If the City of Denver had had its way, the General Obligation bond that voters will ponder in November would have been absent of projects in RiNo, one of the liveliest neighborhoods in town.
Why? Well, that depends on whom you ask.
To neighborhood leaders including Jamie Licko, president of the RiNo Art District, RiNo has a perception problem. Infrastructure projects, like the very prominent reconstruction of Brighton Boulevard, seem plentiful in River North, so why include more projects in the General Obligation bond, which is meant to "restore, replace, and expand infrastructure and capital assets across the city," according to its website?
"There was a feeling after Brighton Boulevard got funded...that the city sort of looked at us and said, 'You've got plenty for the time being. There are lots of areas in need in the city, so we need to make sure we're spending our money appropriately,'" says Licko.
The original bond proposal included infrastructure-project requests from different neighborhoods that totaled $3 billion. But through a series of committees and a stop at Mayor Michael Hancock's office, it was whittled down to 460 projects totaling $937 million, with a heavy focus on improvements to transportation.
RiNo had requested a variety of projects, including improvements to Walnut Street and the 38th Street underpass, general improvements to cycle infrastructure and, most notably, the construction of a $5 million promenade between 29th and 38th streets that would serve as a linear park, says Licko. But the proposal that landed on Hancock's desk had no projects in RiNo, which prompted various groups in the area to launch a letter-writing campaign requesting that assorted RiNo projects, chief among them the promenade, be included in the final package on the ballot.
That final version, which Denver City Council approved for the ballot in August, does include the promenade, which Licko says would energize quieter parts of the neighborhood like the riverfront and also provide park space for festivals.
The RiNo General Improvement District made the case for the promenade in its letter to Hancock: "The RiNo Promenade will extend and improve the regional Denver Parks and Trails system into a growing neighborhood that is seeing many new projects with their own new open space requirements that will now be able to more easily connect together a string of green pearls. In total, the combination of the RiNo Park, the RiNo Promenade, and the proposed open space to be included in private developments will add (at current tally and likely growing) a total of 12.5 new acres of public and private open space to a neighborhood with a current, serious deficit."
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And Licko says that RiNo, which began life as a no-name industrial part of Denver, still needs more: "Now we've got density and transit, but we still don't have a walkable, comfortably bike-able neighborhood."
According to Courtney Law, communications director for the Denver Department of Finance, the city didn't intentionally leave RiNo out of the bond proposal. There were just so many projects to consider across the entire city, and "it went from a list of $3 billion to $937 million," Law says. "Many great projects got cut, but ones that made the final list met the criteria and ultimately formed a very balanced citywide list."
Law says the promenade doesn't just serve RiNo, and Licko agrees: "The idea is that it's not just for RiNo, but activates that whole river area and connects RiNo with...a number of different neighborhoods that get engaged in that piece."
Denver has utilized bonds since the ’80s, and last put a big package on the ballot ten years ago. "This is the kind of tool that allows cities like Denver to address major infrastructure needs...ones that are too expensive to put in the annual budget," Law says. "This allows the city to make those investments over time."