April 5, 2021

Meet Your Chair | Q&A with Mike Zoellner, Chair, Downtown Denver Partnership Management Group

Mike Zoellner, Managing Partner, ZF Capital

Mike Zoellner, Managing Partner at ZF Capital, started his term as Chair of the Downtown Denver Partnership Management Group on July 1, 2020. Mike has been a longtime supporter and involved Member of the Partnership and is passionate about housing and addressing homelessness, as well as supporting and funding the Urban Forest Initiative.

Ready to meet Mike? Let’s get to it.

  1. What do you think are some of the most impactful projects and initiatives that the Partnership has been involved in through the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the past year the Partnership has done an amazing job on many levels, but several stand out to me.

In 2020, the Partnership dedicated more time and resources to building out The Business Coalition on Homelessness, an initiative started in 2019. This Coalition emphasizes our commitment to working collaboratively with private sector partners, stakeholders, and the City to find and deliver unique Denver solutions to multiple homeless issues. Through the pandemic, the Partnership also raised over $500,000 in cash and in-kind donations from the business community to support people experiencing homelessness and the organizations that serve them.

As part of ensuring that downtown continues to feel safe and welcoming for those who live and work in Denver, the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District responded quickly in the last year to adapt protocols for maintaining public spaces, protest responses, and has hosted weekly Safety Webinars for downtown businesses with the Denver Police Department. The clean up efforts after protests were an amazing community response that the Partnership managed and led very effectively.

Additionally, the Partnership’s commitment to investing in the 16th Street Mall continued to be a key priority. The Partnership (alongside the City of Denver and RTD) recently awarded PCL Construction as the design/build contractor for the reconstruction project, set to begin later this year. This is the first investment of this scale for the 16th St Mall in over 40 years, and is the culmination of almost 15 years of leadership, collaboration and effort.

One of the greatest impacts this past year has been heightened communication to serve the community. A visible component of this communication has been the Daily COVID-19 Email Update. With inclusion and community safety top of mind, this daily email was available to the general public, not just Members of the Partnership, and has consistently included a succinct summary of the most up-to-date information from civic and health leaders in Denver and across the nation.

Lastly, even during a global pandemic, Downtown Denver has replaced empty lots with creative & interesting open spaces for public activations, and helped turn vacant storefronts into exciting, entrepreneurial hubs. The Winter in the City Campaign was amazing and brought a wide range of visitors downtown over 6 weeks to support local businesses.

I’m excited to see the innovative solutions and ideas that continue to come from the challenges we face, together.

2.              What excites you most about being a Member of the Partnership over the next 6 months?

First and foremost, I am excited to see how many new business and tenants relocate to Denver in the coming months. Like any urban area, we have our challenges, but we also have a safe and clean environment for businesses to recruit and grow. People are attracted to Denver, and Denver has ranked in the top U.S. cities for population growth and growth of the workforce throughout the pandemic. Companies continue to move to Denver for our strong workforce and great business environment. One of the biggest opportunities I see for the Partnership over the next 6 months is providing the support and resources for businesses to return to in-person work post-pandemic.

Second, continued investment in the 16th Street Mall and other unique developments will be crucial in creating economic impact now and in the future. Partnership projects like the Urban Forest Initiative continue to improve our personal health and wellbeing, as well the vibrancy of our downtown. The benefits of a healthy urban forest are endless, from improving property values, cooling the pedestrian experience in the summer, and a return on investment in terms of ecological and economic benefits. I’m excited to see the growth of our urban canopy as we move into the fourth round of funding.

Lastly, once the vaccine is widely distributed, I believe there is a great deal of pent up demand to get out and enjoy all the great attributes of Denver in the summer. The Taste of CO was in need of some fresh thinking and I believe people will really enjoy ToC 2.0.

3.              What do you think are Downtown Denver’s biggest opportunities to emerge as a leader among our sister cities once we transition to life post-pandemic?

Downtown Denver is well-positioned to emerge as a leader in post-pandemic times. The visions set forth in the 2007 Downtown Area Plan still remain as viable and crucial to planning for the future even though they were when created over 10 years ago.

Working to ensure that we retain existing affordable housing, and also fixing the stae laws around construction liability have the potential to provide a wide range of housing options for evry income.will be key factors in Denver’s post-pandemic success. Coming out of the pandemic, the Partnership is looking for different ways our existing programs, initiatives, public spaces, and buildings can be improved to make sure our city provides an even more vibrant lifestyle than before.

The most recent activation in our public realm is ‘Outer Space’, an initiative that is part of the Upper Downtown Plan. This project transformed an empty lot at 16th and Welton into a shared space, celebrating our urban outdoors, and providing a place for all age groups to mingle, grab takeout from local businesses, enjoy a moment of sunshine during a busy work day, and more.

4.              We talk a lot at the Partnership about “city building.”  How do you define that term?

Throughout my work with the Partnership, I’ve continued to think about how a strong vision and well-designed strategic plan can guide the growth of a city.

To me, city-building means leading with passion & vision, and bringing a diverse range of community stakeholders to the table to shape these unique Denver aspirations.

As we move forward in building a vibrant city, intertwining what we hope to see in our future with what we’ve learned from our history is crucial to sustainable growth.

Strong city-building is based on listening to our neighbors, business leaders and stakeholders so we can work together to create equitable opportunities for all to share in the things we love about Downtown Denver.

5.              One of the core focus areas of the Partnership is ensuring that we are creating opportunities that engage and benefit our Members. What would you tell people considering joining the Partnership as Members?

Becoming a member of the Partnership will allow you to take full advantage of the many resources we provide to Member organizations, including opportunities to interact with fellow business and civic leaders. Membership is an opportunity to have an active voice in driving Denver forward.

Member Organizations are crucial thought partners as we work to create a vibrant, thriving, and resilient Downtown Denver for the benefit of all.

In the past year, the Partnership heard the needs of our Members, and pivoted our programs and offerings to serve our Membership base more effectively. The Partnership strongly advocates for what our member companies need to thrive, and supports businesses across sectors in public policy, community initiatives, and more.

Our dedication to our Members grew even stronger through the pandemic with the implementation of bi-weekly Member Briefings and weekly Security briefings with the Denver Police Department, Daily COVID-19 Email Updates, special webinar series, and more.

Providing value to Members is key to the Partnership’s mission, and by joining the Partnership as a Member you can tap into the exponential power of Denver’s many diverse networks.

6.              What inspired you to not only be a Member, but to also serve as a leader with the Partnership

DDP Membership is a great opportunity to positively impact Downtown and improve the character of our city for years to come.

Good ideas and creative solutions can be heard and influence change. Business Leaders, employers and property owners need an advocate their future success and DDP understands their importance in creating a healthy and vibrant downtown for everyone.

Denver has always been a place that constantly searches for the best solutions and DDP is THE Leader in making that happen.

7.              How has being a Member been valuable for your organization, as well as to you in your own personal and professional development?

ZF Capital is a locally based real-estate development and investment company. As a part of our Membership, we’ve been able to network with many of the other organizations both within and outside of our industry. For ZFC, this includes attending Member-Only Events, Signature and Special Programs, as well as taking advantage of the Civic Leadership programs including CityBuild and Urban Exploration. Another huge value add for our organization has been brand exposure and marketing – in the past year alone we had over 560,000 impressions from DDP marketing alone.

I have always received more in return for my time at the Partnership than I have contributed.

We are most grateful for the impacts we have been able to make as a Member organization of the Partnership, and am honored to serve the needs of our business community and downtown residents as the Board Chair.