During an April 28 press conference, Mayor Michael Hancock and other Denver officials announced a series of proposals to help boost an economy negatively impacted by COVID-19. The centerpiece of the plan is a $400 million bond measure that is expected to be placed on the November 2021 ballot, with the funds earmarked for thus-far-unspecified projects intended to create jobs and improve infrastructure.
Hancock began the virtual press conference with some stage-setting. "In the year since the onset of this pandemic, COVID-19 has robbed thousands of lives and thousands more of their livelihoods," he pointed out. Now, however, he said that the rescue phase of the city's response to the novel coronavirus is "coming to a close" and "the recovery phase is starting."
According to Hancock, the city's top priorities are jump-starting the economy, assisting individuals experiencing homelessness, and addressing concerns about crime and safety — and he promised that tactics to tackle the last two of these issues would be forthcoming. For today's event, however, the focus was on the economy. The mayor touted the $400 million package as a way to ensure that Denver comes back from COVID-19 "stronger than before," and in ways that will address existing inequities made even worse by the pandemic.
Eric Hiraga of Denver's Office of Economic Development and Opportunity and Chief Financial Officer Brendan Hanlon reinforced this message.
Hiraga introduced a new acronym — RISE, standing for Rebuilding an Inclusive and Sustainable Economy — that will be built upon five pillars: creating jobs; supporting individuals, businesses and nonprofits; lifting up Denver's neighborhoods; making it easier to do business with Denver; and accelerating public investment. Like Hancock, he stressed the key role of equity, and the importance of making sure that businesses owned by women and people of color are prioritized.
For his part, Hanlon pointed out that Denver has a list of 5,000 projects that have already been approved at a cumulative cost of approximately $4 billion — and the $400 million bond could pay for approximately 10 percent of them. He noted that Denver expects to learn early next month how much money it will get from the federal American Rescue Plan recently signed into law by President Joe Biden — the amount is expected to range from $140 million to $311 million — and that legislation includes provisions for fund-matching that could make Denver's dollars go even further.
Hanlon estimated that each dollar of investment will create two dollars of economic impact, and that the federal funding bonanza will offer Denver a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to boost the economy beyond its robust status prior to COVID-19's arrival.
Most of the subsequent questions sought specifics about what projects might be funded and how many jobs could be generated; the city officials admitted that they don't have those answers yet. Instead, they spoke generally about wanting to make sure industries hurt the most by the pandemic, including hospitality, tourism, restaurants, events and more, wind up at the front of the line, especially since many of them employ communities of color that are continuing to suffer at a disproportionate rate.
Many steps related to the proposed bond measure need to be taken between now and November, including community engagement to learn where members of the public would most want the money to be spent, and a political process that will involve the Denver City Council. "This is an evolving process," Hancock concluded — and it begins now.
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