Update below: For the first time in months, Civic Center Park is empty. Around 5 a.m., police officers visited the park to close it down, requesting that all protesters who had slept there overnight gather their belongings and vacate the area immediately as they watched. In the hours following, city officials fenced off the park, securing it against use by the occupation and prohibiting all entry. Why? The official reason is turf and irrigation work expected to take six weeks.
From 14th to Colfax on Broadway, signs restrict pedestrians from using the sidewalk. According to protesters Josh Shotwell and Zac Breese, occupiers awoke this morning to orders that they leave the area. Last night, about six people spent the night in the park, a number Breese calls the lowest overnight attendance in weeks. The small turnout made the eviction quick work, says Breese, and the entire process lasted less than half an hour.
"They told us everything we couldn't carry on our backs, we couldn't take with us," says Shotwell. "That killed the idea of saving other people's stuff, and we all just took what we could and left as fast as we could." Items left behind were trashed.
While Shotwell and Breese say they were given no warning of the eviction, another source says notices from Parks and Recreation were circulated last night. The document describes the closure as a temporary part of the Denver Better Bond Project and ongoing adjustments to the area. The work is scheduled to last six weeks, "weather permitting," and is targeted toward "improving the park's overall sustainability." The park will be closed to the public until the project is complete, and trespassers are subject to arrest.
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This latest effort follows a long line of police visits to the park to enforce Denver's anti-encumbrance ordinance. Defined different ways across the past few months, including at the hearing for a federal injunction Killmer, Lane & Newman requested on behalf of the organization, the rules fluctuate on occasion but consistently include any item that impedes the right of way. In the meantime, a handful of occupiers have re-established a presence across the street in Lincoln Park, Occupy Denver's first home. In the few hours since officials fenced the group out of the park, Occupy Denver has not yet developed a long-term plan. Officers at the scene, who were monitoring the group inside two vehicles, declined to comment on the situation, and our calls for comment to the on-duty Denver Police public information officer have not been returned at this writing.
Update, 1:50 p.m.: Parks and Recreation representative Jay Clark says the renovations to the park have been planned since last year, though without specific dates in mind. "As soon as the weather became nice again, it was time," Clark says, adding that Parks and Recreations officials did hand out the notices to protesters inside the park yesterday afternoon. The notices are similar to the press release on the subject, which confirms the city's intention to complete the project by the end of April.
The updates to the park will focus on its Broadway Terrace, Seal Pond, Voorhies Memorial and Greek Theater and will include work on irrigation, sod and the concrete pathways. During the renovations, the surrounding sidewalks will be closed intermittently, as will the west lane of traffic on Broadway. All of the updates will take place in preparation for large events scheduled for the park throughout the summer -- events that could conflict with a continued Occupy Denver presence in the park.
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Video: Fox 31's Eli Stokols drops F-bombs on Occupy Denver protesters."