Downtown Denver Economic Development Stimulus Proposal
Following the most severe impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to make dramatic – even disruptive – moves toward our most important goals as a City, State, and Region of sustained growth, environmental stewardship, job creation, economic resilience, equity, and innovation.
Downtown Denver serves as the economic and cultural center for the Denver Metropolitan Region and a gateway for statewide business and tourism. Relative to the state and region, Downtown has been severely impacted by COVID-19, with pedestrian foot traffic down by over 75% throughout the pandemic due to the loss of office workers and convention visitors. The latest survey of downtown office occupancy shows less than 25% of downtown employees have returned to the office and conventions of any size are not allowed under current public health guidelines. The economic fallout has been dramatic: Q2 2020 retail sales were down -63% in Downtown Denver compared with -16% in the City and County of Denver and -5% in the State of Colorado. Nowhere in Colorado has the economic impacts of the pandemic been more acute than in Downtown Denver.
Furthermore, the dramatic decrease in employee and visitor traffic to Downtown Denver has had an outsized impact on the economic vitality of our State’s major economic hub. While we saw a slight increase in visitor traffic to Downtown Denver during the summer months, we are still experiencing nowhere near pre-COVID numbers. We believe that strategic economic stimulus can help dramatically improve long-term outcomes to the City and State.
A one-time economic stimulus from the State of Colorado aimed at strategic initiatives can be a catalyst for economic activity, driving forward new innovation, increasing the equity and inclusiveness of our most public place in the state, and protecting the value of the billions of private and public dollars already invested in Downtown Denver.
The Downtown Denver Partnership proposes five stimulus projects designed to accelerate an equitable economic recovery:
- The 5280 Trail: Bringing people together is needed more today than ever before and this proposed 5-mile linear park around the center of Denver will physically connect previously disconnected neighborhoods, providing healthy outdoor opportunities for more people while providing more pedestrian traffic for neighborhood commercial nodes. By marking, or ‘trailblazing,’ the 5280 Trail much like other shared streets, Colorado will deliver a much-needed short term economic stimulus and long-term economic vitality to center city neighborhoods.
- Denver Mobility Innovation District: Denver’s position as the economic hub of the Rocky Mountain West uniquely positions Downtown to be the home of a unique opportunity to create a national and regional testing ground for new mobility and urban solutions and policies. Work that has already been done in Denver around intelligent mobility and smart growth is at the forefront of industry thinking, and Denver’s brand as an innovation hub will create an open-collaborative ecosystem to explore urban and mobility innovations. State stimulus will be used to develop and brand an Innovation District in Downtown Denver. This district will become an urban testing ground to attract tech companies, investors, manufacturers, and designers to Denver to easily test products and prepare for launch.
- 16th Street Mall: The Main Street of the Rocky Mountain West is poised for a $100 million reconstruction. Colorado’s most visited tourist destination, the 16th Street Mall will be rebuilt from building face to building face, bringing this 40-year old gem up to modern standards. Providing stimulus to augment this project with greater amenities to attract more visitors–local, national and international–will help create a one-of-a-kind experience in the heart of Colorado’s Capital city.
- Downtown Outdoor Gathering Places: One positive learning during the pandemic is that the public overwhelmingly supports opening streets for greater public use–recreation trails, outdoor patio dining, and pop-up activation. Investments in Larimer Square and Glenarm Patio to create permanent, outdoor gathering spaces for dining, shopping and gathering, will transform these spaces long-term, beloved gathering places in Colorado attracting residents and visitors alike.
- The Commons on Champa: The Downtown Denver Partnership’s entrepreneurial hub helps thousands of traditionally under-represented people pursue their dreams of starting a business, providing great income opportunities for the entrepreneur and job opportunities for others. The need to support small business growth and job creation is critically important as a key component of economic recovery. With five years of proven success, The Commons on Champa is a Colorado model for reaching a wide-array of small businesses.
It is essential to invest one-time stimulus projects into these catalytic projects that support center city businesses, engage multiple sectors, and provide tangible economic stimulus as well as long term economic gains. All of these projects are shovel-ready and could be implemented in 2021 to have immediate impact.