ready to roll out a major public relations campaign to boost the city's image and convince people to come back downtown.

Why it matters: Local leaders project that daytime traffic may never return beyond 80% of pre-pandemic levels, as people now commonly work from home. This necessitates a new way of thinking about the downtown market, its workforce, how to sustain visitor traffic and regain sales tax generation.

Driving the news: Denver's city council on Monday voted to allocate $2.4 million of American Rescue Plan aid for the Downtown Denver Partnership to design and carry out new projects through 2023 that add vibrancy to the city's center.

  • The funding falls into five categories: Retail, restaurants and entertainment, entrepreneurship, business, and safety.

Details: Initiatives include expanding a pilot program that offers companies rent-free space to open pop-up shops on the 16th Street Mall, as well as launching a national marketing campaign about Denver's "reimagined" downtown to attract top tenants.

  • Other efforts include hosting more live music, offering outdoor dining and community art events;
  • Providing dedicated office space for global entrepreneurs building international businesses in downtown Denver;
  • And combating crime with enhanced safety features, including upgraded lighting and more security cameras.

What they're saying: "Safety is issue No. 1" for many people in the area — and "a lot of them no longer want to walk the 16th Street Mall to enjoy a meal or shop as they used to," Denver council member Debbie Ortega said at a committee meeting earlier this month.

Flashback: Mayor Michael Hancock trumpeted "downtown is back" during a news briefing this past April.

  • Reality check: The picture he painted didn't mirror the facts on the ground then — or now.

By the numbers: Pedestrian traffic was down by about one-third in May compared to 2019 levels, city documents show.

  • Meanwhile, 15% of office spaces in Lower Downtown are vacant, as companies rethink their post-pandemic plans, according to a recent analysis from JLL, a locally based commercial real estate agency.

The big picture: These figures indicate that "further interventions are needed to ensure the survival of downtown businesses … and improve the resilience of downtown Denver's long-term economic vitality," Deborah Cameron, Denver's chief business development officer, told a council committee earlier this month.

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