The Riverfront Park neighborhood, sandwiched between downtown Denver and Lower Highland, is opening up Commons Park and the plaza underneath the Millennium Bridge for events.
After two years of planning, the Riverfront Park Association has put out a call to attract street performers, food trucks and movie nights to increase foot traffic in the neighborhood. The association, a homeowners' group, represents fifteen buildings and several thousand residents who have moved into the neighborhood, one of the newest in Denver.
The group's president, Don Coen, says the plan is akin to what the Civic Center Conservancy has done with Civic Center Park. But Commons Park, a green oasis in the middle of some major construction, is operated under a different legal standard than Civic Center Park. A conservation easement that protects the natural environment prevents the space from hosting large concerts, organized sporting events or other activities that would disrupt local ecology.
"When Commons Park was designed back in the ’90s, it was envisioned as a place of passive recreation – not a traditional children's playground, not a baseball diamond," Coen says. "It was going to be an urban oasis for quiet contemplation."
Had urban planners known what the neighborhood would become, Coen suspects the park would have not adopted a conservation-easement structure, though he does appreciate the tranquility it brings.
"I think if we were to start from scratch, we might look at the park a little more differently," he acknowledges.
The homeowners' association is working with the Greenway Foundation, which holds the conservation easement, and the City of Denver, which owns the land, to ensure that whatever events take place are up to code.
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More events and more people would increase safety and give residents something to do in their own neighborhood, Coen says. Although he hopes people from around the city will come in for events, he says they will be discouraged from doing so by car, because of the neighborhood's already strained parking situation.
In recent years, the city has seen development boom along the Platte River, both downtown and in the River North neighborhood. The redevelopment of the National Western Stock Show, also along the river, promises to transform how the Platte serves as a centerpiece of the city.
"This change is extraordinary," says Coen, a lifelong Denver resident. "I am very proud of where I live, and I'm proud of our city. When I see this activity from the National Western Center down to RiNo to where we are and further south, it's just like a string of pearls.”
He likens the development of the Platte River to the River Walk in San Antonio, which runs through that Texas city's downtown. "It's rather Disneyesque and cool," he says.