Downtown Denver (copy)

FILE PHOTO: Clouds hang over the skyline of downtown Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, in Denver. 

The Downtown Denver Partnership’s 67th annual “State of Downtown” report shows things are looking up for the Mile High City, after downtown was all-but emptied of visitors and office workers by the pandemic in 2020.

After a low of 40,000 downtown visitors per day in April of 2020, visitation has come roaring back in 2022 – 89% the level of 2019’s average of 250,000 people every day.

"Now we all know 2021 was about change, resilience and addressing our city's most urgent needs," said CEO KourtnyGarrett in her first annual meeting since taking over the CEO role late last year. "And now 2022 is about moving forward."

Those downtown visitor numbers have obviously been boosted by the success of the Colorado Avalanche’s Stanley Cup playoff run in June, capped by a 500,000+ visitor day June 30 for the team’s parade and rally at Civic Center park.

“June 2022 downtown enjoyed several days foot traffic with over 200,000 visitors,” according to the report. “This activity is critical to a vibrant downtown economy as well as the safety, security and enjoyment of our downtown environment by all.”

“Center city” is what the partnership refers to as roughly the area from Federal Boulevard east to Downing Street, and 6th Avenue north to 38th Avenue. The downtown Denver boundary includes the areas of Golden Triangle, Auraria, Central Platte Valley, Lower Downtown (LoDo), Ballpark and Arapahoe Square

The report also showed a 6% projected annual population growth downtown from 30,717 to 33,026, and Center City from 93,862 to 99,469. It also tracked 8% employment growth, from 125,390 in 2020 to 135,221 in 2021, and more than $2 billion in projects under construction.

“It is such a special time to be back here in my Denver, in our Denver, as we release one of the most important State of Downtown reports in recent history,” said Garrett, who is from metro Denver and came back from Dallas for the job.  “This report informs and inspires and it guides us. It helps to define the priorities of the Downtown Denver Partnership -- priorities that are built on the strong foundation of over 60 years serving all of you as city builders.”

The report highlighted the Pop Up Denver program, allowing start-up retailers to start in vacant retail space on the 16th Street Mall. It also noted the start of the 16th Street Mall's $149 million renovation project that began earlier this year.

“This year’s State of Downtown Denver report illustrates how downtown is moving forward after the significant impacts of the pandemic and highlights the exciting opportunities for growth and stabilization in our center city,” said Garrett in the report, “including (but not limited to) adaptive reuse of vacant buildings, new hotels, and the future of the 16th St. Mall.”

Two partnership leaders, outgoing Chair Sarah Rockwell and new Chair Maja Rosenquist, repeated the phrase “we must ensure our center city is not only safe, but feels safe,” acknowledging the criticisms of downtown that there’s growing crime and homelessness issues.

“We're almost back to pre pandemic numbers, folks, if you don't believe we're coming back take a look at the stats. They don't lie,” said Mayor Michael Hancock, who addressed the crowd of business leaders and elected officials gathered for the partnership’s annual meeting at the Sewall Ballroom, Denver Center for the Performing Arts.

It was Hancock’s last State of Downtown address, as he’s leaving office after 12 years at the end of July 2023.

It wasn’t all a rosy outlook, as both Hancock and Garrett addressed increasing homelessness downtown.

“Obviously homelessness remains a top concern,” Hancock said. “We recognize that we’ve got to look at homelessness differently. Those experiencing homelessness differently. If it was just about housing, we would have solved it.

“We cannot ignore the fact that every level of government has failed to produce the necessary support for people experiencing mental health illnesses and substance misuse.”

Hancock looked ahead to the coming mayoral race to find his replacement.

“As we look at the next campaign, people running for office, if they come out and they talk about how bad Denver is scratch that name off the ballot,” said Hancock. “I want a leader who can stand up and be honest about the challenge but also say ‘You know what, we're going to get through it.’ Because that's the Denver I know.”

Some other factoids from the report:

• LinkedIn ranked Denver the 5th best “where women are rising to management.”

• CBRE ranked Denver 5th as “most preferred market in the U.S. for real estate investment.

• U.S. News ranked Colorado as the 5th “best state for education.”

A copy of the report can be found on the partnership website downtowndenver.com.

City Editor

Dennis Huspeni is a 30-year newspaper journalist who is the City Editor and covers metro Denver business.

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