Serious Bondage

Denver's booming economy this decade has been made possible in large part by bonds.

In 1990, voters approved bonds -- which pay dividends to the people who buy them and are often tax-free -- to fund a new central library. Bonds paid for Denver International Airport. And just last week, voters approved several new bond measures to fund expansions at the Denver Zoo, the Denver Art Museum and the Colorado Convention Center.

Bonds, though, are changing the city in a myriad of smaller ways, too. Last year, amid all of the publicity surrounding the vote to build a new stadium for the Denver Broncos, voters approved almost $90 million in bonds to pay to clean up parks, pave roads and renovate community and recreation centers.

Despite a handful of recent complaints by people who feel the city is neglecting the small things in favor of encouraging showpieces like the Pepsi Center, the neighborhood bond projects appear to be off to a good start.

"I think everybody wanted to get this stuff started," says Patty Weiss, spokesperson for the Denver Department of Public Works, which is overseeing about three-quarters of the work. (The rest of the projects are overseen by the city's Department of Parks and Recreation.)

The neighborhood bond program was initiated in March 1998 after Mayor Wellington Webb appointed 53 Denver citizens to explore the idea of issuing bonds to pay for capital projects. The citizens were broken into eight committees, which held a total of 45 meetings between April and June 1998. The result was a suggestion list of 286 projects with a total price tag of $295 million; eventually the list was narrowed to 105 projects at a cost of $81.1 million. Webb added four projects, bringing the final cost up to $87.5 million.

Thirty-five projects were slated to begin in 1999, with a total price tag of $11,034,920. Fifty-seven projects are on deck for 2000, thirty-six for 2001 and nine for 2002. A more detailed timetable will be released in the next several weeks, according to Liz Orr, an aide to Mayor Webb.

"We're trying to aggregate what the status of all of the projects is today, because they're in a variety of states," Orr says, from planning with neighborhoods to design to bidding to actual construction.

A quick glance reveals that several are nearing completion.

New heating and air conditioning is being installed at the Five Points Community Center, at 2855 Tremont Place. Crews likewise replaced old ventilation systems at the Northeast Child Care Center, at 3503 Marion Street, and are repainting and repairing other parts of the building. Playground improvements at University Park Elementary, at 2300 South St. Paul Street in South Denver, began in mid-July and finished up last month.

Kitchen improvements to the Washington Park Community Center, 804 South Washington Street, were scheduled for the end of October but should be under way before the year is out, says executive director Judy Maurer. And though work to build a new addition onto the Southwest Recreation Center, at 200 West Saratoga, is about a month and a half behind schedule, a contractor will soon be selected, says recreation supervisor Bill Hoerner. He expects the work to begin in December or January and take about seven months. Of the delay, he says "I haven't heard of anybody's who's upset. We're all just real happy the expansion passed."

At Place Middle School, at 7125 Cherry Creek North Drive in east Denver, workers had to contend with building a new ballpark and soccer field atop a landfill. At a cost of $809,000, the new fields will be ready for use next spring. "They have transformed 6.5 acres of pea gravel into a beautiful field," says Principal Linda Johnson. "They're laying the sod now."

On November 1, there was a dedication ceremony at Bromwell Elementary School, 2500 East Fourth Avenue, to open a new ballfield and sidewalk curb on the school grounds. The city's work follows $250,000 in private funds over the last several years that have gone to planting gardens and updating playground equipment. There is a still a small bulldozer on the site and a square of dirt awaiting sod, but the school is surrounded by useable green space and a wide sidewalk along its south side.

"Everyone is very happy," says parent Lois Brink, who is also a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Colorado at Denver. "It got into the school year a little bit, but it's a job well done. The city worked well with community representatives, parents and teachers."

The only hint of complaint comes from north Denver, where $1.2 million was earmarked to connect East 51st Avenue between Franklin and Washington streets. As it is, 51st ends at Emerson Street, where it is flanked by a junkyard and runs into a field of dirt and weeds. But late last month, the Denver City Council voted unanimously to make 51st a dead end at Downing Street rather than running the street through the middle of a park that is being built.

"It's election fraud," says Bill Good, who lives near the area at 51st and Clarkson. "On the ballot and on the literature they put out, they promised to replace the road. And the voters approved that. Then it takes nine city council members to use the money any way they want. It's illegal. They cheat the electorate."

Other than that, no one else appears to be riled. Even the people who are waiting for projects that haven't been scheduled yet are being patient.

Three undersized police district offices -- in south, northeast and northwest Denver -- are slated for replacement, but no new land has been acquired yet, and no date has been set for a groundbreaking. Police spokesman Sergeant Tony Lombard is unfazed, however. "It doesn't proceed as quickly as anyone likes, but it's moving along," he says. At the District 3 office on South University, one officer who asked not to be identified remarked, "I don't think it's anything of day-to-day concern. We can hold out another year."