Apr 11, 2023 - Business

16th Street Mall exemplifies downtown Denver's struggles

Construction on the 16th Street Mall. Photo: Alayna Alvarez/Axios

Three years after the pandemic decimated downtown Denver's foot traffic, many businesses in the area — and particularly along the 16th Street Mall — still can't catch a break.

Driving the news: The mall's nearly $150 million renovation that started almost exactly one year ago remains an eyesore and in its initial phase, albeit on schedule.

  • 40% of the 17.5-block strip is under construction as of Monday, city transportation department spokesperson Nancy Kuhn tells Axios.

Why it matters: The project has significantly disrupted the area and driven customers away, with dozens of noisy excavators and smaller pedestrian walkways.

State of play: Homelessness, drug use, and deadly crime continue in the area despite efforts to make it safer.

  • The Target and CVS on the 16th Street Mall, for example, have recently begun locking up aluminum foil to stop people from stealing pieces of it to smoke fentanyl inside their stores, Westword reports.

By the numbers: The 16th Street Mall saw about 200,000 visitors in January, well below the roughly 350,000 in January 2019, according to data from the Downtown Denver Partnership.

  • The 80202 ZIP code that covers the 16th Street Mall saw the largest outward migration between early 2019 and October 2022, with a net loss of 1,028 businesses, the Denver Business Journal reports, citing data from the U.S. Postal Service.

The other side: It isn't all bad news. Between canvassers, live music performers, and a steady stream of people returning to the office, there is still plenty of life on the 16th Street Mall.

  • Phil Turner, the founder of Tuscany Coffee on the corner of 16th and Stout, told the Denver Gazette that business is booming. "I look at money and I can say we’re busy," Turner said. "Things are back. Denver is cranking."

What's next: The 16th Street Mall's facelift won't be finished until at least the end of 2024, city officials say. Once complete, the redesign will create more places for people to gather and for vendors to set up shop, according to planners.

What to watch: The issue of reviving downtown is playing a key role in Denver's mayoral race, which will conclude in a runoff in June between candidates Kelly Brough and Mike Johnston.


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