Denver Government

Downtown Is Back, Mayor Proclaims, Announcing Pop-Up Businesses and More

Mayor Michael Hanock was joined by mascots from three of Denver's professional sports teams.
Mayor Michael Hanock was joined by mascots from three of Denver's professional sports teams. Catie Cheshire
Downtown is not dead, says Mayor Michael Hancock, who held a gathering on April 7 to talk about the city's plans to reinvigorate the downtown area, one attended by sports team mascots and a group of entrepreneurs who will put temporary shops in empty retail spaces on the 16th Street Mall — which will break ground next week on a major renovation — as part of the Popup Denver program.

Guerilla Garden, a street-art studio founded by Jolt, a Denver native and graffiti artist (and former curator of Westword's Artopia event), will take over space in the University Building. “As a north Denver native, somebody that grew up with the culture of the 16th Street Mall, I remember coming down here to Woolworth’s to get a pizza with my grandma,” Jolt shared. “This was a hub for culture and community, which it still is, and for me to carry on with that and bring my art down here…we aspire now to have a flagship here in downtown Denver and to share that art.”

Museum for Black Girls, a pop-up devoted to immersive experiences showcasing the history and essence of Black women, will be in the Denver Dry Building, as will Tea With Tae, a woman-owned tea shop that currently has a location in Lakewood. Travel Posters, which sells posters of Colorado, will be in Republic Plaza, while IEM Designs will be in the McClintock Building. IEM stands for image en movement; the company is the art-production arm of the Dance 2B Studio, which caters to adults interested in dance. IEM Designs turns dance into digital art.

The pop-ups will occupy their spaces rent-free for at least three months and receive up to $20,000 each in donated services. They were selected based on several factors, including whether the businesses are locally owned or would enhance diversity. “This is a fabulous opportunity,” Jolt said. “I look forward to seeing what all the other pop-ups are going to do with this space and to see how this grows in the future.”

The Popup Denver program is a partnership between the city's Economic Development & Opportunity office and the Downtown Denver Partnership, which welcomed its new CEO, Kourtny Garrett, at the announcement. Garrett, who most recently was a Dallas eco-devo booster, was born in Denver; she shared that over 40 percent of the downtown Denver workforce is back at peak times, and the city is in the top five in the country for the return of restaurant reservations. Beyond that, she noted, daily traffic is nearing pre-pandemic levels.

A sign of the times: traffic as something to celebrate.
click to enlarge My Denver is a new Downtown Denver Partnership campaign celebrating the city. - CATIE CHESHIRE
My Denver is a new Downtown Denver Partnership campaign celebrating the city.
Catie Cheshire
As Hancock welcomed everyone back to downtown Denver, he proclaimed Friday, April 8, as Purple Friday, in honor of Colorado Rockies Opening Day.

The Denver Police Department will up its presence in downtown Denver in the coming months, Hancock said. “Our officers are going to have a very high visibility and presence to keep everyone safe not only during Opening Day, but throughout the entire spring and summer and going forward,” Hancock says.

Adding to the DPD's efforts, the Partnership and Downtown Denver Business Improvement District are launching the Downtown Action Team, which will focus on eliminating vandalism and graffiti. The details aren't firm, Garrett said, but the team will employ about ten to twelve people who will supplement the current security and maintenance teams downtown. “It's part of a brainchild that Mayor Hancock and I sat down, maybe my first week, and worked on together,” she added.

The Downtown Denver Partnership is also launching MyDenver, a new campaign that is “a celebration of all the things we love about our city and especially downtown," according to Garrett. “My Denver reminds those that have not been downtown recently that our city has not only held strong, but also has something to offer everyone.”

“Denver's downtown is so much more than just a central business district,” Hancock added. “We know it's a place where people gather, where people live, where students learn, where people come to party…It's a neighborhood, and it should be a complete neighborhood, a central neighborhood district.”

To give that true-Denver feel, the city is working with local artists to make banners for the 16th Street Mall that will likely be up by May 1, according to Jeremy Orville of Enigma Projects, who is acting as a liaison between the city and local artists. The pop-up shops should pop up by June. And by then, the winter ice-skating rink will have been transformed into the Southwest Airlines Cityscape Roller Rink.

No, downtown is not dead, Hancock told the gathering. He remembers when it was — during the oil crisis of the ’80s — and there's no comparison with the situation today.

“I'm proud of the people who stood up and didn't just go on social media to kind of criticize the environment that every downtown, by the way, in this country is going through right now, but have said, ‘Mayor, How can we help? How can we lean in? How can we make sure that Denver’s downtown continues to rise from the situation in which we're in right now?’” he concluded. “We've been through challenges, but we're not dead.”
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Catie Cheshire is a staff writer at Westword. After getting her undergraduate degree at Regis University, she went to Arizona State University for a master's degree. She missed everything about Denver -- from the less-intense sun to the food, the scenery and even the bus system. Now she's reunited with Denver and writing news for Westword.
Contact: Catie Cheshire