After almost three years of COVID, an economic downturn and an increase in crime, Colorado leaders think it's time to bring back the vibrancy characteristic of downtown Denver before 2020.
"It’s having people back in our restaurants, it’s having our employees back, it’s getting the energy back in downtown Denver. That safety, that beautification, all of the things we love about our city," Kourtny Garrett, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership
, said at a November 10 press conference at the Colorado Convention Center
Garrett and Mayor Michael Hancock
, as well as the police chiefs of Denver and RTD, Attorney General Phil Weiser
and U.S. Attorney Cole Finegan,
gathered at the center to announce a new collaborative effort at what seemed more like a pep rally than the introduction of a sweeping policy by what's being called the Downtown Denver Action Partners.
"Downtowns across this country, as you know, have been struggling to get back on their feet. Our situation here in Denver is no different," Hancock said. "We will not allow our downtown and its places that we all cherish to slip away."
Hancock's comments were a little more critical than those he offered at another announcement boosting downtown
back in April, which wasn't mentioned at this gathering "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 said at the time. "We've been through challenges, but we're not dead."
That event last April focused more on culture and community than did this announcement. But while Hancock touted what will be a "balanced law enforcement and public health approach," none of the speakers were public health officials. Instead, the focus was all on safety.
Hancock shared some particulars about more policing changes: The Denver Department of Public Safety
, the agency over the Denver Police Department
, will have an increased presence downtown. The city plans to use more substance abuse navigators and public health inspectors in the area, and the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR), which sends non-law enforcement employees to crisis situations, will develop a dedicated downtown unit.
"We are focusing on violent criminals who carry or use firearms," said U.S. Attorney Finegan, who served as both city attorney and chief of staff when John Hickenlooper was mayor. "We have a dedicated team of prosecutors working on violent crime, and we want to do more."
Finegan noted that his office is in the process of hiring four special prosecutors, paid for with money from the City of Denver, to work on federal criminal gun cases in Denver; Hancock had announced that move in his State of the City speech in July.
Attorney General Weiser, who just won reelection, began his own speech by saying, "It was forty years ago when Federico Peña said, 'Imagine a great city.' You cannot have a great city without a great downtown."
Colorado has already gotten at least $520 million from lawsuits filed by the AG against pharmaceutical companies in relation to the opioid crisis, Weiser noted, and some of that money will go toward "innovation grants" that municipalities such as Denver can apply for.
These grants "can address just the sort of challenge that Denver is on the front lines of, providing public and private and nonprofit entities an opportunity to address substance use and misuse, which we know may be associated with crime of those experiencing homelessness," Weiser said.
Joel Fitzgerald, who became RTD police chief in August, spoke about changes he has already implemented, such as making sure a security officer frequently checks bathrooms. "You should feel safe when you’re downtown. You should feel safe in Union Station, you should feel safe in the areas that we cover as RTD," Fitzgerald said.
And DPD Chief Ron Thomas, who recently took over for now-retired Paul Pazen, talked about how the city will be adding more officers to ensure "lower response time" to calls.
There will also be improved lighting downtown, as well as increased trash and graffiti removal.
Although usually a cheerleader for the city, Hancock acknowledged that downtown Denver has been losing businesses and possibly even conventions, which is why the plan will initially focus on the area around the convention center.
"I know what 'good' looks like for Denver," Hancock said. "And 'good' makes sure we’re competitive on every metric."