Denver mayor election: Candidates’ stances on revitalizing downtown

The Denver Post sent a questionnaire to candidates in the April 4 Denver municipal election. Answers are lightly edited and ordered alphabetically by candidate’s last name. Following are mayoral candidates’ answers to the question:

What should Denver leaders do to revitalize downtown Denver?

Renate Behrens
Slow down traffic, keep cars out of downtown, grow flowerbeds, install open air art objects, play grounds for children, open air movies, open air theater, open air restaurants, bars, special open air markets: real farmers’ markets, flea markets, barter markets, antique markets on the streets.

Kelly Brough
Making sure our residents and visitors feel safe is the first step toward revitalizing Downtown and it’ll be among my highest priorities. If employees and visitors don’t feel safe, stores don’t stay open and hotels close. Our entire region depends on a thriving downtown and my plan to end unsanctioned camping within my first year in office has been endorsed by four sitting metro area mayors. We will begin immediately working with property owners to convert some existing downtown office space to residential, and focus on retaining businesses and attracting new jobs and investments to restore the vibrancy of downtown.

Lisa Calderón
We have a beautiful downtown that has earned a horrible reputation due to 12+ years of failed policies. As Mayor I will:
– Implement housing-first and harm-reduction policies
– Increase investment in wrap-around services to address chronic homelessness and addiction crisis
– Implement a safer and more connected multimodal transportation system to meet Denver’s needs
– Bring together our small businesses and art leaders to determine how to grow our downtown
– Create reliable funding streams for at-risk legacy businesses with historical and cultural ties to the community
– Promote business growth along with our arts to achieve both modernization and cultural celebration

Al Gardner
Denver’s downtown is mostly a one stop space in which people mainly come to work and then head to other parts of the city for dining, experiences, etc. What we need to do is focus on the repurposing of some space that was gained as a result of offices being more sparsely occupied by working with small and startup businesses that can utilize the space as business incubators or shared space. We need to also focus on making downtown more pedestrian and family-friendly, attracting businesses that make downtown a more attractive space for conventions.

Chris Hansen
With enhancing public safety as my top priority, I know we can revitalize downtown. We will focus on growing the downtown economy, using placemaking strategies that make downtown more inviting, expanding housing opportunities, and capitalizing on downtown’s cultural, civic, and entertainment assets to further support the vibrant environment needed for a thriving city center. We know that increasing population density downtown brings safety benefits because the presence of people deters criminals, so I am excited to see the impact of the Elitch Gardens redevelopment, among other projects that are currently underway. Denver has made great investments from Union Station to RiNo, and now we need to focus on connecting them thoughtfully.

Leslie Herod
A city is only as strong as its downtown. Returning the center city to its full vibrancy is one of my top priorities. In the first 100 days, we will host a Downtown Summit with downtown advocates, residents, and business owners. We must increase public safety, get our unhoused neighbors into safe spaces, and make housing more affordable. The 16th Street Mall has to be reimagined again to reflect a post-COVID life. We will incentivize local restaurants and shops in other parts of town to open second locations, and work to attract back the businesses and employees who have left.

Mike Johnston
As the CEO of a business located at Union Station, I have seen this problem firsthand over the last three years. Denver needs to revitalize downtown by solving our crises of homelessness and crime. In addition, the next mayor needs to lead the charge to encourage businesses to return to working in-person by first doing the same with city workers and then encouraging other businesses to follow suit. We can do this by encouraging workers to come downtown through incentives for downtown childcare facilities and discounted and free public transit.

Aurelio Martinez
It begins with beautification, along with small business incentives.

Deborah “Debbie” Ortega
We need our downtown to be the economic engine that it once was, with thriving businesses, and a robust presence of residents, workers and conventioneers. As mayor, I will partner with government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits to restore and activate downtown storefronts and host world class events. Additionally, we need to look at congestion and give people alternatives to single occupancy vehicles by providing a mass transportation connection from downtown to River Mile, Auraria Campus, and Empower Field. This assumes we’ve solved the issues of homelessness and safety, as outlined in my previous answers.

Terrance Roberts
Denver needs to become a 24-hour city and have more of a focus on small business retention and safety for the area. The 16th Street Mall should be an arts district, with thousands of people safely walking through the area, all night even if they feel the want or need. More services for unhoused neighbors and safe encampments that lead the unhoused population to areas safer for them outside of downtown can make it safer for them and everyone else as well. People without proper resources congregate downtown looking for warmth and resources.

Trinidad Rodriguez
Curbing crime and helping unhoused people get off the streets is foundational to revitalize downtown. We also need to make Denver more affordable and advance broader economic activity.

My economic development team will work with landlords to use vacant ground floor space for pop-up galleries, restaurant innovations, recreation places, and even greenhouses with community access. I also want to start weekday Ciclovias, mass events for walking, biking, rolling and exercise.

We will engage community and industry to create a bold vision to reposition commercial space glut. They can house dwellings, arts, nonprofit, childcare, education and healthcare in combination.

Andy Rougeot
I will fight for the future of downtown Denver by aggressively enforcing the camping ban to get the homeless into the mental health and drug addiction services they need and by adding 400 police officers to the Denver police department. A safe downtown is a revitalized downtown.

Kwame Spearman
In order to revitalize downtown we need to focus on homelessness first, because businesses cannot sustain tents in front of their businesses.

We also need to look at adaptive reuse in upper downtown. Many of our downtown skyscrapers were vacant before the pandemic. We have a huge opportunity to transform these massive buildings into housing units. The growth in housing will also serve to help revitalize downtown. I will promote zoning policies to make these types of developments feasible and bountiful.

Ean Thomas Tafoya
My vision for downtown is similar to my vision for the rest of the city: a clean, green neighborhood accessible to all, including pedestrians and disabled commuters. It has reasonable rent for small businesses and mixed income apartments where all Denverites enjoy a comfortable home, not just the wealthy. There’s bike lanes, expanded electric bus networks and thriving downtown parks. A creative arts scene is visited by locals and tourists alike. Too often “revitalization” in this city pushes our working families out or leaves them behind. I would make sure current residents lead the way and get to enjoy the results.

Robert Treta
Get the homeless out of there in 60 days upon taking office. After 60 days I will enforce the camping ban. The problem with enforcing it now i that we have nowhere to put them. I will immediately establish a legal camping area. Probably out by the airport. It will have fences with fabric to block the wind and act as shade in summer. It will have city funded portolets. It will have electricity so every person can have an electric blanket in winter. It will be the only legal area in the city to camp. It will be temporary until cubicle construction is on its way. Then homeless will transition into the cubicles. The homeless need to be removed from downtown. It’s a breeding ground for disease, drugs, panhandling, crime and rodents.

James Walsh
Again, addressing the plight of wage-earners and the unhoused in our city is the most direct path toward “”revitalizing”” downtown or any other area of the city. “”Revitalize Downtown”” has often been used as code for sweeping away the unhoused population from tourist areas. I would instead focus efforts on a streamlined effort to get them housed as quickly as possible. The city of Houston has had success, and we can look to many nations across the world who have largely solved the issue of homelessness.

The place to begin is with confronting the idea that people are unhoused through their own shortcomings, that they are to blame for their situation.

Thomas Wolf

The root cause is encampments which make our streets dangerous and filthy. These needy citizens must be removed and sheltered.

It is a vivid tale of two cities, upper downtown and lower downtown. Our upper downtown has a high concentration of office space, compounded by the fact that the majority of the tenants are car commuters, whereas lower downtown has a mix of office, residential, retail and entertainment, along with a transit hub.

We need to support redevelopment of upper downtown to have a winning mix of real estate types and uses. Surface parking lots that are poorly maintained and not landscaped, strike me as upper downtown’s smile that is missing a few teeth.

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