Denver has Democratic National Convention advice for Charlotte

Remember the hype, the political drama, the celebrities and the fabulous souvenirs? How about the closed streets, the protesters and the cops in riot gear? They were all part of the Democratic National Convention that took hold of the Mile High City in August 2008 — not to mention the eighteen months of anticipation beforehand.

In February, Charlotte, North Carolina, won the bid to host the 2012 Democratic National Convention, and it's looking to Denver for inspiration. Although the Dems already know the nominee, Barack Obama is coming in with a lot of baggage this time — and a lot less of the hope and change that created such buzz in Denver. Some of the nitty-gritty details will be different, too, says Chantal Unfug, who was then-Mayor John Hickenlooper's liaison to the DNC and is now the deputy manager of the Denver Department of Parks and Recreation, overseeing planning and natural resources. "Our mayor put out these ultimatums about making the DNC the greenest one ever. He wanted to use the DNC to put Denver on the world stage, and he wanted to touch every resident. We had so many community events," remembers Unfug, who spoke at many of those events, answering questions — sometimes difficult questions — from businesses and residents alike (Unfug estimates that she had contact with 50,000 people over those eighteen months.)

Will Charlotte take the same approach? "That will be a decision that city will have to make," she says. "Do they want the community to feel part of what is going on, or do they just want it to be a convention like any other? All of these efforts were kind of new when we did them. I think that one of the things that made the DNC so successful in Denver was that people were excited."

This month several members of Charlotte's DNC team — including members of that city's convention bureau — will fly to Denver to meet with people involved in planning the 2008 DNC. And at least two members of the Denver Police Department will go to Charlotte to share their security experiences with the police there, says DPD spokesman Sonny Jackson.

"For us, it was about community engagement," Unfug says. "That was the theme that ran through it all."

This won't hurt a bit: Representatives of Shea Properties and the Colorado Boulevard Healthcare District spent the first twenty minutes of a March 3 board meeting congratulating each other on the time and energy they'd spent over the past four years coming up with a plan to redevelop the former University of Colorado Health Sciences Center at Ninth Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. But pleasantries aside, the only thing that mattered to neighbors is that four years later, there's still a massive industrial complex sitting vacant on 32 acres in the middle of the city — with little chance of that changing in the near future.

In late February, Shea announced that it was pulling out of the project — one on which it has already spent $4 million — because of the down economy. The company had intended to turn the former medical complex into a bustling mix of homes, apartments, stores and offices, tantalizing residents of the surrounding neighborhoods with possibilities of a movie theater, a grocery store and other places to go and shop. Now, CU and the district will have to find a new developer to take on the project. "We are sort of starting at square one," district chairwoman Mary Nell Wolff told the crowd that packed a National Jewish Hospital conference room.

Part of the challenge is that the complex isn't wired into the city's power grid, since CU operated on its own plant for decades. So "there needs to be a master developer, someone large enough to take on at least an entire phase of the project," said Lilly Marks, executive vice chancellor for the university's Anschutz Medical Campus.

What's next? For starters, the university wants to keep the vacant complex from becoming more of an eyesore than it already is by renewing efforts to water the grass, repair broken windows and remove graffiti. And as for a new developer, the university will listen to all comers.