Denver announces plan to invest over $500M to revitalize downtown

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DENVER (KDVR) — After teasing the announcement in an “ask me anything” session on Reddit, Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said Thursday that the city plans to invest more than $500 million over the next decade to “restore downtown vibrancy and stimulate economic growth.”

According to a release from the city, downtown Denver has been slower than other areas when it comes to recovering from the pandemic.

The city said downtown has seen lower foot traffic, businesses closing and a lack of new housing development because hybrid and remote working options are becoming more popular.

From March to May 2023, Denver’s downtown foot traffic was at an average of 56% of what it was in 2019, according to researchers at the University of Toronto School of Cities.

The city reports that downtown lost 145 businesses from 2018 to 2022, and visitation has declined 30% since 2019.

Additionally, the city reports that while citywide sales and use taxes rose by 40% from 2017 to 2023, sales and use taxes generated downtown only grew by 1%.

Johnston has maintained that revitalizing downtown is a priority for him, and the funding announced Thursday will go toward just that.

Denver Mayor Mike Johnston said Thursday that the city plans to invest more than $500 million over the next decade to “restore downtown vibrancy and stimulate economic growth.” (Denver Mayor’s Office)

How will downtown change?

The investment will go toward more housing options, more child care options and more accessible and welcoming public spaces, ultimately retaining and attracting more world-class businesses where people will want to shop and work, according to the release.

Details on what changes may come are limited, but Johnston mentioned some of his administration’s goals during the question-and-answer session on Reddit.

He said part of the effort to expand housing options that are affordable downtown will include converting underutilized commercial spaces into residential options. Johnston also mentioned that the city is working to create unique public spaces like Larimer Square in multiple locations.

The city’s goal is to accelerate economic growth and create a family-friendly, thriving and diversified downtown area.

Efforts to expand funding underway

According to a press release from Denver, funding will come from the Downtown Development Authority, which by statute allows municipalities across the state to fund downtown economic development with a portion of taxes collected within the respective central business district. Denver’s downtown authority was established in 2008 and allows the city to use funds from property and sales taxes collected around Union Station and Market Street Station.

The city emphasizes that the authority uses existing funding and does not raise taxes.

In the past, this system has brought over $400 million in support for transportation projects at Union Station. However, the city said the existing Downtown Development Authority is currently limited to that project, so Johnston will work to update and expand it this year.

The area for the proposed development authority expansion would include the Central Business District neighborhood, the Union Station neighborhood and part of the North Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The process will involve consulting with local communities and businesses to create a common vision for a “more vibrant downtown” before the mayor submits a formal plan of development to City Council for approval.

The expansion is expected to make over $500 million available for the investment, which would be available in 2025 at the earliest.

Here is the anticipated timeline:

  • Spring/summer 2024: Outreach and engagement with stakeholders, property owner interest portal open
  • Summer 2024: Downtown Area Plan kicks off with downtown residents, businesses and organizations; City Council refers ballot measure
  • Fall 2024: Vibrant Denver citywide outreach; district special election; City Council actions to update and expand DDA
  • Winter 2024/2025: Property owner petition process formally begins, informed by 2024 outreach, city releases application for funding downtown revitalization projects
  • 2025: Anticipated availability of DDA funding for approved projects

Denver is asking the community for input to help guide the Downtown Development Authority in the future, and Coloradans can give their input on the matter online.