After wrestling for years with how to improve the image of the 16th Street Mall, the City of Denver and the Regional Transportation District are kicking off the next phase of planning for its future.
The process began on Wednesday, June 28, with a three-day workshop for participating agencies to determine a vision for the mall’s future. The process could result in changes to the 1.2-mile corridor by adding or improving things like shuttle lanes, sidewalk enhancements, expanded seating or alternate surface materials. Or the group could decide to keep the mall as it is. One of the sticking points has been the granite pavers designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei; while many people insist that the pavers are historic and must remain, the Free MallRide buses are hard on them, requiring RTD to spend about $1 million a year on maintenance.
The public has a few opportunities to provide input to the project. The first is at a Meet in the Street event on July 22. Two open houses are tentatively scheduled for July 27, with more details to be announced on the project's website in the coming weeks.
The mall sees up to 45,000 riders using the RTD’s Free MallRide each weekday, and it’s still one of the metro area's biggest visitor attractions.
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“The 16th Street Mall is a vital public space in our great city,” says Brad Buchanan, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development. “Now is the time to set a course for the mall’s future.”
Because the mall receives federal funding, any changes to it must comply with an environmental process outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act. And the law requires that the project partners, which include the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District and the Federal Transit Administration, identify and consider social and environmental impacts when reviewing potential changes to the mall.
Making real improvements to the mall always seems to come down to money. Fortunately, there is funding available.
With the tax-increment financing district (TIF) that paid for many of the mall’s original improvements set to expire this year, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority has about $68 million it can contribute to elevating the mall’s image. The money must be spent by 2022 or it reverts to the city and Denver Public Schools. The TIF was created in 1992 to repay $60 million in bonds that funded projects in the Downtown Urban Renewal Area; DURA finished repaying the bonds in 2013 but has continued to collect taxes for the full 25 years that the TIF is authorized.