With Walmart out of the way, what should fill the CU Healthcare District?
On Saturday, Tom Downey, the director of the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses, started his talk at the city's Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation conference with a Denver-specific joke: "So, a priest, a rabbi, a councilwoman and a neighborhood association head walked into a Walmart and got into a TIFF..."
The joke had no punchline, at least not yet....but this saga could use a happy ending.
The joke was definitely on Mayor Michael Hancock's administration last week, when Walmart headquarters announced that it was pulling out of the proposed development project at the former University of Colorado Health Sciences Center campus at Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard after neighborhood angst convinced city councilmembers Jeanne Robb and Mary Beth Susman to oppose public tax-increment financing — which developer Jeff Fuqua had said he needed.
The decision was definitely a victory for neighbors. But it also means that the vast complex is still an eyesore, still vacant, and still in need of a grand new scheme to fill in the gaps.
And neighbors need to be careful what they wish for, because the next proposal could be worse! A few suggestions for what kind of project might work in that spot:
The National Western Stock Show
The National Western Stock Show wants to move to a location where it will have fewer infrastructure problems and newer buildings and facilities. A plan to relocate on the Denver/Aurora border, where Gaylord Entertainment Co. planned to build a giant hotel/resort/convention complex, disintegrated earlier this year, after the company announced that it was getting out of the large-project business altogether. Which was handy, because Denver hasn't been too keen on letting the Stock Show out of its long-term lease with the city, either. So why not move the Stock Show to the heart of the city, where nearby residents can get up close and personal with cattle, goats, bison and pigs? Sure, the smell will be rank and the noise will be terrible, but it's certainly a step up from backyard chickens.
The Denver Municipal Wind Farm
The utility infrastructure beneath the old hospital and medical school isn't like the rest of the city's, since the buildings had different needs than most neighborhoods and office complexes; that infrastructure will be a challenge for whoever ends up developing the property. Why not turn a negative into a positive by building a wind farm on the site to generate power for the surrounding neighborhoods and making them the greenest urban areas in the country?
The homeless check in, and they'll definitely check out...your neighborhood! Yes, the homeless have been booted off the 16th Street Mall and sidewalks across town. They now roam around the Ballpark neighborhood, the Golden Triangle, all along Colfax Avenue, and everywhere else they can avoid detection. Why not just consolidate the city's entire homeless population in one large complex, complete with male, female and family housing, transitional apartments, soup kitchens, small industry for job development, and drug and psychological treatment facilities? Neighbors might whine, but the old CU complex already has a state-of-the-art psychiatric center that deserves to be saved.
Common Consumption Area
Denver, with the aforementioned Downey in the lead, is currently considering establishing one or more "common consumption" districts. A new state law allows for the creation of such districts, which would enable a consumer to buy beer, wine or a cocktail at one establishment and then take it down the street, outside or to another venue, as long as the consumer is still within the district. In other words: go-cups! But establishing such areas is going to require a lot of time and effort, not to mention the approval of existing businesses. That's why the Colorado Boulevard Healthcare District is perfect: It's already vacant. The city could simply persuade bars and restaurant to relocate to this future drinking paradise. Neighbors, however, might want to consider putting up a big cement boundary around the area.
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