March 30, 2021 Downtown Stories

A One Year Lookback at the COVID-19 Pandemic

Throughout history and all over the world, cities have been the epicenter of innovation and collaboration. Cities and urban cores have persisted through time – and they have persisted through war, pandemics, and natural disasters. No matter the challenge at hand: urban centers always rise above, evolving to meet the needs of its people and the times at hand.

So often, we look at cities as a series of buildings bound by a network of gridded streets. But the real power of cities – and the reasons why they persist – is largely intangible. The network of people – the relationships that have been built out of a collective desire to do and be better – is where the real power of our cities lie. In the face of a global pandemic and arguably the most challenging year in our city’s history, Downtown Denver’s spirit of collaboration and long-standing history of cocreating helped us to persist.

At the Downtown Denver Partnership, we did not just make it through the past year. We made big moves, we collaborated, and perhaps most importantly, we reminded people why they love this city and all it offers – both tangibly and intangibly.

As we always say, “great cities don’t happen by accident.” The way we have navigated the pandemic – and the way are emerging – is because of generations of collaborators and visionaries who laid a foundation deeply rooted in cocreation and innovation. Our resilience is a result of decades worth of building intentionally and with vision.

Within a week of the pandemic’s emergence in Denver, the Partnership began corralling the business community to support our most vulnerable community members. Together, we raised nearly $200,000, leveraging supply chains and access to resources to ensure that people experiencing homelessness and the organizations that serve them had cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and even amenities like televisions in respite rooms for those exposed to the virus.

As small businesses took hits in a worsening pandemic, our community joined together in support of struggling businesses. The City and County of Denver alongside the Partnership and the business community raised over $4 million for the Small Business Relief Fund. Simultaneously, we crafted creative relief policies, such as those that allowed for expanded patios and streets for people, giving restaurants and retailers the space needed to offer customers safe, socially distanced experiences.

We know that to be informed is to be empowered. As conditions and regulations evolved rapidly, the Partnership stood by its commitment to keeping our community well-informed, providing up-to-the-minute information and resources via email updates, webinars, and offering support on an individual basis to those in need.

All the while, we pushed ahead on big moves that were in the works pre-pandemic. With a strong commitment to implementing the 2007 Downtown Area Plan and other strategic visions for downtown, we stood by our plans and continued in our pursuit to implement them. The reconstruction of the 16th Street Mall – an infrastructure investment critical to the future of our city – is pushing forward, with several key contracts passed amid the pandemic. Major developments like Market Station, Block 162, and McGregor Square moved ahead and will open their doors soon. We continued our commitment to the Urban Forest Initiative, with nearly 200 trees being added to downtown’s public realm by the end of 2022.

Every step of the way, we reminded our community of their love for Downtown Denver.  We invited our community to come together for a morning of service as thousands gathered to share their voices against racial injustice. More than 5,000 people from near and far showed up in Skyline Park for this morning of service to offer a helping hand, showing solidarity for Downtown Denver, its people, and those standing up to injustice. When it came to the holidays, more than 200,000 people came downtown with their households to celebrate the season, thanks to the Partnership’s pandemic-friendly programming. And, to continue to push our city’s culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, we opened Denver Startup Week to a worldwide audience, with more than 56,000 views and counting on direct-from-Denver content in a record-breaking virtual program.

As we continue to navigate the pandemic – and most importantly, as we continue to build our city – it is important that we take the time to reflect. Not only on what we did throughout the pandemic, but also on the work we did for decades before that has helped us to persist.