There are plenty of tough jobs these days: restoring the reputation of Southwest Airlines, explaining people's skyrocketing Xcel bills, keeping track of Denver's mayoral candidates. But Kourtny Garrett may have the toughest job of all: Last January, she became the new CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership, taking over where Tami Door left off after seventeen years heading the downtown booster group. A native of Denver, Garrett had moved to Texas when she was ten and worked on the revitalization of downtown Dallas for nearly two decades, pushing public-private partnerships in that city while watching its urban population grow.
With 35,000 people already living downtown, the Mile High City was far ahead of Dallas in that regard, but in early 2022 this city was definitely short of downtown workers, more than half of whom were still working remotely. That was challenging for all the downtown businesses that had depended on these workers as customers; equally challenging was countering the naysayers proclaiming that the city was in decay, people who apparently had not been out of their houses since the pandemic started. And then there was all the disruption with the 16th Street Mall construction, a project ten years in the making that could not be delayed. "When we think of downtown coming back, there's such a great opportunity in the repositioning of the mall," Garrett notes. And in the meantime, "The emphasis on safe, beautiful and active streets is imperative...with moments of surprise and delight."
Moments like the pop-ups that the Partnership has pushed on the mall, which will double in the new year. Over the last quarter of 2022, the organization focused on highlighting signature holiday events, following up Taste of Colorado with Winter in the City and a successful Parade of Lights that attracted 300,000 people to downtown. Those events are also a big draw to tourists, Garrett says, with "revenge travel" emerging as a major post-pandemic development, rejuvenating the hotel industry even as the convention business continues to recover.
"Where we see less of the strong return is in the daytime traffic, the lunchtime traffic," Garrett says. But by the end of last year, the downtown workforce had returned to 54 percent full strength, well above the national average, and the Partnership is looking at repositioning some office space that may never be refilled as more residential opportunities.
Meanwhile, the DDP is planning a new promotion campaign for the new year, looking at "the retail experience moving into the future," she says. That move has already started, with a billion dollars of development downtown during the pandemic, with projects ranging from the renovation of Larimer Square to continued activation of the Dairy Block to upcoming changes at the Auraria campus. And then there will be the reopening of the mall in 2024. "It's impressive, the number of transformative projects that are ready to go or already here," she says. "I don't think you see that in many cities in the country. We have so much to look forward to."
And looking back over her first year, what was her biggest surprise? "The leaning in of this community," Garrett says, noting how frequently people have asked how they can be supportive or be part of solutions.
"We have such a positive story to tell," she says. Now people just need to listen.
Other people to watch in 2023:
"Jami Duffy, Leader of the Band"
"Daniel and Luis Ramirez, Hosts With the Most"
"Nga Vương-Sandoval, Welcome Committee"
"Michael Gadlin, Arts Ambassador"
"Penelope Wong, Top Shef"
"Cole Chandler, Speaker for the House"
"Michael Spencer: Anchor Man"
"Robert Kenney, Power Broker"
"Scott Gilmore, Playground King"