Oct 7, 2022 - News

What's next for Denver's Civic Center Park

An aerial view of Civic Center Park in Denver. Photo: Callaghan O'Hare/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The future of Denver's Civic Center Park is taking shape.

Why it matters: Master plan after master plan, the city's crown jewel remains underutilized in the wake of safety concerns — with many Denver residents viewing it as a pathway from point A to point B downtown, rather than a destination.

  • Investments in park events and infrastructure could improve the quality of life downtown, which continues to struggle since the onset of the pandemic.

What's happening: The departments of Parks and Rec and Arts and Venues are proposing a partnership that would give the nonprofit Civic Center Conservancy programming oversight for the park and its surrounding assets, including the McNichols Building and Bannock Street.

  • Because each site is managed by a separate agency, the change could "create a singular approach" for booking events and foster a "unified vision" for activating the area year-round, Parks and Rec spokesperson Cynthia Karvaski told Axios Denver.
  • The proposal follows a year-long public input process during which residents were asked what they wanted from the gathering spot.

What they're saying: The community made it resoundingly clear "they wanted things like more music … more cultural festivals … [and] the opportunity to have food and drink in their public spaces," Eric Lazzari, Civic Center Conservancy executive director, told Axios Denver.

State of play: Denver leaders have been making moves to "take back" Civic Center Park — the city's first National Historic Landmark — since last September, when they closed the public space to crack down on crime, drug use and homeless encampments.

  • Newly unveiled changes include adding dozens of security cameras, eight full-time park rangers and 11 maintenance workers.
  • Park officials are in the process of removing fencing around the perimeter in phases as they continue turf restoration — but permanent barriers are being discussed, Karvaski said.

The big picture: "If you walk around this park today, it is not the same park that it was a year ago," Denver Parks deputy manager Scott Gilmore told Fox31.

The other side: Denver officials have been criticized by advocates in homeless services who say the city is displacing people experiencing homelessness and prioritizing general use over providing help for the city's most in-need residents.

  • Some advocates worry that those who need the most help will be pushed to the city's outskirts where access to critical resources isn't easy to find.

What's next: Local leaders will continue to explore the partnership while Civic Center Conservancy works with donors to grow its team, which currently has two full-time employees.

  • A proposal will likely take shape in 2023, Lazzari says, and the final plan will require approval by Denver's City Council.

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