Parks and Rec pulls the plug on City Loop for City Park

Our December 19 cover story, "In Mayor Hancock's World-Class City, Everyone Matters -- Except Park Lovers" -- focused on three hot issues at the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation: the CityWide program, that fields recreational sports leagues, some of which compete for both people and space with independent programs; Hentzell Park, a twelve-acre swathe of land in southeast Denver traded to Denver Public Schools; and City Loop, an ambitious project to "Reimagine Play" planned for City Park. The public outcry over that last issue became so hot that at a focus group meeting on Saturday, the city announced that the project had flamed out altogether.

Although DPR staff had been making public presentations about the 13-acre, $5 million City Loop project since the spring of 2012, many residents who live close to the park complained that they only heard about the project last fall. That prompted heated neighborhood meetings, the creation of a website called Stop City Loop -- and considerable backpedaling and re-reimagining on the part of park officials.

But no one could have imagined what happened at the meeting Saturday morning. Opponents had complained in advance that the public wouldn't be allowed to speak at the gathering at the Denver Zoo -- but once Denver Parks and Recreation director Lauri Dannemiller delivered her statement, there wasn't a lot more to discuss. Here's how she announced that City Loop was no longer in the loop -- at least, not for City Park.

When Parks and Recreation first set out with the City Loop project, our intent was to create a new, multi-generational activity and play area that would replace the existing Dustin Redd playground, which is in need of significant repair or replacement after nearly 20 years of use.

Our goal, based on the department's playground master plan, was to create a new concept that was innovative and forward-thinking that gives everyone using the park - from small children to older adults - an opportunity to remain active and enjoy a healthy lifestyle.

In December, we committed to going through a process to gather feedback and input from the City Park community. I promised you that we would listen to what you have to say.

After attending our first stakeholder meeting back in February, discussing the project with many of you individually since then and receiving more feedback over the past few weeks, it is clear to me that our goals for this project simply don't align with the needs and wants of this community.

As such I want to tell you right now that we are dropping the City Loop project for City Park and we will plan to move it to another part of the city. As I had indicated last month, we have evaluated other sites and while I won't specifically say right now where we are targeting, I can tell you that it is in the western part of our city and in a community that shares our vision for re-imagining play and promoting a healthy, active lifestyle.

So what happens here in City Park?

In the short term, we are making necessary safety repairs to the Dustin Redd playground. We also want to have a community volunteer day - something we've heard about from a number of you in this room - to perform light maintenance and restoration work on the existing playground.

For the longer term, it is inevitable that Dustin Redd will need to be replaced. We are at a point where the constant need for repair and ongoing maintenance simply outweighs the cost-savings of putting in a new commercial-grade playground that has similar features, a similar footprint and is made of newer materials with less overall maintenance needed.

We will put the replacement of the existing Dustin Redd on our playground replacement list and we are hopeful that in either the 2015 or w016 budget, we can earmark some capital improvement funds to move that forward. So we are looking at an overall timeline of 3-5 more years for the existing playground.

When it comes time to address replacement again, I think it is fair to say that we've learned quite a bit from this process and we will absolutely engage this community again to ensure your input and ideas are a part of the process.

Outside the playground issue, we will also continue to invest in maintenance and repair/restoration within City Park. In fact, since 2008, we have put nearly $16 million into maintenance projects in City Park.

According to Parks and Rec, the department will be doing some outreach regarding City Loop in the western part of the city. Look for more specific information in a month or so.

From our archives: "Hentzell Park: Did Denver officials ignore law in land swap?"

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
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