Denver Announces Thousands in Event Grants to Revitalize Downtown | Westword

Mayor Johnston Announces Thousands in Event Grants to Revitalize Downtown Denver

The City of Denver and the Downtown Denver Partnership are teaming up to dole out over $350,000 in grant dollars for events that bring fun to downtown.
Mayor Mike Johnson and Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Kourtny Garrett hope people get creative with downtown events.
Mayor Mike Johnson and Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Kourtny Garrett hope people get creative with downtown events. Catie Cheshire
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On Monday, October 9, Mayor Mike Johnston announced the first program devoted to his administration’s goal of revitalizing downtown Denver: a grant initiative to help subsidize community events in the city center.

Johnston and Downtown Denver Partnership CEO Kourtny Garrett lifted the curtain on the city's new Dynamic Downtown Denver Grant Program at a press conference, revealing that it will dole out more than $350,000.

“This can include everything from a local community organization that wants to come and do Shakespeare in a parking lot in downtown Denver,” Johnston said. “This can include the Montbello Drum Line coming down to visit for an afternoon.”

Johnston even floated a pickleball tournament as an option, among other creative ideas.

“When you think about some of your favorite memories in downtown Denver, they're often going to be around some wonderful event that you attended,” Johnston explained. “What we were looking at was not to say, ‘Let's have a top-down, city-run program,’ but to say, ‘Let's actually cultivate the creativity, the innovation, the invention, the artistry that already exists in the community.’”

Grants will range from $500 to $25,000.

According to Johnston and Garrett, downtown Denver is at a critical time as it continues to recover from the pandemic. Thirteen new businesses and 1,300 new residents have been added to the core city so far this year, they said.

“We are incredibly optimistic,” Garrett added. “Recovery takes strong vision and leadership, and we see that leadership here in Denver as our community, our businesses and our partners at the city come together. … We know that there's no better way to bring our community together to re-energize downtown, and reinstill a collective love for downtown, than through music, through arts, culture and celebration.”

Garrett offered some examples of events that could work — including a single musician or artist putting on a show or community installation, or restaurants coming together to host music series on their patios. “I could envision resident groups, like [Registered Neighborhood Organizations], for example, doing pop-up markets,” she said, noting that the goal is simply to provide cool experiences for the community.

ONE Denver
— the organization dedicated to reviving Denver’s nighttime economy — plans to apply for a few grants, including one for a New Year’s Eve celebration that’s open to families instead of just partiers, according to the group’s executive director, Stephen Brackett.

Applicants don’t have to propose new concepts. “I think it could definitely be open to existing events,” Garrett told Westword. “Let's say there's something taking place outside of the city center but they want to do an activation that helps promote their event in downtown.”

As the Partnership reviews grant applications, it will prioritize events in areas where foot traffic still hasn’t fully rebounded since the 2020 pandemic and shutdowns. Otherwise, there aren’t too many restrictions; Garrett and Johnston stressed that the process is very open-ended, with all types of events potentially qualifying as long as they work toward showcasing downtown Denver.

“Events and activations should be innovative and inclusive and should take place in highly visible, publicly accessible areas in downtown outdoors and provide the public with free, unique and engaging experiences,” Garrett said at the press conference, noting that the focus is on fun.

“We know that sometimes government programs can feel complicated and slow-moving and hard to navigate,” Johnston acknowledged. “What we want is the opposite. We want something that is easy to access for creators, innovators, artists all around the city who have their own passion.”

With the city involved, certain processes — such as permitting — should be easier. Denver's Department of Transportation &Infrastructure, which oversees permitting, is a partner in the program, as is Denver Arts & Venues.

Successful applicants will also benefit from expertise from her organization, noted Garrett.

“The Downtown Denver Partnership is very big on programming and activation,” she said. “We'll certainly have those resources available to help mentor community groups, individuals, whomever, to help understand exactly how you make these things work.”

Applications will open on October 16 at The Partnership will review applications on a rolling basis, with plans for a weeks-long turnover from application to acceptance for those who qualify.

“What we know is that downtown Denver is the economic hub of the city of Denver,” Johnston said. “It is the economic hub of the region. … We know as downtown Denver succeeds in its economic and social recovery, so goes the rest of the city and the rest of the region, and so we're very committed to making sure downtown Denver is a place that feels vibrant and safe and welcoming to residents, to workers, to visitors all the time.”

This is just the first of many strategies to further that vision, the mayor promised.

"We'll look at other ways to make it easier for businesses that are currently downtown to be able to activate their public spaces and sidewalks,” he said. “We'll look at ways that we can help small businesses start up to be able to get access to a city they might have thought they never would have been able to access before. … This is not the end, but the beginning of what we see as a comprehensive, complete approach.”
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