A group of downtown Denver-based businesses, Mayor Michael Hancock and the Downtown Denver Partnership Wednesday implored downtown employees to come back to the office.
“One year ago when the crisis hit, we all helped our neighbors by staying home, quarantining, wearing masks and staying socially distant,” said Mike Johnston, CEO Gary Community Investments, at a press conference in front of Union Station. “Now we’re called to look out for our downtown neighbors and make sure the economic recovery is for everyone.”
The effort’s called “Denver’s Ready,” and it’s supported by more than 150 downtown area businesses, COVIDCheck Colorado, the City and County of Denver, the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP).
Speakers described how the pandemic affected workers differently. Some, mainly office workers like lawyers, were able to shift to work-from-home seamlessly. Others, like grocery workers or bus drivers, never stopped working. And still others lost their jobs completely.
“It’s been a tough year for workers and many businesses like construction, restaurants, hospitality and tourism,” Mayor Hancock said. “But now many people are getting vaccinated and helping put the pandemic behind us. There’s a new energy and excitement and, yes, freedom because of the vaccine.”
They talked about how the forced business shutdowns disproportionately affected women and people of color.
“The return of office workers and the city’s employees, increasing foot traffic, will be a shot in the arm to those businesses like restaurants and retailers,” Hancock said. “Denver is ready to welcome back our downtown.”
DDP CEO Tami Door said employers are bringing workers back with hybrid models – some days remotely and some physically in the office. Some employees are hesitant not because of COVID-19, but because of the flexibility and convenience of working remotely, she said.
“It runs the gamut depending on sector,” Door told the small gathering of media representatives and onlookers. “CEOs are telling me they are ready to have their team together. … Denver’s ready to emerge from the shadow of COVID-19 and re-energize our businesses and the center city.”
DDP data shows 250,000 people were downtown on any given day pre-pandemic, including some 140,000 office workers. That number plummeted to an average of 50,000 in 2020.
RTD CEO and GM Debra Johnson said they’re constantly evaluating ridership levels and are ready to ramp up services to get employees downtown.
“Connectivity and economic vitality go hand-in-hand,” Johnson said. “RTD has been working with the DDP to ensure we’re ready to deliver customers and employees to all the dining and entertainment you’ve missed downtown. Many are hesitant to use public transportation because you haven’t for a year. But I want to assure you every employee is deeply concerned about keeping customers safe. Transit is not some super-spreader – we’ve added so many additional safety measures like masks and daily cleaning and sanitizing, mobile tickets to ensure contact-less service.”
The speakers said many restaurant, bar, retail and entertainment workers never stopped during the pandemic, keeping those businesses alive. Now it’s time to repay the favor.
“Let’s re-open an economy that serves everyone,” Johnston said, noting the Colorado Restaurant Association has said there are still 70,000-100,000 restaurant jobs lost in the pandemic that have yet to be filled.
“Not only are we ready to continue to welcome employers and employees back to downtown, we’re ready to ‘wow’ them,” Door said.
Gary Community Investments and COVIDCheck Colorado have made testing and vaccines more accessible, with walk-up vaccination and testing sites.
Gary, “which includes The Piton Foundation, invests in for-profit and philanthropic solutions for Colorado’s low-income children and their families,” according to a release.